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Thursday, November 5, 2009
What's next for Phillies?


Is it too early to start thinking about next year? Hardly. If Charlie Manuel is already thinking about 2010, why can't we? David Brown:Of course, what that brilliant self-promoter MacArthur really said was, "I shall return."

That's OK. Charlie Manuel's a baseball manager, not a history professor (or student, probably).

Brown says the Phillies can return to the World Series if they do just three things:

1. Sign John Lackey
2. Sign Mark Derosa and dispose of Pedro Feliz

Actually, the third thing isn't really a thing. What does "take your best guess with Brad Lidge" mean, exactly? That's not much of a prescription, if you ask me. I suppose Brown means the Phillies need to actually figure out what's going on with Lidge, which is true. How one figures Brad Lidge out, though, I haven't the slightest idea.

Obviously, signing Lackey would be a good thing (at least in the short term). But it's not like the Phillies are exactly hurting for starters. Even if Pedro Martinez doesn't return, the Phillies' top four of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Joe Blanton ranks right near the top of National League rotations, and Brett Myers is a perfectly useful No. 5 starter.

Replacing Feliz with DeRosa is fine, I guess. DeRosa's the better hitter, and advantage just partially balanced by Feliz's superior defense. Making the switch would add perhaps another win for the Phillies ... but at what cost? You have to sign DeRosa to a multiyear contract and take a loss on Feliz?

The Phillies should try to improve this season, for the simple reason that some of the things that went right this year will go wrong next year. Baseball teams are like sharks: If they're not moving forward, they're dying. Where do they improve? If they can't (or don't want) to sign Lackey, there are two obvious moves.

One, get younger.

Two, build a better bullpen.

The Phillies' youngest every-day player is Shane Victorino, who turns 29 in a few weeks. The Phillies are not old. Only Feliz (34) and Raul Ibanez (37) are beyond their early 30s. But every single regular is theoretically past his prime, and that alone might result in two or three fewer wins next season. And replacing Feliz with DeRosa -- who's also 34 -- won't change that. And Ibanez is locked up through 2011. Bottom line, the Phillies will probably enter 2010 with almost exactly the same lineup with which they ended 2009.

Which leaves only the bullpen. The Phillies won 93 games this year. Brad Lidge blew 11 saves and lost eight games. The key ingredient in another 93-win recipe is a closer who instead blows five saves and loses four games. Those guys are out there, and they don't all cost a great deal of money. Ruben Amaro isn't likely to get super-creative this winter; general managers of pennant-winning teams rarely do. But he just has to be creative enough to find a couple of dependable relief pitchers. Which is one of the easiest things in professional sports.