A year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies wasted little time raiding the free agent market.
In the first 17 days of free agency, the Phillies signed future Hall of Famer Jim Thome to solidify their bench and inked All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon to the richest contract in baseball history for a relief pitcher.
It remains to be seen if the Phillies act as fast this winter, but it might not be a terrible idea with multiple holes to fill and a top-heavy free agent class. After finishing in third place and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Phillies are expected to be a active as ever in an attempt to restore a championship-caliber roster before spring training.
Despite a disappointing season, the Phils are confident they can return to prominence on the strength of a starting pitching staff that includes two former Cy Young Award winners (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) and a former World Series MVP (Cole Hamels). The health and production of Chase Utley and former MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins also will be crucial.
But how the Phillies add to the pieces already in place could be the difference between whether the team bounces back or continues to regress. After trading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in July, the most pressing need comes in the outfield, where no single player on the current roster is a lock for a starting spot in 2013.
Among the outfielders on the free agent market who could draw interest from the Phillies are Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera and Ryan Ludwick. With center field being a glaring need, a return of Victorino can't be completely ruled out either.
At first glance, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he wasn't exactly blown away by the outfield free agent class.
"I think it's OK," Amaro said. "It's not fantastic, but I think there are people there that can help us. I think there may be some people on the trade market that may be better for us. The free agent market offensively overall is not fantastic, but that doesn't mean that we can't get better."
Another area that almost certainly will be addressed is filling the void of a veteran setup man in front of Papelbon. The Phillies relied on aging and injury-plagued Jose Contreras and young but inconsistent left-hander Antonio Bastardo going into last season, and it did not work out.
Among the veteran free agent relievers who could draw interest are Mike Adams, Jonathan Broxton, J.P. Howell and two former closers coming off Tommy John surgery: Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria.