As February turns to March, there is one thing on the minds of many sports fans: baseball is back. On February 13th Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to sunny Clearwater Florida to kick off the beginning of spring training, the first look at what each team brings to the table for the 2013 season. With new signings and players received in multi-team trades, the Phillies hope to rebound from what proved to be a wholly disappointing season when they finished at .500, good for third in the division. One year removed from an astounding 102 win season, the 81-81 Phillies were seen as nothing short of an utter flop.
There was no shortage of underperformance from many of the team’s stars. As was expected, Ryan Howard began the season on the DL, but showed visible signs of rust upon his return in early July. He finished the partial season hitting barely over the Mendoza line at just .219 and slugging just .423, his lowest slugging percentage since joining the league, proving once more that a leftie with any semblance of a breaking ball can easily handle him. Additionally, outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino were both underwhelming before being traded in late July. Not to be outdone, former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay battled back and shoulder issues to the tune of a 4.49 ERA and .261 batting average against. To add insult to injury, both catcher Carlos Ruiz and second basemen Freddy Galvis were suspended for positive banned substance tests, Galvis in late June, Ruiz in the offseason.
The Phillies front office has done its best to erase the memory of the 2012 season by making what may prove to be very key moves during the offseason. After severing ties with outfielder Juan Pierre and infielders Placido Polanco and Ty Wigginton, among others, the front office came through on the huge signing of middle reliever Mike Adams. In addition, former National John Lannan and multiple lesser names were added to the roster. That still left a few holes in the offense however that could easily be exploited. GM Reuben Amaro’s answer? Two trades to acquire seven-time All-Star third basemen Michael Young and the fleet footed center fielder Ben Revere. As for early 2013 outlooks, Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki shows some cautious optimism on his blog, writing “I’m thinking the Phillies finish in the 86-90 win range. If they finish on the higher end of that they probably make the postseason.” For a little more insight, let’s look at a position by position breakdown for the 2013 season.
With Ruiz suspended for 25 games for repeated positive Adderall (an ADHD medication) tests without documentation, that leaves a combination of Eric Kratz and newly signed Humberto Quintero behind the plate. Prospect Sebastian Valle may still be a season or so away from joining the big league club, and has seen some decline lately, so he can be counted out. Even though 2012 was likely a career year for Ruiz and one which I cannot see him repeating, a collective sigh of relief may be heard from the greater Philadelphia area once he returns.
Ryan Howard will handle most of the action at first base, while John Mayberry and Laynce Nix will play behind him. While Howard claims that his left leg “feels phenomenal”, he certainly isn’t getting any younger at age 33. It would be reasonable to expect his power and average to bounce back to a degree as his achilles heals, but I wouldn’t expect another 45 homer season. His power has dwindled in recent years and he continues to flail against lefties. Howard will need to rebound well for the Phillies to have a successful 2013, as he will likely hit clean up for the Phils once more.
Also in the “not getting any younger” category is Chase Utley, who has been fighting a losing battle against multiple injuries in the past few seasons. Utley, a five time All-Star, has seen his effectiveness decline rather steeply after the 2009 season. Utley will start regardless of production simply because of a lack of depth at the position. While Freddy Galvis flashed some leather during his time at second base, he also tested positive for whatever kind of PEDs give one the ability to hit .226 with zero home runs and a .254 on base percentage. To put that in perspective, Cole Hamels had an OPB of .270 last season. Do we really want to see un-enhanced Freddy Galvis at the plate? While Utley and Galvis (with the possibility of Kevin Frandsen playing occasionally) are the two main “weapons” at second base, prospect Cesar Hernandez has been rising up the ranks as of late and could see playing time down the road.
