"It sucks getting old."
We've all heard someone lamenting their young years spew that bit of harsh reality over the years. We may have even caught ourselves saying those words, or at least thinking it. In recent weeks, no one has thought about that statement more than the collective organization that is the Philadelphia Phillies.
Spring Training has been like playing word association with a psychiatrist. If Phillies' trainer Scott Sheridan were to hold up a card with the word "injury" written on it, my response would be something along the lines of, "Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown, Freddy Galvis, and Jose Contreras."
At times, the Phillies' clubhouse has looked more like a M.A.S.H unit than a team of baseball players. If there was a single resolution as to why these injuries were occurring, the Phillies would be leading the league in quick recoveries, but there isn't.
One of the numerous reasons is the simple fact that the Phillies aren't getting any younger. They are a team of veterans with a lot of mileage on their bodies. There has been an outcry for the front office to reduce the overall age of the roster, and that isn't an easy thing to do if a club like the Phillies wants to remain competitive.
But it can be done.
This slideshow will attempt to prove that fact. A couple of months ago, I wrote a similar slideshow expressing some outside-of-the-box methods to reduce the roster's age, but now, I will attempt to prove that the Phillies don't have to be so creative to do just that.
Thy have to be methodical.
For news, rumors, analysis and game recaps during spring training, check out Greg's blog: The Phillies Phactor!
With the strength of the Phillies' pitching staff, it's a question the club isn't likely to face this season, but we can't help but wonder.
With the way the Phillies' have watched everyday players drop like flies in recent seasons, who is to say that the Phillies aren't falling behind in the standings as the trade deadline rolls around, especially now considering the strength of the National League East?
What would a first half struggle mean for the future of the Phillies?
I'm not convinced the Phillies aren't going to do this anyway.
Through all of their injuries, one area that the Phillies still have plenty of depth in is their starting pitching, and with Kyle Kendrick lurking on the MLB roster, Joe Blanton could find himself labeled as "trade bait" through the early months of the season.
In trading Blanton, the Phillies' options would be two-fold. First, they could swap him with a team that needs starting pitching and is willing to surrender an MLB hitter of a similar price tag.
They could also pay most of his contract and land a solid prospect—a trade that wouldn't be a terrible decision given the current state of their farm system.
Shane Victorino has made his intentions for the future very clear this off-season: He doesn't want to play for any team other than the Phillies.
A fan-favorite and integral part of the team, my best guess would be that if everything goes according to plan, he'll eventually get his wish.
But what if things don't go according to plan?
Should the Phillies implode during the first half of the 2012 season, the addition of Victorino would make some contending team very happy and score the Phillies a top prospect. Consider the fact that the New York Mets acquired top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Carlos Beltran last season. It could be a similar deal.
If Victorino still wants to come back, the Phillies could always re-sign him as a free agent. He gets a shot at a World Series in half a season and comes back to the club re-energized in 2013. The Phillies get a solid prospect.
Trading Cole Hamels wouldn't be as simple as trading Shane Victorino, not that the latter would be a simple transaction in the least bit.
Hamels is going to cost a nice chunk of change and wants to return to the Phillies. Word has it that if the Phillies were to offer him a market-value deal right now, the lefty would sign it. Of course, it isn't that simple in the least bit.
Do the Phillies want to carry three $20+ million starting pitchers? Is that a resource they'd like to spend on other areas of the club?
There are lots of questions surrounding yet another potential "mega-deal" for the Phillies. While they can afford the contract, is it a necessary gamble?
If the Phillies were to deal Hamels at the trade deadline, they would likely be cutting ties with the left-handed starter for good, but would certainly be able to land a nice haul of prospects from a contending team that Hamels would certainly push over the top.
The question is: What's better for the future? Hamels or top prospects?
The Phillies have become an organization that doesn't like to lose its homegrown players, which is a majority of the reason that a lot of people expect them to retain pending free agent Cole Hamels.
If the Phillies were to contend for another World Series title in 2012, which is certainly more likely than a pending implosion, they could conceivably "get younger" by extending the contracts of some of their home grown players and pending free agents.
At the very least, it would give them a sense of cost certainty moving forward. At the most, it gives them a new "core."
