Now is the time where I begin my coverage of the Phillies as they approach spring training in two weeks. I will be around the team getting all the news and updates as they happen because of my job at WIP and my college radio show, so I have credential from both.
I will be giving everyone the facts, my opinion, and what will most likely happen as defending World Champions begin their run for a repeat.
In this article I will go over each position and what the team will probably do with them. Let’s begin shall we.
The Phillies will stroll into Clearwater, FL, with three catchers; Lou Marson, Chris Coste, and Carlos Ruiz.
Obviously Ruiz will be the teams starting catcher heading into the season. Ruiz proved he was a big-game plate detective during the Phils championship run. The only issue with Ruiz is his lack of offense. The club believes with his new found confidence he will look to improve his offensive statistics so he can be an everyday No. 1 catcher teams look for.
The guy who everybody knows will one day be their starting catcher but won't be with the club on opening day is Lou Marson. I have already heard from the Phillies they want him to start the season with in the minors to get full playing time both defensively and offensively. Eventually, maybe towards the end of the season come playoff time the Phillies will look to carry all the depth they can, so look for Marson around late-August into September.
Coste, who is back this season to both be a mentor to Marson, and secondly be a quality back-up to Ruiz. Coste will get his fair share of time behind the plate and will, as usual, provide a good bat for them.
Nothing new to report except that Ryan Howard has yet to be signed to a contract. The team will most likely head to arbitration with the slugger, where the decision is pretty unpredictable at this point. We all knew Howard was going to win his $10 million last season, but this year the verdict can go either way.
In my opinion, the best thing that possibly happens with this continuing issue is for the Phillies to offer Howard a one-year $16 million deal. That way, we all know both sides are talking.
Here is the log-jam for the Phils this season. Chase Utley says he should be ready for opening day. This defeats his original prognosis of 4-6 months. But the Phils have to prepare for the worst. Eric Bruntlett will most likely patrol second base if Utley won’t be ready. The main rumor out there now regarding the Phils is the possibility of Ty Wigginton becoming a Phillie.
Wigginton is a productive right handed hitter batting .285 with 23 home runs and 58 RBIs in just 386 at-bats for the Astros last season. He gives the Phillies versatility, having plenty of experience playing both corner-outfield positions, as well as second and third base.
Whether or not Wigginton, who made $4.35 million in 2008 and was then non-tendered by Houston, is in the Phillies' price range remains to be seen.
The other man in the mix is the second of the Phils top three major prospects, Jason Donald. Donald is closer to be with the club than Marson, could be on the opening day roster for depth purposes, but will most likely be down in the minors so he can play everyday.
Donald will get the majority of chances for second and shortstop, I don’t want to hear anything regarding third base, which is not where he is going to play. Don’t hold your breath on Donald, just be patient with this star in waiting.
This position is the other worrisome spot for the Phils only two weeks away from spring training. Pedro Feliz is not due to return to the team until around opening day, but a setback can happen especially with his issue being his back. Greg Dobbs is the guy who will likely get the nod there during spring training and two days during the week while the season is going on.
If Feliz does in fact suffer a setback, Dobbs and/or a signed Wigginton will protect the hot-corner until Feliz returns. Jason Donald will not get any reps at third base as I stated before.
Well unless somebody horrible happens to Jimmy Rollins between now and opening day, he will be the main man at shortstop leading his squad for the marathon that is the MLB season.
But just in case something, God forbid, happens to him, Jason Donald will be brought in to take control of the shortstop position.
The Phillies' outfield is the most untouchable piece of this puzzle other than Cole Hamels’ ace spot on the rotation. With the addition of Raul Ibanez, the signing of Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino being signed for this season, the outfield looks to be the strong point of this World Champion Phillies team.
Pat Burrell leaving the team was admittedly a somber moment for some, but overall the signing of Ibanez was a good replacement addition. Ibanez is no slouch to his own credit. He has had over 100 RBIs in the last five seasons, along with over 20 home runs. Ibanez, who is a lefty batted well against lefties last season hitting .330.
Expect the Phils outfield to be productive and consistent. Shane Victorino is primed for a breakout season and could see a gold glove in his future. Werth will look to add to his career highs he set last year in home runs, RBIs, and batting average now that he is the everyday starter. That was made definite when he awarded a two-year, $10 million deal.
I unlike most, have been relatively happy with the Phils rotation. With Cole Hamels now signed for the next three years, he has the security he wanted and rightfully deserved. Look for 16-20 wins from Hamels and possible a CY Young in his near future. The NLCS and World series MVP is ready to breakout and show the baseball world that he is one, if not, the most dominant pitcher in the game.
Jamie Moyer signed back for two years. I'm worried about the two years. Yes, Moyer won 16 games last season, and yes, Moyer has proved age wasn’t a factor last year. But he is another year older and he got his guaranteed two-year contract. We never know when father time will pull a fast one us and hand it over to Moyer.
I would love to sit here and tell all who appreciate what Moyer has done that we can expect another 15-16 win season again this year. Sorry, I personally see 10-13 wins from the Moyer, I pray that I’m wrong.
The rest of the rotation will round out as follows:
2. Brett Myers - Can win up to 15 games if his head is right from the beginning.
3. Jamie Moyer - Will be the third starter because of the lefty-righty set up top. 10-13 wins, hopefully more.
4. Joe Blanton-The newly paid righty who has yet to lose in a Phillies uniform will collect that fourth spot. The big boy will try and add to his success last season and maybe hit a couple more bombers over the wall.
5. JA Happ, Carlos Carrasco, and Kyle Kendrick - I believe Kendrick will the get the best chance to try and recover his starting job back. Ultimately, the Phillies are going to try and sneak Happ in there to challenge Kendrick. Carrasco will probably stay down a little longer. I think the Phillies are holding off on Carrasco for some odd reason, they are being way over protective of this kid.
The loss of JC Romero hurt this bullpen lineup. He was the anchor of the bullpen not named Brad Lidge. The Phils might have to fill that spot with either Kendrick or Happ, whichever one doesn’t make the rotation. Lidge, who you can bet won't be pulling any save record heroics like Eric Gagne, but he will be clutch in every way again and he is a lock for the All-Star game and possibly 50 saves.
Ryan Madson, who had a breakout season last year, has a new contract and should come up big for this bullpen in the absence of Romero. Madson is an important piece to this puzzle and should be counted on in big spots when called upon.
Overall, I think the Phils can repeat. It will be a long, tough road, but if the Phillies can have consistency in their rotation, and more consistency in the bottom of the lineup, this team can find themselves back representing the National League in the 2009 World Series.
This division is still a two-team race with the Mets still in my eyes are chokers until they prove otherwise. Enjoy spring training, I will be down in Clearwater sometime next month so I will be writing from down there a few times. Looking forward to dealing with everyone associated with the Phils section. Hope to talk to you all soon.