I stole this idea from Peter Abraham, who is unequivocally the best Yankees beat writer (and, ironically, once worked at the newspaper I’m currently at). He wrote about the 20 most important Yankees at this very moment, including any person on the payroll (including scouts, coaches, front office personnel, etc.). I’ll do the same for the Phillies. Here are my 20 most important people in the Phillies organization today:
1. Ruben Amaro Jr.
He was handed a golden ticket when Pat Gillick resigned as general manager: The franchise’s second world title, a solid core of major leaguers, a slowly improving farm system. Are the Phillies a first-division team like the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs? Or are they just another flame-out champion like the White Sox, Cardinals and Marlins? Amaro will decide that by how he works the budget.
2. Ryan Howard
He might not be a Phillie in three years, but right now he’s crucial. The all-universe slugger is baseball’s biggest bat, but he demands the biggest money. Does he deserve it all? Still, if he improves his contact hitting and defense, he’s the best player in the game. And he leads this team to another championship.
3. David Montgomery
The shrewd president (at least we think he’s shrewd) is the face of the unknown ownership, and he’s the one who first held the world championship trophy. It’s his pen that may give Cole Hamels a new contract, and it’s his pen that may give the Phils a new philosophy on adding and subtracting players. Who knows if the Phils won in spite of his style, but he remains integral to the team’s long-term success.
4. Cole Hamels
The ace lifted himself into the top shelf of major league pitchers with his postseason performance, one for the ages. Now the 2008 World Series MVP will try and remain a top starter for the next 12-16 years. He can. Hopefully it’s as a Phillie.
5. Charlie Manuel
Say what you want, but Uncle Chollie held down the fort throughout 2008. When Jimmy Rollins seemed lax; when the team grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons; when things seemed sour in the summer — all these times Manuel kept composure and remained optimistic. It paid off. To me, another good season or two solidifies his place as the franchise’s all-time skipper.
6. Chase Utley
The franchise underwent hip surgery, and now must rehab as the title-defense season nears. The long-term question is how Utley will perform for the next few years, as his hip and other body parts endure his 100-percent effort. A move to first base or left field may be in the near future.
7. Brett Myers
Why is Myers so important? Try a free agency year. Myers, 28, is entering the prime of his career and must produce numbers close to his second-half output to secure a big deal in 2010. His performance in 2009 will dictate how the Phils approach the 2010 offseason. And it also will dictate how the Phils perform from the mound in ’09.
8. Pat Burrell
Like Myers, Burrell remains key because of his contract status. If the Phillies choose to re-sign the 32-year-old slugger, it’ll take off a chunk of money in the offseason budget. If they don’t, it leaves a giant hole in left field.
9. Chuck LaMar
The new assistant general manager is in charge of scouting, and must continue to fill a farm system that was once — debatably — the worst in baseball. Now the system is improving, but still in the lower tier. If LaMar can work magic, like he did in Tampa Bay, the Phils will be set for the next 15 years.
10. Ryan Madson
Madson is the only reliever besides Brad Lidge who is capable of being totally dominant, and now coming into a free agency year, Mad Dog can potentially secure himself a closer-worthy contract if he stands out in 2009. A sterling performance as Lidge’s No. 1 protector would go a long way in defending the title.
11. Carlos Carrasco
The 6’3″ 21-year-old right-hander will be watched like a hawk in 2009. It’s likely Carrasco will see Citizens Bank Park by the All-Star break, and it’s also likely he finishes the season as one of the five men in the rotation. With Hamels, the Venezuelan with the moving fastball and deadly changeup is the future of Phillies pitching.
12. Brad Lidge
Going 48-for-48 in 2008 was a once-in-a-lifetime feat. Being the man on the mound when the Phils won the world championship was, as well. But if anyone can duplicate those feats, it’s Lidge, who found new life in 2008. While you can’t expect another perfect season, his health and performance remains key to success.
13. Jimmy Rollins
The Phillies proved they could win without their captain, but it was he who provided the ice-breaking swings in the NLDS and NLCS. He may run his mouth and show up late, but Rollins is undoubtedly the face of the franchise, and maybe, the city’s most twistedly revered sports figure.
14. Benny Looper
The new assistant GM takes Amaro’s old job, and he’ll work closely with him to ensure they field the team strongly. As Amaro’s first large appointment, he’ll be one of the first indicators of the Amaro era.
15. Shane Victorino
Throughout 2008, it seemed where Shane went, so did the Phillies. His electric play with his bat, glove and legs made him a burgeoning star, and his postseason play made him a marquee name. If he remains healthy and contributes solid play, he hands the Phils 15 wins or so.
16. Lou Marson
The 22-year-old catcher seems poised to take over as everyday receiver in either 2009 or 2010. His power should come around, but for now he projects as a .290 hitter with slightly above-average catching and throwing abilities. Hard to find those qualities in a catcher.
17. Anthony Hewitt
The first-round draft pick is crucial to the future. Undeniably raw, he has everything but a bat. But if that appears, he’s a future all-star infielder. He could be a third baseman, taking over in three years or so, or he could be Rollins’ replacement. His failure means another reassessment of the franchise’s draft strategy.
18. Steve Noworyta
The Phillies had just one overachieving affiliate in 2008, and that was the very lowest affiliate (the Gulf Coast League Phillies). Both the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and Reading Phillies fared miserably, with Reading overhauling its staff after a disappointing season. The system is improving, but it’s Nowortya who ultimately could get the system onto the better half of the list.
19. Carlos Ruiz
The catching issue is a good one to have, but it’s still an issue. Ruiz’s magnificent World Series gave us all new faith in the 29-year-old, and showed us just how crucial he is to the pitching staff. He’ll go a long way in keeping the staff among the majors’ best in 2009.
20. Kyle Drabek
Lost in the flurry of percolating prospects, Drabek came out of Tommy John surgery and performed strong in an abbreviated 2008 and in the Hawaiian Winter League. His 2009 might mean a quick ascention to Philadelphia.
Others considered: Jamie Moyer, Michael Taylor, Jason Donald, Rich Dubee, Jayson Werth, Joe Blanton
What’s your list?