The remarkable thing about baseball in the 21st century is that there really is no break in the action any longer. On the first day after the World Series ended, we had one trade, one near-trade, and the news that one of the top potential free agents, Bobby Abreu, would not be reaching the market. So even as the Yankees celebrate with a parade and the Phillies pack up a season two wins short of their goal, both front offices are looking ahead to 2010 and the decisions that will have to be made to get the teams back to the World Series.
Both of these teams will return the core of their pennant-winning teams. The Yankees have eight of their top ten position players plus their top two starting pitchers and their closer under contract for next season. They also have control over their entire postseason bullpen, and in fact, one of their biggest offseason challenges will be making decisions on Joba Chamberlain and Philip Hughes. Both pitchers should be starters, both have had success in that role and both have the physical ability and repertoire to succeed in the rotation. The detour of each to the bullpen to suit the short-term needs of the team and protect their young arms, while successful, complicated the development of both as starters and created, in Chamberlain's case, a controversy where there needn't have been one. With tremendous depth in live arms, such as David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and Mark Melancon, the Yankees don't need to burn pitchers with the talent and potential of Chamberlain and Hughes on roles where they'll pitch 80 innings a season. Both should be in the 2010 rotation.
After a World Series in which both played well, Series MVP Hideki Matsui and left fielder Johnny Damon both can become free agents. The Yankees, who have an aging lineup, almost certainly will not bring both players back, but re-signing Damon, who profiles as a player who will continue to age well, to a short deal would give them outfield depth. This offseason's free-agent market is weak relative to those of 2009 -- which the Yankees dominated -- or 2011, which is loaded, so signing Damon would be a hedge against a larger investment in Matt Holliday or Jason Bay and leave resources available for a push on Carl Crawford, Joe Mauer or Roy Halladay a year from now.
Despite the attention garnered for their high-dollar investments last winter, a more fundamental change in the Yankees' approach is seen at the lower end of the roster. The organization has been more willing to fill back-end spots with homegrown or low-cost talent rather than with expensive acquisitions. This trend not only leads to better depth, but more money available for the high-value players at the top of the roster. The Yankees should continue to let the young relievers, or players such as Brett Gardner and Ramiro Pena, take roster spots and playing time.
The most difficult thing to do is not to do anything, but the Yankees should use the goodwill from their World Series crown as an opportunity to stay out of a weak market for free agents, keeping their powder dry so that they can use it to blast away next winter.
The Phillies don't need to be sold on the value of homegrown talent, as their second straight pennant winner is loaded with it. Like the Yankees, the Phillies will return most of their main contributors from 2009 -- only Pedro Feliz, whose contract includes an option, and Brett Myers are potential free agents. They'll have one more season of Cliff Lee, giving them a top four of Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton (arb-eligible) and J.A. Happ that matches up with almost any NL team. Long-term deals for Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth mean their payroll is manageable, with $108 million plus whatever Blanton and Shane Victorino make in arbitration comprising most of the payroll.
Where the Phillies don't have that kind of high-caliber investment is at closer, where Brad Lidge was signed to a silly three-year extension during his career-best 2008 season, and is set to be the game's third-highest-paid reliever in '10 and '11. That's a lot of money for a guy who was as responsible as anyone for the Phillies not running away with the NL East. Lidge could bounce back to be an average, maybe above-average closer, but his command issues and longball tendencies limit his upside and make his downside devastating to a team. The Phillies not only cannot go another four months letting Lidge blow games, they have to bolster the 'pen around him, which this year included some moderately effective veterans but on the whole was unimpressive. Working a Kyle Drabek in through the bullpen, as they did Happ, would be one way to help the relief corps.
The other big issue for the Phillies is Jimmy Rollins. Always miscast as a leadoff hitter, Rollins limited the offense this season by posting a career-worst .296 OBP. As was evident throughout the postseason, the Phillies need a leadoff man who gets on base, because their next four hitters are fantastic at moving runners around the bases with hits and power. When Rollins reached base, the Phillies were successful, but it didn't happen enough. The Phillies cannot go another full season with a subpar OBP in the leadoff spot, and if Rollins doesn't bounce back, they'll have to move him down in the order permanently. With Rollins potentially a free agent after 2010, this is a situation that both player and team will have to handle carefully.
The Phillies, having established themselves as one of the better teams in baseball, now look to take the step the Braves did in the 1990s, integrating young talent into an already great team to become a dynasty while managing payroll. With Drabek and Dominic Brown leading a solid cadre of prospects, the Phillies could very well be in the middle of a long stretch of postseason appearances. What they'll want to focus on this winter is internal -- an extension with Lee, deciding which of their relievers is worth keeping, getting Rollins back on track. Should they choose to not bring back Feliz, they will have to go outside the organization for a third baseman. Adrian Beltre, coming off his worst year, could fill that spot nicely, bringing a Feliz-caliber glove with more offensive skill.
While neither of these teams is young, each has a championship-caliber core and enough players at and around their peaks that projecting much of a falloff is silly. Each will enter 2010 as the favorite in its division, even its league; a repeat World Series, the first since 1978, is entirely possible.