By Peter Baker of The Good Phight
Three consecutive playoff appearances, two straight pennants, and the paint has just dried on the 2008 World Championship banners. Things are good in Philadelphia these days. In many ways, the 2009 regular season was more enjoyable than any season in recent memory, with the notable exception of the loss of the great Harry Kalas in April. The team started acting like a "big market" franchise in 2009, pursuing and acquiring former Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee and the always entertaining Pedro Martinez.
After a dramatic postseason ended on a down note following a snoozer of a World Series, the Phillies took to the offseason like mad men. Not content to have one of the best pitchers in baseball in Cliff Lee, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. went out and got arguably the very best pitcher in baseball in Roy Halladay, orchestrating a multi-team deal that sent prospects to Toronto, and Lee to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for more prospects. Plus, much like with Raul Ibanez in the 2008-9 offseason, the Phillies set the market in a relatively flooded third base pool, signing free agent Placido Polanco.
Most of the rest of the moves were around-the-margins transactions, adding bench players and bullpen personnel. Although the team is aging has been relatively lucky in terms of health over the past several years, there's no reason to think this team cannot contend for a third straight National League pennant.
C Carlos Ruiz / Brian Schneider
1B Ryan Howard
2B Chase Utley
SS Jimmy Rollins
3B Placido Polanco
LF Raul Ibanez
CF Shane Victorino
RF Jayson Werth
IF/OF Ross Gload
IF Juan Castro
OF Ben Francisco
IF/OF Greg Dobbs
One of the notable qualities of recent Phillies teams has been the stability among the position players. Aside from the departure of left fielder Pat Burrell after the 2008 season, and the arrival of Placido Polanco for 2010, there has been very little turnover among the offensive players.
Chase Utley occupies a strange place in baseball -- he's simultaneously overpraised for his "gritty/clutchy/plays-the-
The All-Star troika of Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino remains in place. Werth, in the final year of his contract, had what will likely be a career year in 2009, but enters his contract year with the possibility of cashing in big time in 2011. And his beard is terrific. After starting the season hitting like an MVP candidate, Raul Ibanez suffered injuries around mid-summer and lost almost all of his home run power down the stretch. Shane Victorino had another solid season playing good defense and providing a nice mix of speed and pop at the plate.
Ben Francisco, acquired from Cleveland in 2009 in the Cliff Lee deal, features as the fourth outfielder and first right-handed bat off the bench. Greg Dobbs looks to rebound from a poor 2009, Ross Gload looks to continue his pinch-hitting prowess, and infielder Juan Castro promises to make us all miss Eric Bruntlett...
So aside from adding that Roy Halladay guy, what else is there to say?
Lefty Cole Hamels slots in right behind Halladay. Hamels, the victim of some bad luck and possibly sub-standard pre-season preparation in 2009, has worked hard all winter and spring to improve his curveball and work a cut fastball into his repertoire. While his fastball/changeup combination was good enough for awhile, supplementing that solid base with a credible third and fourth pitch should only make Hamels better. I expect a very good season.
Joe Blanton comes off a year that saw a career-high strikeout rate, but also unfortunately a career worst home run rate. He remains fairly stingy with the walks, so if he can keep his K/9 and BB/9 in good shape, he's likely to remain a very good third starter. He was actually the Phillies' best starting pitcher in 2009 from early May through late July, with the arrival of Cliff Lee.
J.A. Happ has been something of a old school vs. new school scapegoat this offseason. No, Happ is very unlikely to post another sub-3.00 ERA. Yes, he was extremely "lucky" with runners on base. Yes, he's going to "regress." But even if he pitched in line with his peripheral stats in 2009, he'd still have been a pretty solid starting pitcher. And for his very low salary, that's an extremely valuable commodity to have.
The fifth starter decision, at the time of this writing, is down to the ancient former Mariner Jamie Moyer and young righthander Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick has gotten impressive results this spring, but hasn't substantially improved the low K-rate that seemed to doom him previously. Moyer is a known quantity at this point; it all depends on whether he can hold up physically, and whether he can be successful getting overeager hitters to swing at his slop for 25-plus starts. Your guess is as good as mine.
I'm kind of peeking through my fingers here. Both nominal closer Brad Lidge and lefty set-up man J.C. Romero will be starting the season on the disabled list. Ryan Madson will likely be picking up the bulk of the save opportunities in Lidge's absence, with Antonio Bastardo the temporary situational lefty. New arrivals Jose Contreras and Danys Baez will be back-up should Madson struggle. Chad Durbin will be the long-relief mop-up guy. David Herndon, a Rule 5 pick, is making a late run at the final bullpen spot not filled by the loser of the Kendrick vs. Moyer fifth starter competition.
Messy? Potentially explosive? Take your pick. This could be a long year if the bullpen can't get its act together.
In The System
One of the consequences of stability at the major league level is the lack of a regular influx of minor league talent. It also doesn't help when the team trades its top-level prospects in two blockbuster trades.
With Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor both gone in the Roy Halladay trades, the clear top prospect in the system is outfielder Domonic Brown. Brown is likely to start the season at Triple-A, and will probably not see any major league time barring injuries to one or more of the Phillies starting outfielders. He is probably a season away, and has yet to fully show the results that scouts seem to think his physical gifts promise, but he's an elite prospect regardless. Outfielder Tyson Gillies, acquired from Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, is probably the team's second best position player prospect, but he is set to start the year in Double-A and remains blocked by the big league talent already in place.
There are a number of polished low-ceiling arms in the high minors who could step in in a pinch -- Mike Stutes, Vance Worley, Drew Carpenter to name a few -- but few that appear to be exciting. The organization's most promising arms -- Trevor May, Jarred Cosart, and Brody Colvin among them -- remain in the low minors and are at least a few years away from contributing at the big league level.
Charlie Manuel is the perfect manager for this team, his hands-off approach befitting his role as captain of an accomplished veteran roster. He and batting coach Milt Thompson have a knack for extracting maximum production from the team's hitters. First base coach Davey Lopes has been a revelation, guiding the team to a record team stolen base percentage in 2007, and an 80%+ success rate in 2008 and 2009. This is a stable team; the few clubhouse issues arose mostly from former Phillie Brett Myers being a gigantic ass.
13/2 seems about right, perhaps a little too good. Factoring in the work it takes to reach the postseason, and the "crapshoot" elements that hit teams when they get there, it's really, really hard to win a World Series. You need talent and you need luck. The Phillies are an aging team that could easily experience injury problems and/or decline from key components this season. Talent-wise, however, they remain the class of the National League.