Coming off their first World Series title in 20 years, the Philadelphia Phillies entered 2009 with virtually the same team as in 2008 (except for the addition of Raul Ibanez in left field). However getting to the World Series was a lot tougher in 2009. Injuries decimated the bullpen as everyone except setup man Ryan Madson spent time on the DL and Madson was hardly lights out (5-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 79 games and converted 10 of 16 saves). No one expected closer Brad Lidge to be perfect again, but he was hardly automatic in 2009 as he blew 11 saves in 42 opportunities. Lefty JC Romero missed the first 50 games due to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, but returned and injured his elbow. It seemed like every week someone was going on the DL and a new body was being called up from the minors.
Ace Cole Hamels was hardly an ace and was inconsistent all season (10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 32 starts with 24 homeruns allowed and more hits than innings pitched). A slimmer Brett Myers hurt his hip and missed a portion of the season. Joe Blanton had his typical average first half (6-4 with a 4.44 ERA with 19 homeruns allowed) and good second half (6-4 with a 3.62 ERA and 11 homeruns allowed). Chan Ho Park struggled in the starting role (but thrived as a reliever), opening the door for lefty JA Happ’s outstanding rookie season (12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 starts). The struggles in the rotation led to the acquisition of CY Young winner Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians (and outfielder Ben Francisco), though the Phillies were linked to Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay (but the price seemed to be too high). Lee dominated in his time with the Phillies, even into the playoffs (7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts and 10 BB/ 74 K but in the playoffs, Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 5 starts with 2 complete games and 6 BB/ 33 K). They also added free agent veteran Pedro Martinez, who also added a boost to the rotation (5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in 9 starts)
The offense was typical for the Phillies, even with leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins’ lackluster season. Centerfielder Shane Victorino and rightfielder Jayson Werth had career years. First baseman Ryan Howard sizzled again when the summer heated up (.305 with 23 homeruns and 74 RBIs in the second half).
The 2009 Phillies made it back to the World Series, the first time since the 1995-1996 Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately the offense sputtered and the pitching just could not hold down the NY Yankees. Heading into the offseason, the Phillies had some holes to fill and question marks that needed to be answered. Members of the World Champion team that had major supporting roles were free agents like Matt Stairs, Eric Bruntlett, Myers, and Scott Eyre. Lidge, Romero, Ibanez, and Jamie Moyer had offseason surgery, with Lidge and Romero questionable for spring training and Moyer having complications. With a payroll set to bulge due to arbitration cases for Victorino, Blanton, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, GM Ruben Amaro was hoping to stay within a set amount. Here’s the Phillies wish list:
A third baseman: Despite his solid season, Pedro Feliz was a free agent and not expected to be re-signed due to his struggles in the playoffs (.167 in 54 at-bats with just 4 RBIs and 11 Ks). Ruben Amaro quickly signed former Phillie Placido Polanco, who was coming off a Gold Glove season with the Detroit Tigers at second base. Polanco hasn’t played third since 2005 but is a hard working veteran who will be excellent batting in the 2 hole (where he is the game’s best) in front of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez.
- A backup catcher: Starter Carlos Ruiz has been a postseason hero for the Phillies the last two years. Late in 2009, the Phillies cut ties with backup Chris Coste (a fan favorite) and added veteran Paul Bako. However with Bako a free agent, the Phillies decided to go after a local free agent. Brian Schneider, who spent the last two years with the NY Mets, signed on to backup Ruiz. Schneider has been known to be a great defensive catcher though he tends to struggle with the bat.
- Bullpen help: This is a major need as there are quite a few question marks with the health of the arms returning. The biggest hole is to add a left-hander to complement JC Romero and management hoped to re-sign Scott Eyre, but both sides are far apart. The Phillies seem fine with going to young lefties Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo (who was on the postseason roster but was rarely used) in 2010. Rumors have the Phillies signing a mystery reliever with Danys Baez and Mike MacDougal being the leading candidates.
- Adding another starter: Despite Kyle Kendrick’s resurgence at the end of 2009, the Phillies are looking to add a starter to compete with Kendrick, veteran Jamie Moyer, and Drew Carpenter. However the Phillies made a blockbuster deal to land Roy Halladay (who they coveted in July) but traded away Cliff Lee and top prospect Kyle Drabek. So yes the Phillies added a workhorse in Halladay, but still may need another starter.