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Phillies hope renewed health boosts them in '13

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies can find plenty of reasons why they missed the postseason for the first time since 2006.

Those reasons leave them with plenty of work to do this offseason to ensure they get back in 2013.

It will not be easy.

In fact, it could be their most challenging effort in years.

The Phillies already have Cliff Lee ($25 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Cole Hamels ($19.5 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), Carlos Ruiz ($5 million club option), Kyle Kendrick ($4.5 million) and Laynce Nix ($1.35 million) under contract next season.

That is $134.35 million committed to just 10 players.

That does not includes potential salaries for salary-arbitration-eligible players like Antonio Bastardo, Nate Schierholtz, David Herndon, Kevin Frandsen and Pete Orr; or the near league-minimum salaries for players like Domonic Brown, Josh Lindblom and others.

"We're going to have to get better," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If the people we have can do that, that's fine. But if not ... we're going to have to get a better offense. We're definitely going to have to catch the ball better next year. This is the worst we've played defense. We had a lot of mental mistakes."

The Phillies carry plenty of "ifs" into the offseason.

• If Halladay's reformatted offseason program returns him to Cy Young form ...

• If Utley can open the season healthy for the first time since 2010 ...

• If he can play third base ...

• If a full offseason of rehab on his left leg returns Howard to form ...

• If Brown is a legitimate everyday outfielder ...

• If the bullpen can find some consistency ...

If those things happen (and more), the Phillies could return to the top of the National League East, although the Nationals and Braves will not make things easy for them. The Nationals look a lot like the first couple Phillies teams that made the postseason in 2007-08. They aren't going anywhere. In fact, they could be even better next season.

The Nationals are young. The Phillies are older. On Opening Day next season Halladay, Lee, Rollins, Utley and Ruiz will be 34; Howard will be 33; and Papelbon will be 32. So the fixes the Phillies make this offseason really need to work. They can't afford many misses with fewer and fewer peak seasons remaining in that core group.

"I think where they're at age-wise, there's still time," Manuel insisted. "There's still years there. I'm not worried. I don't think they're too old. I still think they have good seasons left in them."

Here is a look at the Phillies entering the offseason:

Catcher: Ruiz would have earned a good number of National League Most Valuable Player votes had he stayed healthy and maintained his offensive production through the end of the season. The Phillies have a $5 million club option on him, which will be picked up. Manuel has endorsed Erik Kratz as Ruiz's backup, although that remains to be seen.

First base: Howard had an interesting season. He started on the DL because of left Achilles surgery, and when he returned he suffered career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. But he still drove in a ton of runs at a good clip. Howard believes he will be better next season. The Phillies hope so. They need him producing in the heart of the lineup.

Second base: It's either going to be Utley or Freddy Galvis. It's Utley if the Phillies decide he cannot play third base. It's Galvis if they decide he can. Galvis certainly makes the defense much better up the middle, but he had just a .254 on-base percentage this season. The Phillies need better offensive production than that, even for a defensive-minded player like Galvis.

Third base: The Phillies would love to plug Utley at third and no longer have to worry about the position. But if Utley isn't their man, what do they do? That's tough. The free-agent market isn't terribly exciting with names like Kevin Youkilis, Scott Rolen and Brandon Inge. A trade for somebody like Chase Headley seems unlikely. So it's Utley or bust then? Maybe.

Shortstop: Rollins led the team in home runs this season. He finished among the top offensive shortstops in the game and remains one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. He's the man.

Left field: This is an interesting spot. The Phillies have John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, Nix and Schierholtz in the fold. Juan Pierre could return as a free agent. But how do they make it work? Platoon maybe? If Ruf improves in the outfield while playing winter ball and he continues to show he can hit big league pitching, maybe he will surprise some people and get a shot.

Center field: If the Phillies are going to find a high-profile player on the open market they could use one in center field. B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn are possibilities, but are the Phillies comfortable enough signing either of them to multiyear contracts? Both of them have flaws. But then again, who else would play center field? Maybe they bring back Shane Victorino on a one-year deal until somebody like Tyson Gillies is ready to take over in 2014.

Right field: The Phillies have said Brown will get a shot to play every day in the outfield in 2013. They hope he handles the challenge better than Ben Francisco in 2011 and Mayberry in 2012.

Rotation: It seems pretty much set with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Kendrick and Vance Worley, who should be ready to go in Spring Training following surgery to remove a loose body and spur in his right elbow. If there is an injury, Tyler Cloyd could be an option. But don't expect any big additions for the rotation. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently he is comfortable with what they have.

Bullpen: Manuel said the Phillies need to add one big piece to the bullpen in the offseason. That means a veteran with a solid track record. You know, somebody like Ryan Madson... when he is healthy. If the Phillies can find somebody like that to bridge the rotation to Papelbon things will be much improved. As far as the rest of the bullpen, the Phillies are hoping some of these young relievers continue to mature. There should be plenty of competition there in Spring Training.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
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