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Hamels, Victorino, or Pence -- Choose One?


In light of Cole Hamels recently signing a one-year, $15 million contract for his last year of team control, attention now turns to whether the Phillies can bring back their homegrown ace long-term. At the same time that the Fightins will need to deal with Hamels, their two best (and youngest) position players will also require attention. Shane Victorino will finish his team-friendly 3-year deal in October, and Hunter Pence will be one year from free agency, with the ability to command about $15 million in his final year of arbitration. Together, the three figure to account for at least $50 million in salary obligations for 2013 -- a number the Phillies are unlikely to pay.

The question then becomes: who of these three will sport red pinstripes in 2013? Let's assume the Mayan calander is incorrect, and there actually be a 2013.

A quick look at Cot's Contracts shows the Phillies with $108 million already committed in contracts for 2013. Adding in the likely pick-up of Carlos Ruiz's option, and one side or the other declining Placido Polanco's mutual option, pushes commitments to $113m. A replacement for Polanco is almost certain to come from the free agent pool, which potentially includes names like David Wright, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark Reynolds. Of course, another option at the hot corner would be the "Freddy Galvis + pray" strategy.

David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo will be hitting arbitration for the first time, and a fifth starter will be needed even if Hamels is re-signed. Kyle Kendrick will cost something like $5 million if the team brings him back, but a better bet would be a cheap warm body to compete with Trevor May and Jonathan Pettibone in spring training. Brody Colvin could thrust himself into said competition with a big year in the minors this season, while I think Julio Rodriguez is ticketed for a Kendrick-type swingman role in the bigs. There are other names like Austin Hyatt, Austin Wright, and Adam Morgan which could factor into the back end of the rotation as well, if needed.

There is definitely a wealth of internal options to replace Blanton, and Hamels if necessary. But as the youngest, best, and least replaceable of the Pence-Victorino-Hamels trio, I believe the Phillies extend a Sabathia-type offer for Hamels, if that is what winds up being necessary to keep him. I think he winds up in the 6/145 range, as the Cliff Lee contract gives him plenty of bargaining power.

Another thing to keep in mind: without Hamels, the rotation becomes Halladay and Lee, who will both regress due to age at some point, Worley, and then major question marks. While the free agent starters next winter will be a pretty strong crop, anyone who can approximate Hamels' numbers will come at a similarly steep price.

While the minor-league talent is less abundant in the outfield, a more straightforward scenario exists there. If John Mayberry posts anything like his 2011 season, while Domonic Brown establishes himself as capable in the field and his power returns at the plate, the Phillies would have three corner outfielders for two spots. Theoretically, a 2013 outfield of Pence, JMJ, and Brown is feasible, but that group profiles as average defensively at best.

A more likely scenario would have Pence shipped out of town to make room for Brown and Mayberry. Trade suitors could range from the Dodgers or Giants to the Cubs, Mariners or Blue Jays. Pence (plus his compensation picks if he walks as a free agent after '13) could probably net one worthwhile prospect, a la Carlos Beltran this past summer. More importantly, the salary relief would free up plenty of space to sign Hamels.

Victorino's situation is trickier. He'll hit free agency going into his age-32 season -- clearly his decline phase. Yet if he posts a season similar to 2011 (.279/.355/.491, 6 fWAR) he will be in line for a big payday, something in the 4/60 range or higher. However, durability concerns and market competition (BJ Upton, Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan,and Melky Cabrera will hit the market as well) could drive his price down. I could see the Phillies taking the same tack as they did with Jimmy Rollins and allow the market to push Victorino back to them at a relative bargain on a three-year deal.

If Victorino does depart, his replacement is near-certain to come from within. Both Jiwan James and Tyson Gillies are legit center fielders defensively. Gillies' health concerns are his major red flag, while James' basestealing proficiency and overall hitting approach are worrisome. When healthy, Gillies is the superior option, showing four tools and the ability to be a true top-of-the-order hitter. His rust showed in the Arizona Fall League this year, but simply staying healthy for a month in game action was a big accomplishment after two seasons lost to injury. At 23, Gillies is age-appropriate for triple-A and could see plenty of time there in 2012.

At any rate, both Gillies and James project better than average on the basepaths and in the field, and below average at the plate, at least to start. But an outfield of Brown, Gillies/James and Mayberry could probably net about 8 or 9 wins (Pence, Victorino, Brown, Mayberry and Ibanez netted out at about 10 last year). And it would be cheap, practically free.

Meanwhile, the savings there would allow plenty of spending by The Smug elsewhere: big extension for Hamels? check. Big money or a big trade for a third baseman? Check. Re-upping Chase Utley to finish his career in Philly? check. Anything else the team needs at that point? Check.

Of course, the odds of both Brown and Mayberry being productive and Gillies or James being ready for the big time are low. They could go with Mayberry in center for a season, and then allow Pence to walk after '13. They could bring back Victorino, which IMO is the most likely strategy, or sign one of the other good CFs available (Bourn or Upton).

Hamels plus Big Money Veteran CF is likely to cost about $40 million in 2013 commitments. The Phillies could afford to do that, and still have room to pursue someone to play third base. If it's just Hamels, Amaro would have plenty of money to get creative. Mike Napoli is scheduled to be a free agent. So too are Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Brandon McCarthy.

At any rate, the 2013 offseason figures to set the tone for the next five and ten years of the franchise. Played correctly, the Phillies can use it to bridge from one era to another, keep their best homegrown pitcher in a generation a Phillie for the rest of his prime years, and set themselves up to dominate the division for another half-decade. Played incorrectly, the Phillies could overpay for replaceable veterans, allow that homegrown pitcher to skip town, and generally ensure they will slide back into mediocrity.

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