The situation at third base is rather straightforward: Michael Young. Young has a reputation of durability and production at the plate, even at the ripe old age of 36. A career .301 hitter, Young saw his production slip a bit last year when he hit .277 and failed to reach double-digits in home runs for just the second time since 2002. His production doesn’t seem to worry too many people however, Young claimed to have fixed a flaw in September that had been plaguing his swing. In a press conference shortly after his signing, Young stated “I feel like at the end of the year, I was there,” which is an easily agreeable statement upon examining his numbers, a .313 average and .838 OPS during the season’s final month. Despite not having played third base extensively in years (Young was a DH in Texas), his versatility and years of infield experience should allow for some acceptable glove work at third. An average in the realm of .300 and a home run total closer to 13-15 seems likely for Young in 2013, aided by the hitter friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
Shortstop hasn’t changed for the Phils since 2001, Jimmy Rollins’ first full year with the club. Although I’d like to believe that with his power (23 home runs last season) Rollins would be better suited as a number three or five hitter, he will likely return to his lead-off spot for Charlie Manuel again in 2013. His ability to steal bases even at the age of 34 (the Phillies, as you may have noticed, are not a young team anymore) somewhat makes up for his mediocre OBP in the lead-off spot. Rollins continues to chug along year after year, stealing bases and hitting for (fluctuating) power, so another season of a .265 average and 18-20 homers doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
With the acquisition of Ben Revere, center field is the easiest position in the outfield to nail down. From there it gets a bit more complicated. Recently acquired Delmon Young is coming off of an ankle surgery, and is questionable for the start of the season. Once he rejoins the team, he will likely take over in right field. Young’s fair power (18 homers last season) should compliment Revere’s speed in the lineup. John Mayberry Jr. and Dominic Brown will likely make up a platoon in left field, at least until Brown shows he can hit left handed pitching. Although not a lock for the roster, Brown has to prove that he deserves a spot this upcoming spring training, competing with Laynce Nix (who is likely to get a spot) and prospect Darrin Ruf for the final two outfield spots.
The top of the Phillies rotation will remain set in stone with Hamels, Lee and Halladay guaranteed spots. That’s where the drop-off begins. Filling the void at the number four spot vacated by Vance Worley will likely be Kyle Kendrick who, while erratic, has shown that he can be an effective starter when given the opportunity. After cutting down on his use of the sinker and working more off speed pitches into the mix, Kendrick saw an increase in effectiveness. The fifth spot should go to Lannan, the former ace of the Nationals, who should be a solid, not spectacular, number five to round out the rotation. The Phillies will need to have a number of factors go their way to find success in the rotation in 2013. First and foremost, Doc needs to bounce back. The former Cy Young winner claims to feel great at offseason workouts and could be primed for another dominating season. Working Kendrick back into a full time starter role will also be vital. Kendrick hasn’t been a full time starter since 2010, and has never thrown more than 181 innings in a season. If the rotation can stay healthy and confident (an issue that seems to plague Kendrick, among others), they could see themselves with a 20 game winner, and potentially lead their team to another playoff berth.
The bullpen for the Phillies in 2012 seemed to be responsible for more losses than anything else. Late inning blown leads were a huge problem, the absence of a quality set-up man to transition from middle relief to Jon Papelbon was gaping. Fortunately, that should be where Mike Adams steps in. A set-up man and occasional closer in San Diego, Adams has proved that he has the stuff to get major league hitters out with a high degree of success. The middle of the Phils bullpen will be filled mostly with young, somewhat unproven relievers. Included is Jake Diekman, whose sidearmed delivery helped him notch an impressive 11.5 k/9 in limited action last season. Both he and hard throwing Phillippe Aumont will have to work on their control to build a strong Phillies bullpen. The youth does not stop at just those two, however, with Justin De Fratus, B.J. Rosenberg and Joe Savery making up a very inexperienced pen. Newly signed relievers Chad Durbin and Aaron Cook should potentially bring some experience, and could get mostly garbage time work. Papelbon is essentially a non-issue at the closer position. While debatably overrated, he has proven that he has the ability to get the job done, closing out 38 of 42 save opportunities last season. While two men does not a bullpen make, the signing of Adams should provide some security in the late innings for the Phils hopefully finding more success in holding on to leads.
Overall, the aging Phillies don’t have many more years to be considered threats. This season, however, they do have an opportunity to win. With the Marlins keeping their tradition of trading away their best players they should once again return to the same level of excitement that saw them allegedly draw 347 devoted fans one game not too long ago. They should prove to be one less team to worry about for the Phillies, who can now turn their focus to teams that are fielding actual major league players who have actual real life fans. 90 wins doesn’t seem out of the question for a team with such high-caliber talent as the Phillies, which may be enough to clinch the division, or a wildcard spot.