Philadelphia, PA (AP) - A week after celebrating a world championship, the Phillies front office wastes no time laying the groundwork for a repeat, making the biggest splash of the hot stove season by inking closer Jonathan Papelbon to a 6 year, $84 million deal.
It's easy to rest on your laurels. After all, the Phils had just finished up a magical season, and who wants to think about next season already? But, that's what General Manager Ruben Amaro, Junior was doing, and it paid off.
"I'm definitely happy with what we've done so far," said Amaro. "Jonathan was somebody we really wanted to bring in, especially when we saw Boston signed Valverde. We knew that was our opening."
"How could you not want to come here?" questioned Papelbon after being introduced yesterday. "They just won the whole thing, they're obviously committed to winning more, and I wanted to be a part of that. The Red Sox didn't seem as interested, and I would've liked to stay in Boston. But, Philly is just as great a baseball town. I can't wait to get to work on some cheesesteaks!"
Papelbon had been Boston's closer the past 7 seasons, racking up 215 saves and nearly 500 strikeouts along the way. He also boasts a very solid 2.26 ERA. While "Pap" has hit some rough spots at times in recent years, he's still one of the most dominant guys at the back of the bullpen on anyone's team.
He's a clear upgrade at the closing position over Brad Lidge. While Lidge performed admirably this year, collecting 44 saves, he also gave up some leads and made a lot of games more interesting than you'd like. Ultimately, he blew 8 saves over the course of the year, but that number could have easily reached double digits.
As for Lidge's time with the Phillies, it's not definitely over yet. He is a free agent, and he could re-sign. But, he's already expressed a lack of interest in being anything but the closer. And, Detroit, Florida and Toronto already have offers on the table.
"We hope we can bring Brad back," said manager Charlie Manuel. "While he wouldn't be a closer, he'd certainly be a big help to our bullpen. But, he's done a wonderful job, and we understand whatever way it goes."
Philadelphia wasn't done there, however. The Phils also brought on former Houston Astro and St. Louis Cardinal Lance Berkman. He'll likely take over for Raul Ibanez in left field, who the Phils likely won't re-sign due to his age. While Ibanez had a very good year, he's 39 now and not getting any younger.
Berkman isn't exactly getting younger, either, but he brings plenty of experience and solid hitting to the table. The outfielder/first baseman is a career .291 hitter with 351 home runs. Last year wasn't a great year for average for Berkman, hitting at just .236. But, he did smack 24 long balls and drove in 73 runs. Philly is also rumored to be after Cincinnati left fielder Jonny Gomes.
The Phillies also upgraded their backup catching position by signing Kelly Shoppach to a three year deal. He'll help fill the gaps when Carlos Ruiz is off, and he'll also be a good bridge until another potential prospect, Anthony McKinley is ready. McKinley might play some AA ball this year, but he's still a couple years away from the big leagues.
And then, there's the players Philadelphia managed to re-sign and make sure they couldn't leave via free agency. Among the key re-signgings: shortstop Jimmy Rollins with a 4 year, $72 million deal. Ryan Madson will return as the setup guy for Papelbon over the next five years. Roy Oswalt was brought back for an average of $11 million over the next four seasons, and the Phils avoided arbitration with another young guy, Cole Hamels, by inking him to a five year contract. Prized outfielder Domonic Brown, who will likely win Rookie of the Year with his .286, 16 HR and 64 RBI season, stays with the club for three more years.
"Sometimes, it's all about keeping the right pieces of the puzzle in place," said Amaro. "Clearly, we had a good team last year. We wanted to bring a lot of those guys back and lock them up for a while. In addition, we wanted to try and strengthen our position. I think we did that."
There's still plenty of time for wheeling and dealing to be had. But, the Phils are already in a great position to try and repeat next year. And, it's all because of the work done just a week after winning it all.