Though there are some big free agents still occupying the free agent market, a quick glance at the Philadelphia Phillies' depth chart would lead one to assume that their shopping for the winter was pretty much completed. Heading into the off-season, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needed a couple of things from the free agent grocery store.
A veteran closer? Check. The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a lucrative, four (potentially five) year deal. An improved bench? Check. After re-signing back-up catcher Brian Schneider, only he and utility man Wilson Valdez remain from last year's reserves. The club signed free agents Jim Thome and Laynce Nix to provide some left handed pop, and acquired Ty Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies to do the same, but from the right side of the plate, waiving goodbye to Ben Francisco in the process.
Albeit for maybe a small signing, like a fifth outfielder to hold down the fort while Ryan Howard recovers from his torn Achilles tendon, the Phillies seem pretty much done, right?
A number of sources believe that the Phillies are still in the market for a third baseman, and while there haven't been any names bandied about as of late, it is clear that none of them will be able to mark down the Phillies as a potential landing spot if the team is unable to move current third baseman, Placido Polanco.
After the Phillies were dispelled from the postseason last October, both manager Charlie Manuel and GM Amaro Jr. were relatively clear about their desire for an upgrade at third base, and while the latter's stance has changed over the course of the winter, one must wonder whether or not he is simply downplaying his interest.
After all, Polanco is certainly no guarantee heading into 2012. The third baseman will be 36 this season, and is coming off of an off-season in which he had surgery to repair a double sports hernia. This comes on the heels of a slew of other injuries, including to his back and elbow.
The Phillies have made no bones about their concerns about not only his health but offensive production. Last season, Polanco posted a slash line of just .277 / .335 / .339. For a corner infielder with no power, that simply won't do.
During the Winter Meetings in December, the Phillies were actively shopping Polanco to other teams, though in the long run, no trade was consummated. This, however, was in large part due to the fact that the Phillies had made progress on a deal with Jimmy Rollins, their Plan A. Plan B was to acquire a third baseman with more power.
One man may have changed the Phillies approach from "either or" to "both" this week: Prince Fielder.
When news broke that the Washington Nationals were the leading candidate to sign Fielder, the rest of the National League East went on high alert. Adding Fielder to an already impressive offense and vastly underrated pitching staff would, simply put, make the Nats a contender.
But what does this mean for the rest of the NL East?
I was able to get in touch with a source this week, and though he wasn't able to divulge much information, he did comment on Fielder. When asked what a potential deal with the Nationals would mean for the rest of the NL East, the source said, "You have to be blunt about that situation: He [Fielder] is a game-changer. Teams are preparing to counter. It's your classic arms race."
With that statement echoing loud and clear, you can already see the results of that potential arms race. The Miami Marlins pulled the trigger on a deal to acquire former Chicago Cubs' starter Carlos Zambrano, and the Atlanta Braves have revisited talks with the Baltimore Orioles about All-Star outfielder Adam Jones.
The question then becomes: What will the Phillies do?
Unless they are able to find a match on a Polanco where they wouldn't have to eat the entirety of his salary, the answer is probably nothing. Polanco does, however, still have value. He is a supreme defender at two positions and when healthy, a very good contact hitter. Some team will take a chance on him if given the opportunity.
At that point, what are the Phillies' options. First and foremost, they would like to add a bit of power to that position, and while this doesn't have to be a 30 home run threat, they'll be looking for some power regardless. One name you can probably put the axe to is David Wright. In terms of salary and prospects, the chances of the Phillies and New York Mets matching up on a deal here are slim to none.
One name to definitely keep an eye on is Wilson Betemit. Betemit is a guy that the Phillies have talked about in the past, and I've been told, haven't completely closed the book on. While the upgrade is probably minimal (.795 OPS, 8 HRs in 2011,) teams are probably looking back on a 2010 campaign in which he posted an OPS of .889 and hit 13 home runs and wondering if that can be replicated. A BABip of .361 shows that that would be an unlikely scenario.
The best thing Betemit has going for him is that he will probably be relatively inexpensive when the dust settles, perhaps to the point that the Phillies can make a move for him without having to move Polanco.
Of course, they could always explore the trade market as well. While Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres isn't a name likely to be moved this winter, he would be a good fit for the Phillies. Perhaps a more likely target is Alberto Callaspo of the Los Angeles Angels, a likely victim of the depth chart should Mark Trumbo prove his health.
At the end of the day, however, I would expect the Phillies to stand pat at third base. There just isn't a great deal to be had for a third baseman, and the addition of Wigginton should help the Phillies alleviate some of the stress on Polanco, who Amaro Jr. believes can still be an everyday player.
Just know this: The Phillies' off-season isn't nearly as over as you think it is.