The Philadelphia Phillies are moving toward the 2013 season with many challenges in front of them. Each will have to be confronted if a realistic rebound into playoff contention is to take place. With many personnel decisions to be made and the team's massive payroll obligations continuing to be a major factor, let's address their major concerns.
Five challenges #5: Defining bullpen roles
Detractors can say what they like about the money that was spent, but signing Jonathan Papelbon to replace Ryan Madson as the Phillies' closer will only be a mistake if he falters in future seasons. He has been the most consistent part of the 2012 bullpen.
A lack of reliable middle-inning men helped to turn many wins into losses this season. Last season Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes effectively stepped into Ryan Madson's old role, which helped to secure the latter innings of many games.
On the plus side, the team has seen a number of young arms perform well at times this season. Hopefully some of them and a few veteran additions will fill-out this area of the team's roster next year.
Five challenges #4: Securing third base
Placido Polanco was a fine player to have brought back into the mix three offseasons ago. As everyone has seen, his best days appear to be behind him and an alternative solution at third base will need to be in place by next spring.
Kevin Frandsen has been a sensation in August, but had only hit seven home runs in 568 career major league at bats heading into the 2012 season. His energetic play should easily allow him to compete for a bench spot next season. Depending upon who the team acquires, it's also possible that he may become part of a platoon.
The Phillies have a solid third base prospect currently playing for the Double-A Reading Phillies in form of 22-year-old Cody Asche. So, this position might be fixed through a one-year stop-gap measure.
Five challenges #3: Filling two outfield spots
If Domonic Brown does well through the end of 2012, he will clearly be part of next season's outfield contingent. In consideration of his strong arm and extensive minor league experience in right field, that position is his to lose.
Keeping in mind what was suggested regarding low-cost, one-year options at third base, money would remain available for outfield spots and for bullpen needs.
Should the Phillies decide to seriously pursue Atlanta Braves' centerfielder Michael Bourn, we can be assured that his agent Scott Boras will demand a long-term, big-money deal. If Bourn does in fact return to the team that originally drafted him, the free agent's cost of doing so might preclude obtaining a similar impact player in left field. Specifically obtaining this player would also help to resolve the ongoing leadoff spot questions that have affected Philadelphia for awhile.
A major addition in centerfield could allow the Phillies to consider keeping a platoon of Juan Pierre and John Mayberry, Jr. in place in left field. Combining their offensive and defensive numbers would create a decent (though hardly great) result.
Five challenges #2: Chase Utley's status
Utley has played much better and for more extensive periods of time since his return than I ever thought he could. He apparently has strengthened the lower half of his body to the point where he's able to be generally effective at the plate and in the field.
Will he be able to start at second base when the season begins next spring? If he does, will his body be able to withstand the six-month regular season schedule?
It's natural to remain concerned about Utley's health status for whatever amount of time he stays dressed in red pinstripes.
Solely relying on Freddy Galvis as a fallback option is far too risky. Possibly, Frandsen is the man who will fill this role instead.
Five challenges #1: Dugout decisions
The Phillies may have already decided who their manager is going to be next season.
Adding Ryne Sandberg as a coach to the staff in the offseason might serve to weaken Charlie Manuel's position, because 2013 is the final year on his current contract.
Will Amaro ask Manuel to accept another position with the team so that Sandberg can replace him after the 2012 season ends? Is it possible that another person could be hired to take over instead?
I don't know the answers to these questions. What's clear is that the team is in transition and that the current manager's position seems far from secure.
Extra innings: I'm optimistically assuming that the big three of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee will all be healthy next season. So, I'm not counting the starting pitching staff as more of a concern then the other five items that were mentioned above.
Ryan Howard should be fully back to form by next April.
I see Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz forming a solid one-two punch behind the plate next season.
Jimmy Rollins also is who he is, a still-strong defensive player who remains inconsistent at the plate. I would only trade him, if a better all-around player was available to replace him. If he remains in town, I would drop him to seventh in the batting order without any hesitation.
Sean O'Brien's professional writing career began in 1990, when he first began working in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He was a freelance sports writer for five years and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
More from this author and the Yahoo Contributor Network: