Phils' 2014 lineup could be set after recent moves
Barring major trade, re-signing Ruiz, adding Byrd appears to shore up batting order
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies just committed $42 million to Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd to help an offense that scored the fourth-fewest runs in baseball last season.
Nobody is expecting Ruiz and Byrd to turn the lineup into an offensive juggernaut. They are considered complementary pieces. Philadelphia's front office still believes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins can lead the way. Yes, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could make a big move before Opening Day on March 31 in Texas -- at this point, a trade is the only way to improve the offense -- but barring that, it looks like the heavy lifting for the 2014 offense is complete.
When Phils manager Ryne Sandberg fills out his lineup card against the Rangers, it could look like this:
1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Rollins, SS
3. Utley, 2B
4. Howard, 1B
5. Byrd, RF
6. Domonic Brown, LF
7. Ruiz, C
8. Cody Asche, 3B
Revere hit .347 with nine doubles, two triples and a .784 OPS in 240 plate appearances from May 1 through July 13, when he broke his right foot. The Phillies believe he can be a .300 hitter and productive atop the lineup. But Revere has zero power, which means he needs to find a lot of holes and utilize his speed to get on base.
Rollins just finished the worst season of his career. He hit .252 with 36 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 39 RBIs, 65 runs scored, 22 stolen bases and a career-low .667 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The veteran ranked 12th out of 17 qualifying shortstops in OPS, and 131st out of 140 qualifying players.
"I think anybody wants to play for something," Rollins said on the final day of the season, when asked if it was tough to play on a losing team. "Not that you're not playing for anything, but when it's out there and it's attainable, you play better. You lock in, you turn on and you stay on. You have times where you feel like the energy is gone, the excitement is gone. You have some games you get excited for, but when you're doing well, you get excited every day."
Perhaps a more focused and energized Rollins can bounce back in 2014.
Utley rebounded nicely after missing much of the previous two seasons because of knee injuries. His .823 OPS ranked 18th out of 64 qualifying players in the National League. If Utley can stay healthy -- he believes his knee condition is under control -- the Phils are counting on him to be a productive No. 3 hitter.
Howard has missed much of the previous two seasons because of leg injuries. His .752 OPS the past two years simply won't cut it. Philadelphia needs much more from its $25 million cleanup hitter. Amaro and Howard believe if he is healthy, he can return to form.
Byrd just had the best season of his career at 35 years old, but it followed the worst season of his career in 2012, which included a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Which Byrd will the Phillies get?
Speculation remains that Amaro would trade Brown for the right price, but Brown is just 26, and he hit 27 home runs with 83 RBIs last season. It is tough to find sluggers, especially ones with so little service time, so if the Phils trade Brown, they would need to find some power elsewhere.
Ruiz just had his worst offensive season since 2008, which makes his signing a risky one when his age (he turns 35 in January), position and injury history (he has been on the disabled list in each of the previous five seasons) are considered. But the Phillies didn't like the alternatives, and they still believe they can win next season. So rather than lose Ruiz, who hits right-handed, they gave him the extra year he desired with the hope that everything in their lineup breaks right next season.
Asche is likely to be the Opening Day third baseman, although Amaro said prospect Maikel Franco will compete in Spring Training. The Phils like what they have seen from Asche, and hitting him eighth should allow him to get comfortable at the plate. There should be relatively little pressure on him.
And what might the bench look like?
Erik Kratz and Cameron Rupp could compete this spring to be Ruiz's backup. Kevin Frandsen is likely to be on the bench as a utility infielder. Freddy Galvis also seems likely for a utility infield spot, with Reid Brignac in the mix after signing a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. Darin Ruf has value as a corner outfielder/first baseman with pop.
That leaves a fifth outfielder. Amaro said last week he sees no reason why he will not tender John Mayberry Jr. a contract. Mayberry is eligible for salary arbitration, but if Amaro is serious about improving the outfield defense, he could use a true center fielder to play in place of Revere should something happen to him.
FOXSports.com mentioned Grady Sizemore as a possibility. MLB.com recently listed 10 teams that could be a trade partner with the Angels, who could trade outfielder Peter Bourjos for young, controllable pitching. The Phillies did not make the list, but it is worth noting they have liked Bourjos in the past.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.