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Smart moves nearly complete Phillies

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series runs in reverse order of team quality and continues at No. 3 with the Philadelphia Phillies.

2009 record: 93-69
2009 finish: First place, National League East
2009 final payroll: $138 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $150 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

After a season in which they won their third consecutive division title and played in their second consecutive World Series (in part because they – and not the Dodgers – acquired Cliff Lee(notes) at the trading deadline); after a winter in which they traded for Roy Halladay(notes) and signed Placido Polanco(notes) and took a shot at building a sturdier bullpen; after an offseason in which ownership signed off on contract extensions for the Nos. 1 and 3 starters, the catcher and the center fielder, Ruben Amaro Jr. had but one question to answer: But why couldn't we have Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee?

It's not a bad question.

It's about the money, of course, and a little about the prospects, the future. You can't dog the Phillies about payroll, not after they were outspent by only five teams – two (the Mets and Cubs) in the National League, neither of which made the playoffs. They just shelled out $115 million in extensions for Halladay, Joe Blanton(notes), Shane Victorino(notes) and Carlos Ruiz(notes) and another $18 million for Polanco. Jayson Werth(notes) can walk after '10, and then Ryan Howard(notes) and Jimmy Rollins(notes) come due after '11, and it's quite possible they'll need another closer between now and then.

Still, even if for a single season, the Phillies could have gone Halladay-Lee-Cole Hamels(notes), or Lee-Halladay-Hamels, and then the Mets could have rested Carlos Beltran(notes) and Jose Reyes for a whole season.

REALITY CHECK

Remember when the Phillies were all J-Roll bluster and Ryan Howard uppercuts and Ol' Cholly country? Well, not no more. The Dave Montgomery-Pat Gillick-Ruben Amaro Jr.-Charlie Manuel trust has assembled a smart, savvy, veteran roster that's October tough and the class of the National League. They win now even when Rollins struggles or Hamels can't find his curveball or Raul Ibanez(notes) tanks the second half or Brad Lidge(notes) hits every bat in the rack. Twice.

No one in the NL – not the Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies or Braves – did enough to chase down the Phillies. That said, there are two critical areas for them.

A year after he was MVP of the NLCS and World Series, Hamels set regular-season career highs in losses, ERA and hits allowed, then was knocked around by the Rockies, Dodgers and Yankees after that – by which time he admitted he welcomed the offseason. Team officials thought Hamels became too predictable with his fastball-changeup selection and was erratic with his curveball. It's also likely Hamels was paying for the 262 innings he threw the season before. A quieter winter should serve him well.

Lidge, who blew 11 saves in the regular season, had elbow surgery in November and knee surgery in January and might not be ready for opening day. The Phillies survived him in '09 but might not be so willing to live through another season like it. Ryan Madson(notes) and Danys Baez(notes) (who in another lifetime saved 71 games over two seasons for Tampa Bay) would appear to be the alternatives.

Next: Boston Red Sox

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