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Hope Always Springs Eternal
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Feb 26 2012 @ 12:49 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 3 Comments
It has been 130 seasons – the longest tenure of any franchise in professional sports playing in one city, under one team name. Since 1883 the Philadelphia Phillies have started a season with hope and optimism and in those 130 seasons there have been a grand total of two championships, 7 NL pennants (with World Series losses in 1915, 1950, 1983, 1993 and 2009) as well as having the distinction of becoming the first professional sports team to register 10,000 losses.
Despite seeing fewer years of triumph than sadness over most of the mid-20th century, there were five MVP Award winners (Mike Schmidt 1980, 1981 & 1986; Chuck Klein 1932; Jim Konstanty 1950; Ryan Howard 2006; Jimmy Rollins 2007), four Cy Young Award winning Phillies (Steve Carlton 1972, 1977, 1980, 1982; John Denny 1983; Steve Bedrosian 1987; Roy Halladay 2010) and four Rookie of the Year Awards (Jack Sanford 1957; Dick Allen 1964; Scott Rolen 1997 and of course Ryan Howard 2005). Thirty five Hall of Fame players have been Phillies – though six players (Richie Ashburn, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Chuck Klein, Jim Bunning and Robin Roberts) were inducted as Phillies. Pat Gillick (GM) Harry Kalas and Byron Saam (broadcasters) were inducted to their respective wings of the Hall of Fame as well.
This is all past. Hope springs eternal as pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training 2012 and soon the Carpenter Complex at Bright House Field will be buzzing with the sounds and smells of 75 players and coaches gearing up for the season ahead. Considering this team has won five straight division titles and is the prohibitive favorite to match their 102 wins from 2011, there are still a lot of questions facing the 2012 Phillies. While the window of opportunity may be closing on this current crop of talented players, both the payroll and management would indicate this organization plans to make at least one more addition to the trophy case.
NEW PLAYERS: Jonathan Papelbon has been brought in with a $50M price tag to be the team’s new shutdown closer (Madson turned down 4 years $44 M for an $8M one year deal with Cincinnati) and while his statistics over 8 seasons are impressive (23-19, 2.33 ERA, 296 G, 219 SV in 248 SVOP, 322 H in 430 IP, 115 BB/519 K, .207 OBA and 1.02 WHIP) it is his proven postseason experience that drove his market price so high. Jim Thome (.256 BA, 15 HR, 50 RBI in 93 games as a DH in 2011) also returns for a final season’s tour hoping to lend a valuable bat and help balance the Phillies bench.
While Thome won’t be putting up monster numbers as he did in his salad days (16 seasons with 25 or more HR with 6 of 40+ from 1997-2006, 604 career HR) he leads a much-improved bench corps, which was the focus of their offseason maneuvers. Ty Wiggington (.242 BA, 15 HR, 47 RBI in 130 games with Colorado last season), John Mayberry, Lance Nix (.250 BA, 16 HR, 44 RBI in 124 games with Washington) and non-roster invitee Juan Pierre (.279 BA, 2 HR, 50 RBI, 27 SB in 158 games in 2011) will each play a role in spelling the starters, hopefully saving something for the elongated postseason run. Most forget that Hunter Pence (.314 BA, 22 HR, 97 RBI) is still new to Philadelphia, having come over in a 2011 Trading Deadline deal but then having his first ever postseason run cut short by the Phillies very painful and premature NLDS exit.
AGE/INJURIES: Every team must deal with the injury bug and Father Time but it seems that the Phillies recent spate of Trading Deadline deals, free agent signings and depletion of the upper levels of their minor league talent has locked them into a one way ticket reading “World Series or Bust.” Some say that is not a good plan but they haven’t seen how much talent is on this roster. Sure Jayson Werth, Geoff Jenkins, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Roy Oswalt, Pat Burrell, Jamie Moyer and Aaron Rowand have become names of Phillies past and former Phils prospects such as Kyle Drabek, Michael Bourn, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Taylor, JA Happ and many others (15 in total) have been involved in trades to garner Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. If anyone can point to one of these deals and prove to me how they did not significantly improve the Phillies as a team I will turn in my credentials and hand you this weekly column!
