With all but a few minor tweaks remaining, and not much spare room for even those minor adjustments, the Philadelphia Phillies are just about ready to make their annual journey to Clearwater, Fla to prepare for the upcoming season.
It's going to be a tough season for the Phillies. This is a club mired in question marks, playing in a division that is only getting better—and that's with the Miami Marlins' fire sale this winter in mind. The Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are two of the best teams in the National League.
What does that mean for the Phillies? It's time to take stock. This could very well be a "transition year" for the Phillies—one that sees them move some of their aging veterans in favor of younger players. It could also be one of the few "last shots" at a World Series ring.
A lot of that evaluation begins in spring training, although it is a relatively small sample size. The Phillies will be taking stock of their players and we'll be doing the same thing here. A player whose stock is rising is a player set to be more valuable this season, in a variety of manners that will vary from player to player, than he was in years past. A player whose stock is falling is a player who is set to be less valuable this season.
Some players will be labeled as holding steady. These are players whose stock will either not improve or decline significantly.
Having ended the Shane Victorino era in center field last summer, the Phillies found themselves in need of a new face in outfield this offseason and after weeks of speculation on which free agent they would pursue, the front office made a surprise move and sent Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Ben Revere.
At just 24-years-old, Revere brings a breath of fresh air to this club. He gives the Phillies an element of speed and defense that was lacking when the offseason began and the club is betting that his best years—now to be played in his most natural position of center field—are ahead of him. They're gambling on upside.
Look to see the club experiment with Revere as the leadoff hitter this spring as well.
You don't often look at a 36-year-old veteran coming off of the worst season of his career and expect his stock to rise, but Michael Young is in an interesting situation.
Is his stock going to rise to the point where he is an All-Star playing exceptional defense? Probably not, but the Phillies aren't looking for him to be an All-Star. They're looking for a quality, right-handed bat in the lineup and a man who isn't going to be a butcher at third base.
Young can do that. The Texas Rangers had been playing him as a "super utility" man without giving him regular at-bats. The Phillies are looking to reverse that by labeling him as the third baseman and putting him in the lineup everyday.
His stock may not go up much, but Young's value is rising.
Chase Utley is another aging, veteran player that most people assume doesn't have much left in the tank, but he is in an interesting situation as well.
Over the last few seasons, Utley has played sporadically. He has missed two consecutive spring camps as well as most of the first half of each of the last two seasons as a result of a pair of chronically degenerating knees.
How can someone whose knees are "chronically degenerating" have rising value? Utley is a unique player. After spending some time rehabilitating in Arizona with a specialist last season, Utley seemed to be playing very well in the second half of the season.
There is a lot of hope that he'll be able to play more of a full season in 2013 and if Utley is on the field for the Phillies, they're a better team. That's why his stock is rising.
Would it be unreasonable to expect a bit more value out of Ryan Howard this season? No, it wouldn't be. After spending most of the 2012 season recovering from a partially torn Achilles tendon, Howard can really only go up from there.
The question about the Phillies first baseman is whether or not he can "go up" enough to be a valuable asset for them—and don't even think about this situation in terms of living up to his contract, because that's impossible.
The Phillies need Howard to be in much better shape this season, first and foremost, and he should be having had a full offseason to prepare. Outside of that, however, there isn't much hope for Howard. His strikeouts ballooned last season and he was particularly miserable against left-handed pitching.
You can expect a brief rise in Howard's value, but when you look at the whole picture, his stock is falling.
When you're looking at evaluating Delmon Young's stock, the simple question is this: Will more playing time make him more or less valuable?
The Phillies, who plan to play Young in right field—a position that he has not played at all in MLB since 2007 (h/t: Yahoo! Sports)—have already answered part of that question for us; Young will be getting more playing time.
With the Detroit Tigers last season, Young struggled against right-handed pitching, posting an OPS of .649, and looked lost as a defensive outfielder. The Phillies will be asking him to topple both of these challenges in 2013.
The quick analysis here is that Young's stock is falling. The Phillies are asking him to become an everyday outfielder when in reality he should be a part-time player, sporadically seeing the field and hitting a majority of left-handed pitching only.
Stock: Holding steady
Jimmy Rollins has reached an interesting plateau in his career where he isn't going to get much better, but he isn't going to get much worse either.
Though he struggled at the plate during various stints in 2012, Rollins wound up having a very good season, mainly because he was able to stay healthy. He would prove to be one of the league's best defensive shortstops and hit for above-average power for the position.
Now, if Rollins were able to improve his offensive approach a bit, he could see a rise in value, though it would probably be a small gain. The safer bet here is that Rollins is able to repeat his successes—and failures—from the '12 season.
Carlos Ruiz had a fantastic year in 2012. It was a season that saw him improve leaps and bounds offensively while maintaining the defensive skill that made him one of the game's most underrated catchers.
Now we have to determine whether that progress was legitimate or synthetic.
On the heels of the best offensive season of his career, Ruiz was suspended 25 games for his second positive test of the banned substance Adderall, an amphetamine. Adderall is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The positive test, along with an unusually high batting average on balls in play (BABip), leaves some critics wondering whether or not Ruiz will be able to repeat his success from 2012, which was a long shot at best anyhow.