This is a tactic that you see a lot of small-market teams do with their top prospects, making it a bit of an unorthodox move for the Phillies by proxy, but maybe it is something that the team should explore.
First and foremost, you have to see what you truly have in Worley, which gives this slide a bit of a caveat. You wouldn't want to jump the gun and have a small albatross on your hands.
If Worley were to succeed in 2012, however, there is a case to be made that by buying out some of his arbitration years and building a succession of contract options into his deal, the Phillies will have found themselves a valuable starting pitcher that is affordable and much more certain in cost.
The Phillies absolutely need to know what they have in John Mayberry Jr. It could send the future of the club's transactions in two entirely different directions.
Though he isn't exactly a spring chicken, the late-emergence of Mayberry could still prove to be valuable for the Phillies. The 28-year-old outfielder / first baseman hit 15 home runs in just under 300 plate appearances last season.
The club has always loved his potential to hit for power, and the 2011 season seemed like a glimpse into the future, even if Mayberry will be considered a "late bloomer."
He's most valuable to the Phillies because of his price tag, however. Mayberry won't earn more than $1 million until at least after the 2013 season, his first year of arbitration.
If 2011 wasn't just a flash in the pan, it may be wise for the Phillies to explore a deal with Mayberry to buy out some of his arbitration years as well.
Signing Shane Victorino wouldn't necessarily make the Phillies a much younger team, but it would give them the opportunity to lock up a player in his prime, as opposed to having to explore the free agent market.
Victorino has gone on the record saying that he wants to stay in Philadelphia, even going so far as to say that he would take a discount to play for the Phillies. If he truly wants to stay, that's probably what is going to have to happen.
Again, though re-signing Victorino wouldn't necessarily make the club any younger, building around a player with his skill-set is certainly never a bad idea, and he is willing to take a discount to make that happen.
Cole Hamels, on the other hand, is just the type of player that you want to get locked up.
First and foremost, he is homegrown. The Phillies drafted Hamels in the first round of the 2002 draft. He rose through their system. No team in baseball knows what the left-handed starter is capable of better than the Phillies.
Of course, he has also had success in Philadelphia, winning a World Series, a World Series MVP, making several All-Star appearances, and so on and so forth.
The kicker, however, is the simple fact that Hamels is just entering his prime, as he'll be just 28-years-old heading into free agency.
With Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee getting up their in age, the Phillies would be wise to lock up the man who is arguably the greatest pitcher they've ever developed in-house. (By modern day draft and develop standards, of course.)
When the Phillies were linked to Hunter Pence moving towards last season's trade deadline, the rhetoric was very different than what you would hear most people say nowadays. A lot of people didn't want to move top prospects for a player that a lot of people considered "complementary."
Now that it's done, however, is there a better fit for the Phillies than Pence?
In Philly, Pence is exactly the type of player that you'd like to build around. First and foremost, the man is in his prime. He has the ability to hit for power and average. He is a good defender. The fans are absolutely infatuated with him and his merchandise sells like hotcakes.
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard fading fast, the Phillies would be wise to lock up Pence, who is quickly proving that he is much more of a "cornerstone" type player than anyone had originally expected.
There is no doubt that big trades in recent seasons have thinned the Phillies' farm system out exponentially. A look at the top prospects of the Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, and other teams that have dealt with the Phillies can serve as a testament to the level of talent the Phillies have moved.
Make no mistake, however, you have to give something to get something in return, and the Phillies have certainly benefited from additions like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence in recent seasons.
Moving into the future, the Phillies will have to rely on their farm system in a much different method: They'll have to develop that talent into the next "core" of Phillies players.
Eventually, Domonic Brown is going to have to step into the lineup and be the player that the Phillies expect him to be, and while most people seem to have given up on him, the organization certainly has not.
With an aging core, Brown is tasked with being the next great offensive threat in this lineup—not a simple burden to carry. With that being said, if anyone has the talent to succeed, it's Brown.
The man needs to build confidence. Having someone play stellar defense in left field is a luxury, not a necessity, and should the Phillies find themselves in need of some offense in a pinch, you can bet your bottom dollar that Brown will be the go-to guy, and should be for many years to come.