Chase Utley (34), Ryan Howard (32), Jimmy Rollins (34), Shane Victorino (32) and Carlos Ruiz (33) now comprise the dwindling nucleus leftover from the 2008 championship team but the addition of Wigginton (34) should help spell Utley and Placido Polanco (37). The average age of the Phillies is closer to 35 than 25 (just two players on 40-man roster born after 1989) but match this team up with any in either league and I’d bet hard-earned money the 2012 Phillies match or exceed their 102 wins (and definitely win more postseason games).
STARTING LINEUP: Once Ryan Howard completes his rehabilitation and returns from his excruciating season-ending Achillies injury and offseason surgery, this starting lineup will once again be formidable. Until then, it is a lineup without a legitimate third or fourth hitter, using patchwork and platoons to fill the gaps. Despite a seroma from the surgical stitches, Howard has been wowing onlookers in early batting practice sessions. He still is scheduled to return in mid-May and the team will wait to ensure that once Howard does return he will be in no danger of re-aggravating the injury.
Placido Polanco and Hunter Pence both finished the 2011 season battling sports hernia injuries but expect to be at 100% to begin 2012. Chase Utley’s perpetual issue with knee tendinitis (chondromalacia to be specific http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/03/09/utleys-heart-at-wounded-knee/ ) was the talk of Spring Training 2011.
It will always affect him and caused him to miss 40 games in 2011 after sitting out the entire Spring schedule. Rest is the usual treatment but usual people aren’t asked to turn the keystone double play while leaping over an attacking baserunner and completing the throw to first. Sharing his days off while offering Wigginton or Michael Martinez additional playing time can only help keep Utley upright through the postseason.
The rest of the starting lineup remains intact. Jimmy Rollins tested the free agent waters only to find that his best option was to remain in Philadelphia. Placido Polanco returns with some support from Ty Wigginton, which may mean Polanco could spend time at second base as well as third. Carlos Ruiz is a stalwart behind the plate and seems to improve with each passing season and Shane Victorino has gone from being a Rule 5 draftee (twice) to one of the best centerfielders in the game (two Gold Glove Awards and two All-Star games).
STARTING ROTATION: Three of the Four Aces return (Roy Oswalt has not been asked back) meaning that Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee will now be supported by Joe Blanton, Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick. Blanton you may recall was the “other” member of the Four Aces rotation, appearing at photo shoots but not doing much on the mound.
Blanton’s battles with injuries and his seemingly endless effort to not look like the dysfunctional semi-literate eyesore of the Phillies Royal Family made it possible for a new kind of Vanimal to emerge in 2011. Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01 ERA in 25 starts) burst onto the scene with a mowhawk, a sports goggles contract and the fearlessness of a ten year veteran pitcher.
Worley even challenged Roy Oswalt for the #4 spot in the rotation for postseason but eventually deferred to the veteran. This year Worley will slot in at either 4 or 5 depending on what Joe Blanton does – or rather what the Phillies do with Blanton. “BBQ Joe” has been trade bait since 2010 but very few teams will even nibble at a 30-year-old pitcher who costs $8.5 M with a record of 73-62 (4.32 ERA, 200 games started in 8 seasons and while averaging 200+ IP, managed just 41 in 2011).
Ideally the Phillies would like to send Blanton anywhere if they could get anything in return, relieving themselves of the $8.5M albatross and slotting Kyle Kendrick (4 years younger, $5 M cheaper and much more willing to start, relieve or mop floors if the team asks him) into that fifth starter’s spot. The other issue remains Cole Hamels long term contract – mainly that he doesn’t have one!
