Playing Pepper 2014: Philadelphia Phillies

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Philadelphia Philles
73-89, fourth in the NL East

When you look at this team right now and the results that they’ve put up the last couple of years, it’s hard to believe they are just over half a decade away from a World Series title.  The Phillies were on top of the world for a while, but the world often keeps spinning and your position can easily change.

Will it change yet again?  To figure that out, I posed the questions to:

Without further adieu…..

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

FP: I would say the Phillies did ok this offseason. They didn’t really have any blockbuster moves as they have had in previous years with signing Doc Halladay and even Cliff Lee. They waited until a day before pitchers and catchers to spend another $16M on a pitcher for one season in the signing of A.J. Burnett. This may be the move that propels this team into the playoffs, if the team stays healthy.

Marlon Byrd for a couple years at $16M? I am not sold on this move and I hope he proves the naysayers wrong, the Phillies need an added spark, is Byrd the word this year?

PB: I wake up in night sweats at least once a week thinking about how much destruction Ruben Amaro has caused this franchise during his tenure, but this year he only cause minor damage. I still disagree with just about every move he made, but he wasn’t totally awful.

Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz, the two biggest offseason signings, fill holes, but in typical Amaro fashion he paid too much and gave them too many years. In the process he also made the team older. The moves are fine for now, but how about when Ruiz is making $8.5 million in his third and final year at age 37 and if Byrd’s option vests and he earns $8 million in his final year at age 39?

AJ Burnett falls along similar lines. If healthy, Burnett gives the Phillies potentially the second best 1-2-3 punch in the league and is the only saving grace if Hamels is injured. The problem with Burnett is next season when he is guaranteed $7.5 million. 2014 is destined to be a throw-away season. 7.5 million of potentially wasted dollars next season could really damage their “rebuilding” next year, once again mortgaging the future for the slim chance of winning this year.

Speaking of wasted money, the Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez saga is a complete disaster. His spring lasted all of 2.2 innings where he walked everyone and posted a clean 16.87 ERA before claiming shoulder soreness. Looks like $12 million well spent.

Then the Phillies avoided arbitration by offering guaranteed contracts to Mayberry and Frandsen. I can’t even begin to understand that logic, especially with Mayberry, who probably blocks Darin Ruf from making the roster.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Trading Erik Kratz and Rob Rasmussen for Brad Lincoln followed by signing Wil Nieves was a good move. They upgraded defensively over Kratz and added a decent arm to the pen.

Let’s give them a C-

TBOH: The Phillies have seemingly been trying to find a way to win this season while not damaging their future chances. That isn’t easy to accomplish, and yet they’ve done a solid job. Compared to the beginning of last season, the Phillies appear to be stronger in the rotation, bullpen, and the lineup. They managed to do this without committing too much future “dead money,” giving up prospects, or sacrificing a draft pick.

The Phillies are clearly paying the price for their recent “win now” past, but all things considered, this has been a very good offseason, I’d give them a B+.

C70: All reports say Ryan Howard is finally fully healthy. What do people expect out of this year?

FP: I think Ryan Howard has got to get back on track of playing the kind of baseball we know he is still capable of. He’s been hobbled with injuries for a couple years now, ever since he signed that 5 year $125M extension in 2010 it seems.

Fans expect him to start slugging the ball out of the park, and get this team into a high gear. If he doesn’t do this, I think the Philly fans who love to boo players that they don’t think are giving the game their all will surface this season with a vengeance on Howard.

PB: Not much. Fans already are talking about having Darin Ruf platoon with Howard since Ryan can’t hit lefties. It’s hard to have any real expectations since we haven’t seen a healthy Howard since 2011. Fortunately he plays the least demanding position on the diamond, so he should be able to rebound as well as anyone. One thing is for sure: the Phillies need Howard to approach 30 homers and 100 RBI if they have any chance in 2014.