Trevor May is quickly leaving the rest of the "Baby Aces" in the dust, especially now that his closest competition is a member of the Houston Astros.
The development of May as been one of the biggest bright spots of the Phillies' farm system in recent years. A strikeout machine, the right-handed starting pitcher has made incredible strides towards the MLB, and will find himself pitching in AA to begin the 2012 season, with a strong chance of seeing AAA action as well.
Realistically, with Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton facing an impending free agency, May could find himself in the Phillies' rotation as soon as 2013. He'll need to show that he can repeat his delivery and hone his control, but his upside is tremendous.
I find it astonishing how quickly Freddy Galvis transitioned from a slick-fielding prospect who couldn't hit into one of the most important players on the Phillies' roster heading into the 2012 season.
Now a slick-fielding second baseman, at least for the time being, a strong Spring Training has allowed the Phillies to give Galvis the nod on Opening Day, as he attempts to hold down the fort until the return of Chase Utley.
What he can do at the plate at the MLB level is still a complete mystery, but Galvis should be an integral part of the Phillies' future regardless, giving his ability to play either middle infield position, and play it well defensively.
There is certainly still plenty of room for growth for Galvis as a hitter. He is just 22-years-old.
Over the next couple of seasons, the Phillies are going to see a lot of transition in their bullpen from aging veterans into an extremely talented, young relievers, the best of whom may be this man: Justin De Fratus.
There is no doubt that Phillippe Aumont has the higher ceiling, but De Fratus is the complete package. An arm issue kept him out of camp this spring, but his explosive fastball and tight slider combination would have made him a serious threat to make the MLB roster.
Without a doubt, De Fratus will be pitching in the MLB this season. The only questions are when and how long will it take for him to become Jonathan Papelbon's set-up man?
While Justin De Fratus may be the safer bet, if you're looking for upside, look no further than Phillippe Aumont.
The 6-foot-7, flame-throwing, right-handed reliever came to the Phillies in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners, and after a failed period as a starting pitcher, Aumont's explosive repertoire has helped him to develop into a lights-out reliever.
With a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s and a sharp slurve, (a cross between a slider and a curveball; I've seen it called both in different scouting reports) Aumont was dominant at two different levels of the Phillies' minor league system (AA and AAA) in 2011 and impressed the coaching staff during Spring Training.
Though he wasn't quite ready to make jump to the MLB for Opening Day, improved command will have him on the fast-track to the MLB this season.
Between he, De Fratus, and Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies have a plethora of talented, hard-throwing, right-handed relievers with closer potential.
Spring Training was something like a glimpse into the future of the Phillies' bullpen this spring as some of the team's top prospects showed off in front of the MLB coaches, but few players made the impact that Jake Diekman did, particularly on pitching coach Rich Dubee.
The left-handed reliever with a funky delivery surprised quite a few people this spring, and it isn't hard to see why the Phillies liked him enough to add him to the 40-man roster over the winter—he probably had the most explosive, left-handed fastball in camp.
He wasn't quite ready for the MLB, with Dubee expressing interest in Diekman continuing to develop his secondary pitches and work on his command, but the Phillies think that he has a high ceiling, and after watching him this spring, it is hard to disagree.
At the very least, he'll be a good left-handed specialist. At the most, he'll be year another power-relieve coming out of the Phillies bullpen in any situation. I'm leaning towards the latter.
When the Phillies called Mike Stutes to the MLB last season, many believed that he would be the first of a slew of young relievers ready to take over the club's bullpen. Now, with Opening Day just a week away, we're not even sure if he's going to make the club.
We're not sure for the simple reason that Stutes has yet to show that he belongs in the MLB. After exploding on to the scene in 2011, Stutes fizzled out near the end of last season and an unimpressive spring certainly hasn't done him any favors.
He has the potential and the repertoire to be a great reliever, but has yet to prove that he is close to putting all of that together.
In regards to the future, a Stutes that can control his fastball and work his secondary pitches off of it could give the Phillies an elite bullpen.
