For Philly fans (myself included), it was hard to imagine a worse way for the 2011 season to end. As prohibitive favorites to win the World Series, the Phillies watched a 2-1 series lead evaporate with it all culminating in a Ryan Howard groundout to end the series that saw him pull up lame and fall to the ground in a heap. The injury turned out to be a worst case scenario — a ruptured achilles tendon in the ankle. With recovery estimates varied from 6 months to over a year and no gaurantee of a full recovery, it is impossible at this point (and not the purpose of this piece) to assess Howard’s situation except to say it is very possible that he isn’t ready for opening day. Or in 2012 at all.

The natural question following an injury like this is, “Who is next in line?” For the Phillies, it may seem in line with their recent spending to go out and sign a free agent to fill the gap. While this is certainly possible, the Phillies this offseason may find themselves strapped for cash. Although sizeable contracts like Blanton, Lidge and Raul Ibanez are coming off the books, the Phillies have several MAJOR pay raises in the works and possibly need to re-sign players like Ryan Madson and Jimmy Rollins. Therefore in the rest of the Phillies’ moves including their search for a first baseman, frugality may be the name of the game. In line with this theme, with a little guts and creativity the Phillies may discover that their replacement 1st baseman is already on their roster in the person of John Mayberry Jr.

After years of bouncing around the minors in multiple organizations, Mayberry was finally given an extended look in the majors in 2011. The former Ranger did not disappoint, as he slugged 15 HRs in limited at bats (296). He played anywhere the Phillies could find room for him, whether it was due to injury, ineffectiveness, or just Charlie Manuel’s desire to let the best man play. Looking under the hood it seems as though Mayberry changed his approach at the plate going into 2011. His walk rate increased and his strikeout rate was nearly cut in half from his minor league norms. Additionally, he posted an absurd .240 ISO (compare that to Ryan Howard’s .235). While it is unlikely that he could keep up that type of power over an entire season (especially if a good chunk of at bats came against righties), they are likewise impossible to ignore.

All of Mayberry’s 2011 accomplishments did not go unnoticed in the organization, as the Phillies have indicated that he will play next season. Manager Charlie Manuel has been open in his praise for Mayberry, saying that he envisions Mayberry as an everyday player. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently echoed these sentiments as he went on record saying that Mayberry would be given every chance to compete with top prospect Domonic Brown for the starting left fielder job vacated by Raul Ibanez. The most likely scenario arising from such a competition would likely be some sort of platoon situation, with Mayberry as the right-handed component. However, should everyday at bats become available at first base, it is reasonable to expect Mayberry to be the primary beneficiary. While Mayberry’s platoon splits certainly favor left-handed pitching (.953 OPS in 2011), he was by no means inept against righties (.785 OPS in 2011) indicating that he could probably succeed while playing everyday if needed.

Mayberry isn’t exactly a stranger to first base. After the Hunter Pence trade, playing time in the outfield shrunk dramatically. In an attempt to keep Mayberry’s bat in the lineup, Charlie Manuel started plugging him into the lineup at first base, spelling a tired and dinged up Ryan Howard. The results were mixed: Mayberry’s hot bat continued to make an impact, but he struggled defensely posting a -11.4 UZR/150 at first base. While this may not be enough to prohibit him from playing the position (Ryan Howard’s worst defensive season had a -11.8 UZR/150), it is a number that would have to improve for him to be an upgrade over a free agent signing. Fortunately, this number may improve for several reasons. For one thing, this year’s stats were based on a relatively small sample size. Additionally, Mayberry is a better natural athlete than Ryan Howard, which combined with a full offseason to learn the position (he was thrust into the role this season), may result in a defensive improvement.

In short, it will be impossible for the Phillies to replace Ryan Howard in their lineup which was already struggling to score runs before the injury. Moreover, the ludicrous contract that he was handed looms large in the Phillies’ future plans. However, Mayberry’s offensive presence at first base may represent a low-cost alternative while the team addresses other issues if he can improve on defense. The Phillies will still be in contention in 2012 with their pitching, and Charlie Manuel, Ruben Amaro and the Phillies would be well-served by turning the kid loose at first and seeing what sticks.