Ruiz's '13 season will begin around the end of April/beginning of May and he'll have the daunting task of proving that his success was not built around a synthetic cornerstone of a banned substance.
The Phillies aren't going to be able to rely on their aging veterans forever. Eventually, this club is going to have to start receiving some production from its young, homegrown players, and that starts with Domonic Brown.
Brown, briefly the top prospect in all of baseball a few seasons back, has been in something like "MLB limbo" for the last couple of years. The Phillies have called him up and given him a few cups of coffee, but not the opportunity to prove that he can be an everyday player.
Now you look at the Phillies' outfield situation and realize that this club needs him to be successful, unless you believe in magic and the power of Delmon Young.
Brown's stock is going to be on the rise this spring. When you look at the careers of some of baseball's greatest names, the first few seasons didn't always come easy. Looking back at 2012, Brown showed some real promise in the last few months of the season.
Couple that with the fact that the Phillies are all but forced to give him regular at-bats and we're talking about a recipe for success.
Roy Halladay's stock for the upcoming season can be broken down into two schools of thought. You either believe that the 2012 season was a brief outlier as a result of injury or you believe that Halladay is declining on the back-end of his career.
I'm a member of that first school of thought because Halladay's '12 season can be explained. He suffered a serious strain of the right latissimus dorsi that threw an obvious wrench into his plans. His fastball velocity suffered. His pitch selection was curious, highlighted by a surprising number of offspeed pitches—particularly curveballs.
With a full offseason to recover, it isn't overly optimistic that Halladay can return to form in 2013, and even if he isn't the same, dominant pitcher that inspired awe, he can still be a legitimate, top-of-the-rotation threat.
Stock: Holding steady
If you put a lot of faith in traditional, arbitrary statistics like wins and losses, you could probably get away with labeling Cliff Lee's stock as "rising." Anyone who believes in advanced statistics, such as myself, would call his stock for the upcoming season "holding steady."
When you break it down, Lee was among the five best starting pitchers in baseball last season, even if he did win just six games. His K/BB mark of 7.39 was the best in baseball by a wide margin. His FIP of 3.13 and his xFIP of 3.06 were the eighth and best marks in the game, respectively. His 4.9 WAR placed him tied for eighth best in baseball.
When you take all of those separate elements—and those are just a few—and bring them together, you're looking at one of the game's elite starting pitchers. Now, it would be unreasonable to expect Lee to get much better than that, but there is little evidence to support any theory that he can't be equally as good in 2013.
Is Cole Hamels the best pitcher on this staff right now? Cliff Lee may have a strong argument against him, but one of these two pitchers still has room to grow in this game and that's Hamels, who signed a long-term deal to remain with the Phillies last season.
Hamels' rise to the top of starting pitchers has come on the back of a repertoire of pitches that he commands very well: the fastball, cutter and changeup.
Hamels' changeup has always been his calling card. It is easily one of the best offspeed pitches in the game today and if it is not the best changeup in baseball right now, it's close. The addition of the cutter really elevated Hamels' game and he hasn't been throwing it for all that long.
The bottom line here is this: If you want to call Hamels' stock "holding steady," I wouldn't put up much of a fight. However, Hamels is also moving into the prime of his career and has spent the last few seasons learning under pitchers like Lee and Roy Halladay.
There is room for Hamels to grow as a starting pitcher.
The Phillies have tossed Kyle Kendrick around like a sack of potatoes over the last few seasons, moving him back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen at their leisure, but he'll finally get the chance to prove he belongs in the rotation this season.
Kendrick, who was expected to be the club's fifth starter when the offseason began, moved up a spot in the rotation when the Phillies traded Vance Worley, all but solidifying Kendrick's position.
Whether or not Kendrick can succeed in the rotation over the course of a full season is something that he'll have to determine on the mound, but if he can capture some of the success that propelled him to a strong second half in 2012, there is a good chance that the Phillies will receive good value out of Kendrick.
Stock: Holding steady to rising
John Lannan's stock can't get much lower than it was in 2012. The former Opening Day starter for the Washington Nationals was ousted from their revamped rotation last spring and found himself spending nearly an entire year in Triple-A.
Despite a poor performance in the minors, Lannan pitched well when the Nationals decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg, helping to earn him a major league deal with the Phillies this offseason.
Is it a guarantee that Lannan opens the season in the Phillies' rotation? No, but the odds are certainly in his favor. At neutral, he is a solid fifth starter that the Phillies aren't paying much.
Things start to get interesting when you remove facing the Phillies from Lannan's equation. He's 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA. Maybe his stock is actually rising.
Stock: Rising to holding steady
With Carlos Ruiz suspended to start the season, the Phillies are going to need Erik Kratz to step up and prove that he can be a solid stopgap until Ruiz returns following the first month or so of the regular season.
Kratz certainly showed glimpses of that ability last season when he hit for power and contact and played very solid defense for the Phillies. They'll need more of that throughout the month of April and well into the regular season.
Some of the bigger concerns about Kratz center around whether or not he can be as productive in a much larger role, and those are legitimate concerns. When forced to play off of the bench in the month of September last season, Kratz struggled quite a bit.