While the Phillies' farm system has taken its hits in recent seasons, the bullpen has emerged unscathed. It is clear that pitching is going to be the strength of this organization for a long time, and if all goes according to plan, the Phillies will have the luxury of a nearly entirely homegrown bullpen with a limitless upside.
Mike Schwimer is a guy that will certainly be pitching in the MLB in the future, but is kind of in the same boat as Mike Stutes heading into 2012. Already optioned to the minors, Schwimer hasn't done nearly enough to show that he belongs.
Though he is a bit older than some of the other bullpen prospects at age 26, Schwimer still has a ton of potential—more than Stutes, in my personal opinion.
Listed at 6-foor-8, Schwimer is another huge, right-handed reliever, and though he doesn't have the best of fastballs, he certainly benefits from his height. The man practically casts a shadow over the batter's box. He has a good secondary pitch, but like Stutes, he'll need to improve upon his control if he wants to stick.
Between Schwimer and Stutes, however, the Phillies have a pair of cost-efficient relievers extremely capable of pitching the middle innings.
Sebastian Valle hasn't been labeled as the Phillies' top positional prospect for no apparent reason. There's a lot to like about the young catcher.
First and foremost, the Phillies think that Valle is going to be a solid hitter in the future with some power. With a 6-foot-1 frame, that isn't hard to imagine. Though he hit just five home runs in 2011, he hit 16 home runs the year prior, which also shows us Valle's biggest problem.
He doesn't have a clue at the plate.
Scouts have always been torn over him because of his tremendous offensive potential from the catcher's position and his inability to develop any kind of approach that would lead us to believe that said potential would translate to actual numbers at the MLB level.
The same could be said for his defensive work. There is a ton of potential for Valle's game behind the plate, but he has yet to put it all together.
Regardless, it is no secret that the Phillies' current plan is to have Valle serve as the heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz, so expect to see them working together in some way, shape, or form in the future.
Maikel Franco was easily one of the most pleasant surprises for the Phillies last season.
In desperate need of a legitimate third base prospect, Franco started converting some of his potential into results in the lower levels of the Phillies' system.
He isn't your prototypical prospect. Franco has a ton of potential but lacks athleticism, leading some to wonder whether or not he'll be able to stick at the hot corner, but so far, most scouts seem to believe that he can.
That's good news for the Phillies. Franco has the potential to hit for solid power, something that they haven't had consistently at third base in years.
Though I seriously doubt he'll be ready to make the jump to the MLB within the next five seasons, some seem to believe that he'll be able to. We'll just have to wait and see.
Though the Phillies' farm system has taken a step back in recent seasons, it certainly isn't barren. Most of the Phillies' top talent exists within the lower levels of the organization, and whether or not they have the ability to make it to the MLB within the depends entirely upon the club's needs and how far they've progressed.
Of course, if some of these players are able to contribute at the MLB level within the next five seasons, it is a surefire way for the MLB club to get "younger." But who are these guys?
One of the biggest names to keep an eye on is left-handed starting pitcher Jesse Biddle, a powerful left-handed starter with top of the rotation potential. He is currently the second best pitching prospect in the Phillies' system, but could realistically be number one with continued development.
Some of the Phillies' most dynamic positional prospects, including Larry Greene, Roman Quinn, and Carlos Tocci, also reside in the low levels of the system.
It is unlikely that we'll be seeing any of these guys in the next five seasons, but they are certainly players to keep an eye on.
During their current run, the Phillies haven't been in a position where they absolutely had to go out and spend top dollar on the free agent market. It may seem that way at a glance, but the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
With a strong core of players, the Phillies have been in a position to add to their roster at leisure, either through trades or on the free agent market. They've added complementary pieces like Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez, and so on and so forth.
With that core of players aging quickly, however, you have to wonder if the Phillies' strategy on the free agent market will change moving forward. They may be more inclined to spend big money on players just reaching their prime, as opposed to big chunks of change on complementary pieces.
I'll explain more on the next couple of slides.
During the spring, there was a Twitter rumor that started to spread like wildfire that had the Phillies exploring a deal with the Cincinnati Reds about a possible swap of Cole Hamels and Brandon Phillips. While I didn't think it was plausible at the time (and still don't,) it did get me to thinking about a couple of things.