  1. chata says:

    mayberry seems like the logical choice for 2012 .

    the fear , i suppose , is that howard returns in 2012/13
    and puts up carlos pena-type numbers .
    phillies fans should hope that their front office does not
    choose to “reward” jimmy rollins with a long-term contract .
    with hunter pence being your only position player under the
    age of 30 , howard’s injury should signal that it’s time to
    blow-up this team and start building for the future .
    the failure of this team , the past two post-seasons , proves
    that it’s not going to succeed with the roster it presently employs .
    metaphorically , this team , and their front-office approach ,
    represents an aging athlete who doesn’t know when to hang it up .
    this situation did not happen overnight , and last year’s signing of
    cliff lee only exasperated the problem .
    so , yeah , give mayberry a shot .
    what have you got to lose ?

  2. K RoC says:

    They lose those 3 guys you mention + J Roll and trade Oswalt. Sign Pujols. Everyone wins.

  3. Benny says:

    As a Phils fan, I’m sad to correct you that Blanton is still under contract through 2012.

    I’m pretty certain Mayberry plays 1st with Dom Brown playing LF to open the year. Dom Brown will finally get everyday at bats and they’ll see exactly what they have in him while Mayberry mans 1st during Howard’s absense. Rollins proabably walks and I wouldn’t be surprised if Madson does as well. There are quite a few closers on the FA market this year and the Phils would be wise to not dump a ton of $ into Madson. I’d expect them bring in 3B considering Polanco is breaking down as fast as Utley. Not to mention Polanco will be in the final year of his deal as well.

  4. Benny says:

    @K Roc and @Tony

    you can’t sign another 1B to a huge contract. You’d have $50M a year tied into 1st base. Pujols or Prince would never, ever happen. Unless the Phils convince a team to trade for Howard and his monsterous contract. They’d have to basically give him away for a mid-low prospect. Nobody wants an injured and againg 1B at $25M a year for the next several seasons.

  5. Benny says:

    @Tony agreed. I can definitely see Reyes coming to Philly. Especially if they let Rollins and Madson walk as well as decline the option on Oswalt. I think Prince definitely ends up with the Cubs. You know Theo will want to make a big splash. Theo will get Prince or Pujols… but I just cant see the Cards letting Pujols walk.

  6. Erik

    Erik says:

    Hey everybody, thanks for the feedback. I’m glad I was able to spark a discussion. This is my first article for Razzball, hopefully the first of many, and it is great to see so much interest and chatter from readers. Now to the comments:

    @Benny, don’t know how I missed the Blanton thing- wishful thinking I suppose as a fellow Phillies fan. About Dom Brown starting opening day in left, I really just don’t see it. Ruben Amaro has said he wants Brown to spend the ENTIRE 2012 SEASON in AAA. If Howard does indeed miss time and Mayberry plays first, his hand may be forced to bring up Dom, but I’m sure we’ll sign a scrap heap outfielder as a stopgap just in case. I’m not all that bullish for Dom Brown in redrafts 2012, but he is still a good bet in dynasty leagues.

    Also, I agree you can’t trade Howard away for peanuts. You made the bed with this contract and now have to sleep in it, provided he comes back and can produce as he has in the past. I really don’t know what they will do if he is a Carlos Pena or Mo Vaugn type situation in the future.

    @chata, I agree that the Phillies window is closing faster than they anticipated, or may have already closed. I think they do indeed need to let Rollins walk. As for the trading Halladay, I don’t see it happening (however logical it may or may not be). This city’s baseball expectations have risen to crazy heights and Ruben Amaro isn’t just going to accept defeat next year. I know that this year the offense was the problem, but the Phillies feel that as long they have Halladay Lee and Hamels that they have a chance to go all the way any given year regardless of who fills out the hitting lineup. Also all indications are that Halladay really does want to stay here beyond his contract and still wants to win that ring.

    @Tony I agree it is sad to see Utley age as he has and Howard banged up. Ruben Amaro has come out and said that he doesn’t think Utley will ever be the same player again as he used to be. Really sad stuff. However I am not all doom and gloom- as I said above with the Phillies pitching they always will have a shot for the next few years IF they can make the postseason.

