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Holding Pattern?

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TGP Generalissimo P. Baker got at some of these same concerns in this diary; I began this piece as a response to that thread, then just figured I might as well blow out my gripe to a full entry here.

With the Phillies offseason about three-quarters complete, I'm legitimately worried about two things: a falloff in offensive production, and an ongoing failure by the front office to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team they've put together.

As David Cohen's recent pieces show, the lineup now features one superstar (Howard), one great hitter (Utley), two pretty good hitters (Rollins, Burrell), and a bunch of question marks. Just from last year, they've upgraded production from third base (Nunez/Bell to Helms), and downgraded production at catcher (probably, if Barajas plays more than Ruiz) and right field (definitely, with the size of the dropoff--very large, or incredibly vast--the only question).

It still looks like a top-5 offense, but this group won't lead the league again, and I don't see many guys who might do better this year than last--Rowand, I guess, but his walk rate is so pathetically low that it's hard to see him putting up serious numbers.

This brings us to the second problem I see: the front office myopia. There's simply no justification for playing a confirmed sub-mediocrity, Rod Barajas, ahead of Carlos Ruiz, who's only gotten better throughout his pro career--or to have both Rowand and Victorino in your starting outfield. That the Phils are still evidently obsessed with finding a "proven reliever" to set up Tom Gordon just confirms my sense that the leadership hasn't learned from their past mistakes. Even the ones they make single goddamn year.

The offseason has had some good elements. The Helms signing was solid in this market, I really like all the opportunistic bullpen pickups (Warden, Simon, A. Garcia), the Freddy Garcia trade could prove to be a great move, and signing Jayson Werth has upside if he's healthy. There's a chance that the last five spots on the roster will be much better in 2007 than they were in 2006, faint praise though that might be.

But even the Garcia trade was something of a head-scratcher in light of subsequent moves they didn't make (or, to be fair, haven't yet made). That trade added about $10 million to the 2007 payroll, and speculation here and elsewhere was that this represented some of the "savings" from the wretched Abreu trade. That's fine, and I applauded the move as a win-now gambit. But if you're trying to win now, why not goose the budget a little more and outbid the Orioles for Aubrey Huff (signed to a very reasonable three-year, $20 million deal, including just $4 million for 2007)? For that matter, Cliff Floyd and Trot Nixon are still out there; go get one of them. They're more likely to do for you than Karim Garcia, who couldn't draw walks here (81 in nearly 1500 career AB) and still couldn't draw walks in Japan.

Currently, the roster has some redundancies--the six starters and Rowand/Victorino most notably. I have no problem with the former, though the market for Jon Lieber seems lamer than it really should be. But the two outfielders, unless Rowand is time-warped back to 2004 and Victorino to 2005, aren't likely to help. In a division where the Mets have their own problems but also have the budget and farm system to address any mistake, and the Marlins could evolve into a dynasty, the Phils have to maximize their advantages. Thus far through the 2006-2007 offseason, they haven't done so.