Phillies Realize The Task at Hand For 2009

Chris DiFrancescoAnalyst IJanuary 5, 2009

I'm writing this just as I am just finding out that Pat Burrell's nine-year career in Philadelphia is officially over, as he tentatively signed a two-year, $16 million deal with Tampa Bay. Burrell was basically replaced a few weeks back when the Phillies signed former Mariners left-fielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million deal.

Today, arbitration filing begins for baseball. That begins the questions about Ryan Howard. What will he make this season? Will the Phillies avoid the hearings and finally sign this superstar to a multi-year contract? The answer to both is: Who knows at this point?

The Philadelphia Phillies know that the "X" is now on their collective back, and now it's up to them to prove that they weren't just a flash in the pan. The Phillies basically laid low this offseason until the Ibanez signing. The re-signing of Jamie Moyer was a forgone conclusion, with only small kinks—like that extra year—left to be worked out.

Now, with the starting lineup set and the starting rotation likely to be resolved internally, the Phillies can mostly spend the one-and-a-half-month period before spring training thinking about being the first team to repeat as champions since the Yankees in 2000.  

Since the World Series began in 1903, Major League Baseball has seen only 21 repeat champions. One of those back-to-back winners was the Blue Jays, who made it two straight in 1992-93.

As hard as it is to say, we now have to move on from the October championship run, and now try to focus on what the Phillies have to do to succeed this upcoming season. The Mets have become a very good team with the acquisitions of K-Rod and J.J Putz, with reports of maybe even adding Derek Lowe.

To make matters worse, reports surfaced today that Manny Ramirez has now also been contacted by the perennial "choke artists." 

Other than Howard, the Phillies have some situations and holes to attend to. There is still some work to be done.

The Phils still have to sign right-handers Joe Blanton, Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson. World Series MVP Cole Hamels, infielders Greg Dobbs and Ryan Howard, and outfielders Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were all eligible for arbitration, but were tendered contracts. That means those players are locked up for the 2009 season at a figure to be determined either during arbitration or negotiations.

I truly want to believe that the Phillies brass will walk up to Cole Hamels and ask him what he wants and just pay him. This guy is the best thing to happen to this club pitching-wise since Steve Carlton, but has a chance to be better. Remember, Hamels is only 24.

Howard on the other hand, deserves a long-term deal. This guy is among the league leaders in homers and RBI every year since his first full season. He has an MVP and a Rookie of the Year award. I'm tired of hearing about the strikeout nonsense; that's what your going to get with him, live and die with it. He is going to a potential MVP every season he plays.

Chase Utley is hopeful to come back for spring training, but I highly doubt it. He is a warrior for trying as hard as he has, and I'm thinking he could be back maybe a couple weeks into the season.

Now to finish up my first of many, many articles to come about my first loves—baseball and the Phillies—I believe. I believe in this team, and that it can make a serious run again. I'm not going to get stingy and say World Series repeat, but I will say they will come close, and they will have to clear through the Mets.

This team is primed and mentally ready to go through with the hallowed target on their backs and this team has the leaders to accomplish special things. Only time will tell with this squad. But first lets begin spring training.