TBOH: The Phillies claimed Ryan Howard was healthy last year at this time too. (Although there were whispers that “healthy” was relative.) If he truly is as 100% as a large 34 year old man can be, then I’d expect at least 30 home runs out of him. Howard’s problems against lefties are well publicized, but over a full season, he’ll face enough right handers and sub par lefties that he’ll have plenty of opportunities to send balls into the seats. Remember that a one-legged Howard managed to hit 11 home runs in half a season last year, and he didn’t have the benefit of playing in August and September – months in which he traditionally has done the majority of his damage.

I don’t think that the Phillies will ever platoon Howard, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Howard has more and more “maintenance” days when the team faces a lefty start. This will probably benefit both him and the team.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

FP: The roster battle that intrigues me the most would have to be Bobby Abreu and will he make this team out of Spring Training. Other than Abreu, most of the roster spots on the Phillies are predefined this season, no great battles. Possibly a question at 3rd base, will Cody Asche secure that spot for himself out of Spring Training?

PB: Darin Ruf vs. the world. Darin Ruf deserves to play on this team and everyone except the general manager seems to believe that. He more than held his own last season and has some pop in his swing. He improved his outfield defense dramatically to the point that he is not a complete liability, and he can somewhat platoon with Howard against lefties. I’m not the biggest Ruf fan, but it would be a disgrace and a travesty if Ruf is stuck in the minors because Mayberry and Abreu took his roster spot.

TBOH: The lineup and rotation seem to be fairly set at this point. Therefore, I think the battle for the bench positions will be the most interesting. Will the team go with John Mayberry (A guy who can play multiple outfield positions, but has his offensive limitations) or Darin Ruf (Most likely a better hitter, but one without a real position)? Or do they keep both of them instead of Kevin Frandsen and limit their infield depth?

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

FP: At this point, I could only look at one Phillies minor leaguer that may see some playing time at some point this season is named Jesse Biddle. I don’t see him making the team out of camp though. The Phillies are stocked full with veterans this year.

PB: The Phillies have no rookies (Asche doesn’t qualify) to begin with the club, but the three names I will throw out there are Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Jesse Biddle.

TBOH: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The Phillies’ lack of pitching depth has been well publicized, so chances are that they’ll need to throw MAG out there for at least a few starts this season. Thus far, he hasn’t shown much to make anyone think that he’ll succeed, but at some point, the Phillies’ scouts saw something in him that made them think he could pitch well at the major league level.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

FP: I have to be optimistic with this Phillies team, I am going to say 85 wins and third place in the division, if they pull it all together, 89 wins and second place.

PB: I’m going to go with the popular thinking on this one and say 76 wins and edging out the Mets by a game for third place. If everything breaks the Phillies way, I have no doubt this is a championship team, but the odds of that happening are too great. They could also be one of the worst teams and I don’t see that happening either. 76 wins seems to be a reasonable number.

TBOH: After signing A.J. Burnett, it’s at least possible to see a way for this team to make the playoffs. While the team is loaded with veterans who appear to be on the wrong side of their primes, if the majority of those veterans can find a way to come close to their better years, this team should have a fighting chance.

That said, I think the Phillies will remain on the fringe of contention for most of the year, eventually ending up with an 82-80 record that will be good enough for third place.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

FP: I’ve always been a Jimmy Rollins fan, so I enjoy seeing how he does in a season, but for this season, I think I’ll focus more on Cliff Lee as he has had a few good years with the Phillies so far and I think he’s going to have a great season with them this year.

PB: I’d be lying if I didn’t say Chase Utley. Coming from a guy who played right field and right bench in little league and was happy to just go to practice, I love Chase’s intensity. Players like him don’t come around very often and I will try to enjoy every at-bat while I still can.

TBOH: When Cliff Lee is locked in, it is a wonder to behold. Receive ball, throw a strike, repeat. Chances are, the Phillies might not get great starting pitching all of the time, so I’m going to appreciate it every time I can see it.

My thanks to Rich, Scott and Mike for their thoughts.  If nothing else, the Phillies show that just because everything is going right one day, doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way the next.  And vice versa!

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