As pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater this week, the usual swagger in the Phillies organization is gone – replaced by a quiet resolve to get back to the top.
The Phillies needed to plug some trade-created holes this off-season. After our criticism that Ruben Amaro, Jr. is great at making the big splash, but not so good at making the smaller moves that bring in the complementary pieces needed to win championships, Amaro strung together smaller moves this off-season and turned away from making the big splash.
With very few roster spots in question – only middle relief is an audition – the issue is not what the team will look like heading north, but rather whether the Phillies team headed north is good enough to meet the division-winning standard of 2007-2011 – with a World Series win and NL pennant thrown in – or whether this team will suffer the same fate as the 2012 Phillies and fall short of expectations, while its core ages by another year.
Halladay made only 25 starts in 2012 (lowest since 2005), won only 11 games (lowest since 2004), did not pitch a complete game (first time sine 2000) and had an ERA of 4.49 (highest since 2000). On the assumption the Halladay doesn’t pitch at least 258.2 innings, he is pitching in 2013 for his next contract.
Howard played in only 71 games (lowest since 2005), hit only 14 homers and drove in only 56 runs (lowest since his September callup in 2004), and hit a caeer low .219, with a career low .295 OBP and .423 SLG. Yes, Howard could get back to his 30-100 ways in a full season, but his contact rate and ability to draw walks are plummeting so badly that it’s a fair question to ask whether he is now a glorified Mark Reynolds or Adam Dunn and not nearly the MVP threat he was from 2006-2011, when he finished in the top 10 each year, the top 5 four times, the top 3 three times and won the award in 2006.
Utley played in only 83 games (lowest since 2004), His 2012 line of 11-45-.256 was strikingly similar to his 2011 (11-44-.259 in 93 more plate appearances). Like Halladay, Utley is also playing 2013 for his next contract.
To expect 22-33 home runs (which Utley reached each season from 2005 through 2009) is to set oneself up for disappointment. Same with the 93-105 RBI Utley tallied in each season in that 5-year stretch. At the same time, Utley is still able to draw significant numbers of walks and will probably keep his strikeouts under 100 – whereas Howard will flirt with 200. Utley would make an ideal #2 hitter…but Charlie Manuel seems determined to keep hitting him 3rd.
What will the lineup look like?
This is the lineup I think Charlie Manuel will open with:
Jimmy Rollins, Revere, Utley, Howard, Michael Young, Domonic Brown/John Mayberry, Darin Ruf/Delmon Young, Erik Kratz/Humberto Quintero (Carlos Ruiz suspended first 25 games for second positive Adderall test).
This is the lineup I think he needs to use in order to win the most games:
Revere, Utley, M. Young, Howard, Ruf/D. Young, Rollins, D. Brown/Mayberry, Kratz/Quintero/Ruiz
How long Manuel sticks with Utley/Howard in the 3-4 holes, susceptible to left-handed middle relievers, is a question of how high the sense of urgency to win early will be.
So there will be platoons in the 2 corner outfield spots?
That’s our best guess. It should work out on the offensive side of the equation. It’s the defense that is a gigantic concern – especially with a starting staff that, with the exception of Cole Hamels, is not really a high strikeout group.
Aside from the non-starting outfielders, who else is on the bench?
Laynce Nix is a sixth outfielder, though Nix, Maybery and Ruf are all capable of backing up Ryan Howard at first base. Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis are nearly locks as backup infielders. Frandsen may get into a lot of games as a defensive replacement for Michael Young at third base. Galvis could get the nod instead, but he’s more likely the backup at second and short. Erik Kratz gets the starting nod at catcher while Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game PED suspension; Humberto Quintero figures to get to play a month in the major leagues as Kratz’s backup.
That setup gives the Phillies 14 hitters and 11 pitchers. It’s conceivable that the Phils head north with 13 hitters and 12 pitchers. The most likely scenario there is that Delmon Young starts the season on the DL foilowing recent ankle surgery, giving Ruf the chance to earn a spot or get sent to AAA.
It’s instead possible that Ruf simply doesn’t make the team. It’s also possible, but far less likely that Nix gets traded or released. Same thing could happen with Kevin Frandsen. Both Frandsen and Galvis could be challenged by non-roster invitee Yuniesky Betancourt – who has played shortstop adequately for the Royals and Brewers – though it’s far more likely that Betancourt serves as an insurance policy at AAA.
Speaking of Martinez, he is a non-roster invitee, along with former major leaguers Pete Orr and Joe Mather, who played for the Cubs last season and the Cardinals before that. Mather could push Frandsen as a backup third baseman, but Frandsen’s fielding and contact skills are better at that position, while Mather brings right-handed power that the Phillies would seem to need less of with Delmon Young in the fold.
What does the pitching look like?
The starting pitching, along with the infield, is the strength of this team.
Vance Worley was dealt, along with prospect Trevor May to Minnesota to land Ben Revere. That opened a spot in the rotation which the Phillies soon filled not with internal option Tyler Cloyd, but with Nationals castoff John Lannan.
After the “Big 3″ of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick is a full-time starter at #4 and Lannan is expected to be the fifth starter (and third lefty). Cloyd will serve as insurance at AAA, most likely along with veterans Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez and prospects Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone.
And the bullpen? Wasn’t that a huge problem last season?
The bullpen is set from the back toward the front.
Jonathan Papelbon will close.
Mike Adams, assuming he is fully recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, will be the primary 8th inning option. Adams was signed to 2-year, $12 million free agent contract, with a vesting option for 2015, based on a minimum of 60 innings pitched in 2014.
If Adams can’t begin the season, (cringe) Antonio Bastardo is apparently going to get a shot at reclaiming a late-inning role. As badly as Bastardo pitched last season (2-5, 4.43 ERA, 1.269 WHIP), he is still perceived as the top lefty in the bullpen and got a nearly $1 million arbitration-fueled raise. Other lefties expected to make the team are Jeremy Horst (2-0, 1.15 ERA, 1.117 WHIP) and Raul Valdes (3-2, 2.90 ERA, 0.742 WHIP). From the right side, Chad Durbin is back – and somewhat surprisingly was offered a major league deal (at $1.1 million for 2013), so his chances of sticking are quite high. If Michael Stutes is healthy, he will battle Valdes for the last bullpen spot – unless the Phils keep 12 pitchers or Adams starts the season on the DL.
That leaves Phillippe Aumont on the outside looking in, along with Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman and Joe Savery. All 6 of these guys saw action in the Phillies’ bullpen in 2012, and it got ugly too often with them on the mound. This group will likely be the bullpen at Lehigh Valley, with Aumont likely to be the closer and also the first guy called up if an opening materializes.
Is this team good enough to make the postseason?
That’s why they play the games.
Most experts will pick the Phillies for third place, behind the Nationals and the Braves. Even if that happens, a postseason berth is still possible with now having two wildcards – but with the unbalanced schedule, odds are against a third-place team making it.
Plus, even if the NL Central is perceived of as weak, the Giants – World Series winners in 2010 and 2012 – and Dodgers (big spenders via the August salary dump trade with the Red Sox) are favored to both be playoff-bound.
Figure the Phillies to be in a group with the Braves/Nationals runner up, the Dodgers/Giants runner up, the Central runners up (most likely the Cardinals and Pirates) and the Diamondbacks in a group of teams who are all good enough to be above .500, but for whom 90 wins is a stretch.
Let’s see how spring goes – and whether the Phillies leave Florida younger and healthier than they appear on paper.