Is Ruben Amaro Jr. Optimistic or Delusional to Think 2013 Phillies Will Compete?
"I think we have a good enough team to contend for the division, yes," Amaro told Zolecki. "Absolutely. It's up to the players to prove me right, I guess."
To be fair to Amaro, what else is he supposed to say?
Look, everyone else sees what the Nats and Braves have done. We're thinking of forfeiting the season. Atlanta traded for Justin Upton, and we signed Delmon Young. When that deal hit the news, I hid under my desk and cried for six hours. Contend? Yeah, right!
With those remarks, however, Amaro comes off a bit like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, trying to keep a frenzied crowd under control. "Remain calm!" he yells. "All is well!"
But will Amaro eventually be stampeded by Phillies fans who expect much more from a team that won five straight division titles from 2007 to 2011 and contended for most of the past 12 seasons?
The Nationals compiled the best record in MLB last year at 98-64, finishing 17 games ahead of the Phillies in the NL East. During the offseason, Nats GM Mike Rizzo added Dan Haren to the team's starting rotation, traded for center fielder Denard Span and signed free-agent closer Rafael Soriano.
As mentioned above, the Braves acquired Justin Upton, a player one season removed from an MVP-caliber season of 31 home runs, 88 RBI, 39 doubles and 21 stolen bases. Prior to that, Atlanta signed B.J. Upton to be their center fielder and added Jordan Walden to an already outstanding bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Phillies also got a center fielder, trading for Ben Revere. That fulfilled Amaro's primary offseason objective. Michael Young was acquired to fill the hole at third base. Philadelphia also signed Delmon Young to provide a right-handed power bat in the outfield.
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On the pitching side, Amaro signed one of MLB's best setup relievers in Mike Adams. John Lannan was added to the back end of the starting rotation. Reliever Chad Durbin and Yuniesky Betancourt were also signed for roster depth.
Yet, those additions aren't joining a squad full of replacement-level players.
The Phillies still have the best trio of starting pitchers atop their rotation with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.
Philadelphia should also have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back at full health after both players missed significant time with injuries last season. And after he returns from a 25-game suspension, Carlos Ruiz gives the Phillies one of the best catchers in MLB.
However, are the Phillies better than the team that finished 81-81 last season?
Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino are gone. Vance Worley is no longer in the starting rotation. Though Ruiz's suspension accounts for only 15 percent of the season, that could limit him to approximately 100 games in 2013.
It should be noted that after looking like a potential last-place team early in the season, the Phillies played far better in the second half. The team played itself into the NL wild-card playoff race by going 44-31.
But nearly all of the additions Amaro made to the Phillies roster have rather significant question marks going into the upcoming season.
Revere will be a stolen-base threat at the top of the batting order. But his OPS was only .675 last season. His .333 on-base percentage would have ranked fifth among the Phillies' regular starters. He also mostly batted in the No. 2 spot for the Minnesota Twins last year.
Michael Young is coming off the worst season of his career at age 36. He batted .277 with a .682 OPS, nine home runs and 67 RBI.
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Young was also mostly a designated hitter last year, playing just 25 games at third base. When he was in the field, he allowed five runs more than the average third baseman, according to FanGraphs' ultimate zone rating (UZR).
Delmon Young hit .267 with a .707 OPS, 18 home runs and 74 RBI last season. He was more impressive during the playoffs, batting .313 with a .907 OPS, three homers and nine RBI. The Phillies wanted a right-handed bat and Young hits left-handed pitching well, compiling a .308 average, .833 OPS, seven homers and 26 RBI versus southpaws last year.
The big concern with Young, however, is that the Phillies apparently intend to make him their starting right fielder. He hasn't played that position since 2007 with the Tampa Bay Rays. But since then, he's been a left fielder and designated hitter.
FanGraphs' UZR measured Young as a good defensive right fielder, saving eight runs more than an average player during the two seasons he played the position. But we're only talking about 133 games to judge. Young will also be recovering from microfracture surgery on his ankle, which could prevent him from opening the season on the Phillies' active roster.
Comparing the Phillies to the Nationals and Braves—especially taking each team's offseason moves into consideration—doesn't look very favorable. For Amaro to say he expects his team to compete with two clubs that could be the best in the NL seems optimistic at best.
However, Philadelphia could influence who does eventually win the NL East or a wild-card playoff spot. The Phillies won't be a pushover for the Nats or Braves in the division.
But for Amaro to think his team can ultimately be anything more than a spoiler by the end of the upcoming season might be borderline delusional. This just doesn't look like their year.
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