Well we spent over a year as World Champions, not surrendering the title until the calendar turned to November, and I'd like to salute the team for its efforts to try to repeat, going much further than anyone could have expected, and that only the brave few had hoped. The mid-70s Reds were the only National League team to go back-to-back in like the last 80 years or something, so for those of us who are fans of one of the 29 teams that don't make a mockery of the sport by buying themselves meaningless championships over and over again, it was quite a feat to come this close to the repeat. In the end, Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge -- the heroes of last year's World Series -- came up as goats in key spots in games 3 & 4 and the rest of the team could not come through in their behalf. I wish we'd ended on happier news, and not lost to the worst bunch of fans, but that should not diminish the great accomplishment achieved by this Phillies squad. I mean, the Philadelphia Phillies had only been to the World Series twice since 1950, but then they made it each of the last two years. So that's a pretty dramatic turnaround. And it's been a wonderful ride. I hope it continues.
All of the regular position players are signed for next year, with the exception of Pedro Feliz, and the Phillies hold a club option on him. I'd assume he'll be back, if only for his defense (he can't hit for shit, as we saw again this postseason) and because I don't think they have anyone in the system ready to step in. The core of the offense -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy and Raul Ibanez -- are signed past next year, so we should be in good shape to continue hitting like we've been hitting the past few years. We can probably expect some decline from Werth, who hit at a career peak, and Ibanez, who couldn't keep up his blistering early season pace after an injury before the All-Star break. Rollins and Victorino, though, can be expected to improve, or at least have room for improvement, especially Rollins. Utley and Howard have been doing this for years, so you have to hope it continues. I'd like to see them work a young outfielder into the mix -- filling in for Ibanez, perhaps, to give him some extra rest at age 38 -- and that may be Ben Francisco, but he showed very little this post season other than a good glove. The minor league system has a few prize OF prospects, including Dominick Brown, but I'm not sure how major league ready they are. Infield depth is another issue, and if we had anyone to replace Feliz, we probably would. His option is $5M, which the Phillies have until Monday to pick up, but they may try to re-sign him at a lower deal instead.
As far as pitching is concerned, the Phillies cut ties with former ace and 2008's #2 starter Brett Myers, who suffered through injuries and ineffectiveness in 2009, ending a roller-coaster career as a Phillie that saw some frustrating moments and promise unfulfilled, but also some great pitching, including a post-All Star break stretch of amazing starts in 2008 that were a huge factor in letting us catch the Mets again and make the playoffs again. Myers will probably try to catch on as a reliever somewhere -- which he prefers to starting -- but our rotation is pretty well set for 2010 anyway. Cliff Lee's option was already picked up, so he'll be at the front of our rotation next year, with Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and J.A. Happ holding fort behind him. Jamie Moyer is signed for next year at age 47, and presumably will be given at least a cursory shot at the 5th spot in the rotation, and the team is likely to take a stab at bringing Pedro Martinez back, after his effective stretch run and playoff performance. They probably won't be willing to pay him much, though, with their finances stretched through raises to all their current stars, so I don't really expect him to be back. Stud prospect Kyle Drabek might get a shot at the last spot as well, but it seems clear that the Phillies are not overly concerned with filling out the rotation when they let Myers walk.
As for the bullpen, apparently Brad Lidge is getting his elbow checked for loose bodies, which might help explain his 7.21 ERA and 11 blown saves. He claimed all towards the end of the year that he was feeling as healthy as he was all season, but if it's true that his elbow was hurting him and he kept going out there, that's about as selfish and shitty a move a player can make, and he was directly responsible for blowing game 4 for us. Of course, if he gets his elbow fixed and can come back as the 2008 form of himself, saving every game for us with a sub-2.00 ERA in 2010, then I'll probably forgive him. I'm just not counting on it. Scott Eyre is also going in for examination and has hinted at retirement. He was probably our most effective reliever this postseason, which is saying something, and it's not something good. The rest of the bullpen is largely signed for next year, I believe -- Ryan Madson, Chan Ho Park, and Chad Durbin. Obviously this is an area of major concern that needs to be addressed by management, particularly to come up with a plan B if Lidge is not going to be closing. Every other player given a shot at the job on the roster came up short this year, and I wouldn't rely on any of them in the 9th inning. We'll also need a good lefty arm if Eyre retires.
So next year's team should largely be the same as this year, with perhaps a new 5th starter and hopefully an overhauled bullpen as the only major changes. As I said, the offense may slip a little with an expected decline by Werth, but it will remain the strength of the team and certainly is strong enough to capture the NL East again. The rotation will be a key, and I worry that Cliff Lee will suffer the same overworked residual effect in 2010 as Hamels suffered in 2009. A bunch of idiot Phillies fans are calling for trading Hamels, overreacting to his playoff failures this year and forgetting that he won the World Series MVP in 2008 and is still in his mid 20s, but threw something like 266 innings in 2008 and had the predictable dropoff the next year that almost every single pitcher in the league suffers through (see Justin Verlander circa 2007 to 2009). Hopefully Cole can return to form in 2010, and I have a lot of faith that he can, because Cliff Lee, although he's not as young, may definitely suffer a dropoff from this year's stellar performance. Blanton should be fine in the 3rd slot, and Happ is still young and a question mark, but could be ok. Obviously if Drabek comes through this spring and grabs the final spot, that would be a shot in the arm for the team and its future beyond 2010, because if we're tossing Jamie Moyer out there every 5th day, I won't really love our chances to repeat.
But it has been a great two seasons for Phillies fans. And we thank you, players and management, for all your wonderful effort and play. Here's hoping we're back in 2010. We are still the two-time defending National League Champions and I think we can do that again. No one in our league will be spending $450M+ this offseason to sign the best free agent pitcher, best free agent hitter, and another great free agent pitcher in order to return to the playoffs after missing them for the first time in 15 years. So we should at least be on a level playing field. Thank god we're not Orioles or Blue Jays fans. Must suck to be them under baseball's current system, when one team is allowed to spend themselves into playoff berths from their division every single year. Go Phillies!