2012 felt a lot like this for Phillies fans.
The temptation to take an unlikely premise for success and sarcastically run with it—"throw Chase Utley in the Wayback Machine and set it to 2006" or "throw Ryan Howard 1,000,000 left-handed sliders until he is immune from their hypnotic effects"—is great.
For that matter, there is also "petition Bud Selig to move the Phillies from the National League Eastern Division, where they are third-best, to a more hospitable division like the National League Central."
But we deal in reality here.
So if the Phillies are going to take this semi-broken-down, paying-too-much-money-to-almost-shot-players team to the promised land, extreme measures are not just in play—they are the only way home.
Maybe he is a bad guy, but he just helped the Detroit Tigers win a pennant.
Mention Delmon Young and all anyone wants to talk about is his shady past (per the Daily Mail).
The only cogent response Phillies fans should have is this: Can he hit?
Young hit .267 with 18 home runs and 74 runs batted in for the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Young is a right-handed hitter; he is only 27 years old, and he's coming off ankle surgery. He could be signed for short years and/or short money.
For weeks, Phillies fans were hearing that the Phillies were interested in signing right-handed outfielder Cody Ross to a free-agent contract. Many of them remembered how Ross took Roy Halladay deep twice in Game 1 of the 2010 National League Championship Series; they may not have been too excited to have Ross in red pinstripes.
Young might actually be a better player. Ross' 2012 slash line of .267/22/81 is not much different from Young's 2012 slash line of .267/18/74. And Ross is four years older.
Phillies' fans do not have to go out to dinner with Delmon Young or take him home to meet Mom. They just want him to hit.
The 2008 Phillies won the World Series with a decomposing Pat Burrell chipping home runs into the short porch in left field. Delmon Young could do at least that.
Not the healthiest cat, but Marcum deals.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Phillies already have more than $60 million tied up in Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in 2013. Everybody knows that.
So why spend more money on another arm?
Because nobody knows what Halladay will give you in 2013. He might go back to being good again...or he might regress even further.
Fresh off winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2010 and finishing runner-up in that voting in 2011, Doc posted this line: 11-8, 4.49 ERA, a half-dozen starts missed and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67, his worst since 2007.
The Phillies will pay Halladay $20 million in 2013, when he will be 36 years old. What will they get for that money?
And wouldn't a $5M-$10M insurance policy in the form of a Shaun Marcum or even a Joe Saunders make sense given the uncertainty?
They say you can't go home again. But who knows?
The Phillies' recent acquisition of Mike Adams was one of the silent difference-makers of this offseason. The Phillies had terrible trouble shipping leads from their high-dollar starting staff to eight-figure closer Jonathan Papelbon in 2012.
Adams projects to help—a lot—with protecting seventh- and eighth-inning leads in 2013.
But the Phillies proved nothing in 2012 if they did not prove that sometimes, one reliable middle reliever is one reliable middle reliever too few.
Brett Myers would return to the Phillies with baggage (per USA Today), and his own opinion of his stuff is almost certain to be inflated against what his stuff actually is.
Still, as pointed out by CBSsports.com, Myers' strikeout-to-walk ratio for the past three years is 6.8, and he has a rubber arm.
Adding Myers to the Phillies' staff could only help. Unless you really believe in the power of John Lannan, which apparently the Washington Nationals did not.
Can Revere hit leadoff? It is time to find out.
Charlie Manuel needs to decide quickly whether Revere can depose Jimmy Rollins as the Phillies' leadoff hitter. For the good of the club, Manuel should at least give the idea some serious thought.
If Revere is not leading off, Manuel needs to figure out what can be done with a player like Revere—74 career stolen bases, zero career home runs.
And that is a real quandary. Revere hits for no power and almost all of his value is in his legs. He is an adequate bunter, and at 24 years of age, he could develop into a prototypical slap hitter who gets the most out of his legs.
Does Revere do the team much good hitting seventh or eighth, spots where you ordinarily do not want base stealers to hit because of the risk of getting thrown out on the base paths and not getting the pitcher's spot in the lineup out of the way?
Probably not. So Revere should lead off, no matter what the next guy about to be discussed thinks about it.
Capable hitter? Yes. Leadoff man? No.
That is what you are heard to say. It seems extreme, yes, but assuming that Revere leads off and Delmon Young is signed, where do you put Rollins?
The third, fourth and fifth spots are pretty well claimed by the newly-acquired Michael Young, Ryan Howard and the hypothetically-acquired Delmon Young (in some order). The second spot is still open, but Chase Utley should hit there (more on that in a minute).
"J-Roll" has been the Phillies' undisputed leadoff man for the significant majority of the past 12 seasons, the last six of which saw his team make the playoffs and included a pennant and a World Series title.
