Interview: Paul Hagen examines the off-season

Hagen on "Daily News Live"

BY SHAY RODDY

There’s always a lot to talk about this time a year, and as the hot stove warms up while the Winter Meetings approach. The Phillies have issues at third, in their bullpen and on the bench and are looking to improve in other places as well.

Paul Hagen is the incredible baseball writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. I got the chance to talk to him this morning about the issues facing the NL Champions this off-season and how they might deal with them once the Winter Meetings start this week.

SHAY RODDY: What’s the Phillies biggest need this off-season?

PAUL HAGEN: I guess there are two ways to look at that. Their biggest need this offseason are for Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge to prepare themselves mentally and physically to be able to perform in 2010 the way they did in 2008. But I guess the question was meant to ask what’s the biggest thing the front office needs to do. And that’s been pretty thoroughly discussed: Figure out who plays third base and strengthen the bullpen.

Personally, I’d like to see them add another solid starter and find an option for Jimmy Rollins at the leadoff spot. But I recognize that they won’t/can’t spend to get the pitcher and that the best guy out there to bat first is probably Chone Figgins, who also looks to be beyond what they want to spend.

SR: Is there a good reason that the Phillies let go of Feliz?

PH: A case could have been made to keep him. But it’s usually not a good idea to bring back a lineup intact. There needs to be some change from year to year and that was probably the obvious place to upgrade. He’s not a very disciplined hitter. Of course, they knew that when they signed him. I do find it curious that they’ve publicly stressed defense when discussing bench players, but seem to want to get rid of Feliz becuase of offensive deficiencies even though he’s obviously excellent in the field.

SR: Who do you like to play third in 2010?

PH: My first choice would be [Placido] Polanco, even though he would be playing out of position. My second choice would be [Adrien] Beltre, on a low-base-with-incentives one-year deal.

SR: Which struggling Phillie from 2009 will turn things around in 2010?

PH: [Cole] Hamels.

SR: Does Charlie Manuel get a free pass because he’s a champion or is he really the best manager for this team?

PH: Um, not really sure to respond to that. In the end, it’s a bottom line business. He’s one of two Phillies managers to ever win a world championship, one of two to finish first three straight years, the only one to take them to the World Series twice. I don’t think anybody ever “gets a pass.” Every year is a new season and you always have to prove yourself again. But does Charlie Manuel get a lot of credit for what the team has accomplished? Of course.

SR: You’ve been covering baseball for a long time. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on a baseball field?

PH: I wouldn’t know where to start, but I did see Pat Corrales send seven straight pinch-hitters to the plate when he managed the Rangers. I saw back-to-back inside the park home runs in Yankee Stadium once. I saw Bert Blyleven pitch a no-hitter and then be traded before he made another start. It’s really true that when you go to the ballpark you might see something you’ve never seen before.

SR: Will the Phillies return from the Winter Meetings with a third baseman?

PH: Can’t answer that. Since they seem pretty intent on filling that opening via free agency and since the market is developing slowly this year, it’s entirely possible they won’t.

SR: Evaluate Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s first year as a general manager.

PH: That’s an interesting question. Obviously, the [Cliff] Lee trade was a coup. Signing [Raul] Ibanez was the right thing to do. Signing Pedro [Martinez] was interesting, although I’m not sure that it turned out to be a plus when all was said and done. On the other hand, his blind insistence that J.C. Romero would be fine for the postseason backfired. That forced the Phillies to use [J.A.] Happ out of the bullpen for most of the playoffs, which is certainly open to second-guessing. And it’s hard to know how much of it was Ruben and how much was [special adviser to the GM Pat] Gillick advising from behind the curtain. But, again, bottom line. They went to the World Series. Give him a solid B.

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