First and foremost, maybe the Reds aren't on the same page with Phillips about that possible contract extension. Second, maybe the Phillies are a little more concerned about the future of Chase Utley than they are letting on.
Of course, this would be a stretch sign for the Phillies and a complicated deal that would like force Utley off of second base, something that I'm sure he would not take kindly too.
However, if you're looking for a player to build the next chapter of the organization around, you can do worse than one of the best defensive second basemen in the game and a very consistent hitter at the dish, for sure.
David Wright has the potential to be one of the best players on the free agent market in this upcoming off-season. In their current financial state, the New York Mets are much more likely to pay his $1 million buyout than $16 million contract option.
If the Mets and Wright were to part ways, he would surely draw interest from the rival Phillies, who do not have a third base prospect to write home about (at least, not at this stage of Maikel Franco's development) and are very likely to part ways with Placido Polanco.
Now, Wright doesn't necessarily help the Phillies get any younger at third base, but he would represent a significant upgrade at the position and allow the Phillies to build around him in the next couple of seasons, reducing the age of the roster in that manner.
Of course, this kind of suggestion comes with a number of caveats. What kind of contract will Wright demand? Is he healthy? Would he even play for the Phillies?
It is certainly something to think about though.
Man, it is easy to forget that Josh Hamilton will be just 32-years-old this winter.
On the field, he has hit like a $100 million player. One can't help but wonder just how much the off-the-field baggage will work against him in free agency, however, and that is something that may actually work to the Phillies' advantage.
I seriously doubt that the Phillies will look to spend heartily on an outfielder this winter, but it is an interesting scenario to consider. What happens if the John Mayberry Jr. / Laynce Nix experiment doesn't work? Shane Victorino will be a free agent after this season. Hunter Pence will be a free agent the year after.
Realistically, Domonic Brown is the only person that can seriously be locked into a spot in the Phillies' future, and that isn't very comforting for a lot of people.
So maybe the Phillies will explore a deal for an outfielder, but would a guy like Hamilton be a guy that they would consider? Given the current state of the offense, consider the fact that Hamilton has posted a career OPS of .909.
But he is a risk. Do the Phillies really want to build their future around yet another health risk?
Though he isn't slated to become a free agent until after the 2013 season and has already had some preliminary extension talks with the Cleveland Indians, Asdrubal Cabrera is a player that would draw a lot of attention on the free agent market, and the Phillies would be wised to get involved in those talks.
After all, Jimmy Rollins will still be under contract and Freddy Galvis could always slide back over to his natural shortstop position. Then again, Rollins will be close to 36-years-old and Galvis is certainly no lock to hit for any kind of success at the MLB level, so the Phillies could find themselves looking for their next shortstop on the free agent market.
Cabrera should draw a lot of interest. Not only is he a solid defender, but Cabrera really put things together in 2011 to have the best offensive season of his career. His is a name to watch moving forward.
For a long time, it looked as though Alex Gordon, drafted with the second overall pick of the 2005 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals, was going to be a bust. However, after figuring it out at the plate over the last couple of seasons, culminating in 2011, Gordon is finally living up to expectations.
As an outfielder, he gets the same caveat that Josh Hamilton did, and Gordon has had extension talks with the Royals. If he were to reach free agency, however, Gordon is certainly a guy that the Phillies could find affordable.
Of course, he'll need to prove that he can be an All-Star type talent year in and year out before he reached free agency after the 2013 season.
Outside of the fact that he's a Scott Boras client, what's not to like about Jacoby Ellsbury? (I say that only half-jokingly.)
The Phillies haven't dealt well with Boras clients in the past, but I'm sure they would make an exception if the five-tool center fielder were to reach free agency following the 2013 season.
If you're going to build around a free agent and utilize your farm system in other areas, there are few better potential free agents to start with than Ellsbury, a true five-tool player that wouldn't come cheap.
If 2011 was any indication of what the future holds for Ellsbury, who would be just 30-years-old following the 2013 season, I'm sure there isn't a team in the MLB that wouldn't like to see him wearing their uniform and patrolling center field, the Phillies included.