In a career where he more often than not got 700-plus plate appearances per season, he has never drawn more than 62 walks in a year.
Rollins has speed. He has 403 stolen bases against just 83 times caught stealing, a success rate of just below 80 percent.
But Rollins is not a "base stealer." He has led the National League in stolen bases only once, in his first full season in 2001. He has never been the type who could steal 60-plus bases for three consecutive years like Jose Reyes (2005-2007) or for that matter lead the league in steals for years in a row (Reyes and Michael Bourn).
So youth must be served, and Rollins must cede the leadoff spot to the faster, younger Revere.
Quit looking at the bat, Chase. The bat is fine.
Chase Utley is dead. Long live Chase Utley.
The Phillies made the playoffs in 2007 for the first time in fourteen seasons. Chase Utley had his true "here I am" campaign, hitting .332 with 22 home runs and 103 RBI despite missing 29 games (an omen, sadly).
Utley has never been that player since.
His average has gone down incrementally in each succeeding season, and his productivity (while OK for a second baseman) has also diminished.
All that being said, on this team in 2013, Utley makes a lot of sense as a two-hole hitter.
He can still take a walk, and he can still drive the ball when facing right-handed pitching and/or when the pitcher he is facing makes a mistake.
From the second spot in the lineup Utley will not be expected to drive in runs. But given a middle of the order of Delmon Young, Ryan Howard and Michael Young, Utley should not need to drive runs in.
He just needs to get on base, and his .365 OBP of 2012 suggests that that is still a skill he possesses.
Still fearsome, when he makes contact.
By the time Howard returned to live action, the Phillies were 37-47 and buried in the National League East basement, 13 games behind the Washington Nationals.
They finished 81-81, making them 44-34 in the games after Howard's return.
In 71 games played in 2012, Howard hit 14 home runs and drove in 56 runs. That projects comfortably to another 30/100 season over 162 games. Granted, if he hits .219 as he did in 2012, the counting statistics do not help as much.
But a healthy Ryan Howard is much preferred to a platoon of John Mayberry Jr., Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton.
Not so many smiles for Cholly in 2012.
He has 947 major-league managerial wins. Barring a mid-season firing in 2013, he will get to 1,000 in a Phillies uniform.
In seven prior seasons as the Phillies' manager, he had never won fewer than 85 games in a season. That is, until the 2012 Phillies staggered to 81-81.
He enters the 2013 season as a lame duck whose most recent contract extension will run out at the end of the season. Seeing this, the Phillies already seem to have his heir apparent, Ryne Sandberg, training on the job in the coming year.
Given that Manuel left the Indians in 2002 under strained contractual circumstances, that may not bode well for his job prospects in Philadelphia beyond 2013.
If Manuel starts slowly—at all—in 2013, a change is very likely. And that is for the best.
The 2013 Philadelphia Phillies have no time for loyalty. They must win. Now.
These guys figure to be right in the thick of it, good or bad, in 2013.
That the Phillies' April of 2012 was the first time the club had a losing record in April since 2007 has been well-documented.
Phillies fans, though, have very short memories these days. If the 2013 Phillies stagger out of the starting block again this season, the voices calling for a managerial change will start to gather and strengthen.
In that same stretch the Phillies will go to New York to play the Mets, to Miami to visit the significantly-depleted Marlins and to Cleveland to play the Indians. None of those teams did much in 2012. And the Phillies do not even play the Washington Nationals until May 24.
So the Phillies had better start fast, because after the soft beginning comes an avalanche of games with the likes of the Nationals, Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox (who will not be as bad in 2013 as they were in 2012).
Use him for all he is worth.
The Phillies' roster is dotted with multi-million dollar athletes who "specialize."
Papelbon is a closer who only pitches in the ninth inning. Hamels, Lee and Halladay are starters. Howard is a cleanup hitter. Rollins is (has been?) a leadoff man.
It may be hard for the Phillies to accept this, but the time for keeping players in their slotted roles is probably gone.
This does not mean hitting Lee fourth and playing him in right field (though he could hardly do much worse at that than Domonic Brown).
No, what it means is that Manuel and the Phillies have to be willing to be creative with how to deploy a 25-man roster from night to night. And this is not just in consideration of extra-inning games or blowouts.
Lee and Hamels have to be able to bunt a runner over in a pinch-hitting role in a close game on the road and/or pinch-run for a slower runner to get the lead run across. Papelbon has to be able to get a five-out save here and there.
"But they might get hurt," says conventional wisdom.
Keeping them healthy equaled 81-81 and third place in 2012.
The Nationals and the Braves, on paper, are better entering 2013. The Phillies need to maximize what they have in 2013 to have any chance of getting back into the playoff tournament where anything can happen.