    @Kroc We’d all love to see Pujols wearing Phillies pinstripes but I’d put that at about a 0.0000001% chance of that happening. As Benny said you can’t tie up that much money in 2 1st basemen. That was the point of my piece- that Mayberry represents a cheap effective alternative and insurance policy at 1st base.

    As for trading Oswalt, his club option is huge but has a 2 million dollar buyout. The 2 sides will likely come to some compromise in the middle and he will re-sign. If he does at a compromise price, then he will be a tradeable commodity and I agree they should try to get a young bat for him and give the #4 job to Worley and sign a scrap heap #5.

    Thanks guys keep the comments coming and I will respond ASAP!

  7. Frezdc says:

    I think a better option would be moving Utley to 1B, Polanco to 2nd (his natural position), and signing a guy like Cuddyer to play 3rd. This would enable Mayberry Jr. to be the every day left fielder. If Mayberry Jr. shows that he can handle LF, then the Phillies have a trade piece in Dominic Brown. I also think they will let Rollins walk (5 years for a speed guy with legs issues, no way!), and Madson (with Boras as his agent) will probably go to Washington, like Werth did last year. I’d probably try Valdez at short, sign Hamels long-term, and bring in a guy like Heath Bell to replace Madson (at a cheaper price). If Valdez isn’t the answer as a good defense number 8 hitter at SS, and if Mayberry can handle LF, then trading Brown may help them get a better SS. I haven’t thought of who I would want yet, but time will tell if they need to go down that road. In 2010, the line-up was better down the stretch with Valdez at SS then when Rollins was there. Rollins is obviously a better player, but not for 5 more years at the salary increase he will command. Just my opinions, nothing written in stone. I’ve been a Phillies fan since the 1970’s, so I have a lot of time (and money) invested in seeing them get this right.

  8. ashtonkorver says:

    Here is my nonsense approach to updating the Phils roster… I doubt this will fly since the $$ and contacts wont work out, but a guy can dream right? Rube has to get creative, there is no way they compete on offense with the same group and “a different approach to hitting, get on base, move runners, etc”

    1. Sign Jose Reyes, let Rollins walk ($$ will probably prevent this signing)
    2. Sign Nick Swisher, he plays 1st until Howard returns and moves to the OF after his return (this seems to make the most sense since there aren’t many available guys that can play 1B and transition to the OF, Carlos Pena makes no sense if Howard returns next season)
    3. Trade Victorino to San Diego for Chase Headley and Luke Gregerson (Vic is overvalued by most teams, Headley is an upgrade at 3B over Polly, who is clearly breaking down and Gregerson improves that pen immediately)
    4. Sign a Coco Crisp type for CF

    Line up
    Crisp/Garry Maddox
    Mayberry/Dom Brown

  9. Erik

    Erik says:

    @ashtonkorver I don’t think I’d deal Victorino in that context either. I know Headley is killed by Petco but I am still not a fan of his. That being said I think trading Victorino for infield help and rolling with an outfield of brown pence and mayberry might be a good move; then you would be able to sign a flex 1B/OF type like somebody mentioned swisher. This would be insurance for Ryan Howard’s injury. I like that a lot actually. I would aim higher than Headley though.

    My gut also says that Pujols re-signs.

  10. ronald johnson says:

    hey man i dont think that howards injury hurts the phi;s too much. i think they will scrape together the wins next year and then not make the playoffs or maybe they will make the playoffs

  11. OaktownSteve says:

    One thing I think is interesting is the assumption that Rollins is going to get a big contract and the 5 years he’s looking for just because that’s where he’s come out of the gate asking. What would be nice for the Phillies would be if after looking around, he came back to them and got a reasonable deal done. Let’s face it there aren’t that many good ss options in MLB as a whole. The problem with Rollins is not that he isn’t useful, (had a nice enough season), it’s that he’s no longer a piece to build around. As a veteran hitting down in the line up and playing a solid short (still more range than Jeter for instance, arm still there) you could do worse.

    If I’m the Phillies I’m looking to turn Hammels into a corner outfield bat or a 3rd baseman via trade and roll with Worley. If they go free agent, Aramis Ramirez would be a nice fit.

  12. steve b says:

    well I’m not gonna draft Mayberry

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