BULLPEN: Believe it or not there is some concern as this group gets younger collectively with some undefined roles. Spending $50 M on new closer Jonathan Papelbon meant that veterans Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson had to join JC Romero, Danys Baez and possibly Jose Contreras as former Phillies. Contreras is still a huge question mark as at age 39 he insists that he can return from a bevy of nagging arm, shoulder and elbow injuries. Meanwhile the team has to move forward with youngsters Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes stepping into the setup roles. Chad Qualls, Dontrelle Willis and Joel Piniero have been brought in while Lehigh Valley veterans David Herndon, Michael Schwimmer, Joe Savery, Phillipe Aumont, JC Ramirez and Justin DeFratus would like the chance to battle for the big club. Also in camp will be veteran non-roster invitees David Bush, Scott Elarton, Brian Sanches and lefty Jeremy Horst (from Cincinnati in the Wilson Valdez deal). If Kendrick is not part of the rotation he would be most likely to retain that longman role in this bullpen.
LEFT FIELD: Pat Burrell has retired three years after leaving the Phillies World Series championship team (though he garnered a second title with San Francisco in 2010) and now Raul Ibanez takes his 40-year-old wares to the Bronx to become the Yankees new DH. While it was time to move on, now one foresaw what will be an open competition for the platoon situation. Lance Nix was brought in from Washington to be the left-handed compliment to incumbent John Mayberry. Jr. In addition, Ty Wigginton has offered his services and Juan Pierre was signed to a minor league contract. None of this bodes well for blue chip prospect Domonic Brown who we hope enjoys the local fare in Allentown because Pierre, Mayberry and Nix have all proven they are ready to contribute right now. Mayberry will split time with Jim Thome at first while Wigginton can contribute at 1B, 3B, 2B and both corner OF spots so the left field situation will really be split among Nix/Mayberry/Pierre. Pierre and Mayberry can also spell Victorino in centerfield and Nix has offered to play right field behind Hunter Pence. Despite requiring so many imports to replace one player, the Phillies outfield and bench depth are widely improved over Ben Francisco, Ross Gload and Domonic Brown. Opening Day 2011 Hunter Pence was playing right field for the Astros while the Phillies offered Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and John Mayberry.
BENCH: By far this is the most improved area and was the offseason focus (aside from Papelbon). Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Juan Pierre and Lance Nix are new to the team. Pete Orr, Kevin Franzden, Michael Martinez and possibly Hector Luna will battle for the utility infielder position now that fan favorite Wilson Valdez is gone. Youngster Freddy Galvis may succeed Jimmy Rollins someday but plans to spend his entire season at AAA Lehigh Valley learning 2B and 3B from manager Ryne Sandberg. Pierre and Scott Podsednik will battle head-to-head for the final OF position but insiders say it is Pierre’s spot to lose between the former White Sox teammates. Podsednik has proven himself a competent AAA players these past two seasons while Pierre is dynamic, reliable and more than willing to earn his spot on this Phillies team. Brian Schneider remains a fixture as Chooch’s backup but Tuffy Gosewich and Sebastian Valle have their eyes on his job – maybe in 2013. Erik Kratz is a 30-year-old minor leaguer with nothing better to do than try to find a way back to the majors but will only do so in the event of an injury to Ruiz or Schneider.
2012 Official Phillies Spring Preview is still about 3 weeks away. Looking for more Phillies news? We’ll be here every week to bring you our take on the subject but you can also feel free to keep up with the Phightins at http://philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com/news/?c_id=phi  or find our staff’s best work at http://www.prosportsblogging.com/sports/mlb-baseball/philadelphia-phillies/ .
We’ve got baseball and especially your Phillies covered!
Phillies Spring Training Primer http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2012/01/27/spring-training-primer/ 
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 http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2012/01/27/spring-training-primer/: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2012/01/27/spring-training-primer/
 http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/28/phillies-future-tense/: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/10/28/phillies-future-tense/
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 http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/11/05/front-office-flux-plus-free-agency-flummox-phillies/: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/11/05/front-office-flux-plus-free-agency-flummox-phillies/
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