The adjustment from playing everyday to becoming the backup catcher is something to keep an eye on regarding Kratz.
The Phillies have given John Mayberry Jr. every chance in the world to step up and become an everyday player. He just hasn't been able to do it. Now with some outfielders pushing their way through the system and reading into the Phillies' offseason moves, it seems as though they've lost faith in Mayberry.
He'll have his work cut out for him this spring. Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf are ready for their shot. The Phillies have (for some reason) made Delmon Young a priority. What's left for Mayberry outside of a bench role?
Of course, having a bat that hits left-handed pitching well and plays solid defense isn't worthless, but Mayberry's stock is definitely on steep, downward slope.
Since becoming general manager of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. has drawn the ire of critics for his tendency to give out "extra" guaranteed contract years—which means to say that he should have been able to sign said player to fewer contract years. Laynce Nix is the perfect example.
With the Washington Nationals, Nix was a marginal bench player that was solid against right-handed pitching, but couldn't hit lefties if they told him what they were going to throw.
The Phillies signed him to a two-year, guaranteed, major league deal.
In his first season, Nix got off to a hot start, but suffered a severe calf strain that forced him to sit out more than 50 regular season games. Now he'll have fewer at-bats and less of an opportunity to prove himself.
It wouldn't kill the Phillies to eat his contract and cut him loose this spring, so Nix needs to show that he can hit for power in sporadic plate appearances off of the bench. Otherwise, the speed and defense of Rule 5 pick Ender Inciarte may end up being more valuable.
If a young, power-hitting, right-handed corner outfielder who will be cheap and under team control for the next few seasons sounds valuable, that's because he is.
When the 2012 season started, Darin Ruf wasn't on anyone's radar. He was too old for Double-A and blocked at first base by Ryan Howard, so the lack of attention was understandable. But he found ways to make himself more valuable, starting at the plate.
Ruf captivated the faithful Reading fans with his power and did his best to learn how to play left field on the fly, earning himself a call-up in September, when he would hit three home runs in just 37 plate appearances.
Some scouts are still skeptical about Ruf's potential, but most people don't like to admit when they're wrong. It was a brief stint, but Ruf did very little to show that he can't play left field and hit for power at the major league level in 2013.
Lost in the shuffle of outfielders this offseason is the fact that the Phillies' bench has the potential to be much improved this season, although that has quite a bit to do with the fact that their starters will be healthy.
Because keeping their everyday infielders fresh is going to be important, players like Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis are going to be very valuable this season. Whether or not both make the club is something that the spring will decide, but the thought process is the same.
One or both of these guys will be responsible for playing quality defense at three different positions on a semi-frequent basis while giving the club quality at-bats.
Stock: Holding steady
I'm at a bit of a loss with Chad Durbin. He has been consistently below average for the last couple of seasons and the Phillies signed him anyway. To think that he'll be anything different is almost the exact definition of "insanity," is it not?
What the Phillies do with Durbin could eventually determine his stock. Pitching Durbin in high-leverage situations is a downgrade for the Phillies, with strikeout arms available in his stead. Pitching Durbin in low-leverage situations as the "swingman" or long reliever is a bit better.
I'd hold off on really getting into Durbin's value until we see what kind of role he is going to fill, but his stock is not rising or falling at the moment.
It would be surprising to see Jeremy Horst repeat his 2012 season because he was exceptional last year, but that doesn't necessarily mean that his stock is falling.
At this time last season, Horst was a minor league pitcher thrown into a trade for a utility man without a second thought by the Cincinnati Reds. Now he is one of the safer bets to make the Phillies bullpen this upcoming season.
Now that the Phillies are better equipped to handle the later innings, having added Mike Adams, Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee are better positioned to utilize Horst as a left-handed specialist, where he was particularly effective last season.
Drafting and developing young relievers has become something of a forte for the Phillies in recent history and those relievers, headlined by Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, will have their chance to leave a mark on this club in 2013.
De Fratus, who missed the first half of the 2012 season with an injury, isn't guaranteed a spot in the bullpen, but is as good a bet as any to make the club.
His fastball/slider combination has the potential to be among the best in the bullpen and he has the command to make them very effective. His stock is on the rise.
The road to MLB hasn't been an easy one for Phillippe Aumont. The Phillies acquired him as a starting pitching prospect from the Seattle Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal prior to the 2010 season and he struggled in the rotation.
The Phillies bounced him back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen a few times before Aumont made relieving stick.
Of course, he has always had the potential to be a dominant reliever, thanks to the incredible movement that he gets on all of his offerings. Control has always been an issue for the hulking Canadian, but he has the best pure stuff in the Phillies bullpen.
Stock: Holding steady to rising
2012 was an up and down year for Antonio Bastardo, but it is hard to imagine a scenario where he can be any better than he was at his highest point last season. That essentially equates to Bastardo being a strikeout machine that isn't walking batters left and right.
A lot of Bastardo's success comes down to repeating his mechanics, allowing him to establish the fastball early in counts and avoid having to throw it over the plate where it isn't particularly hard to get a hold of.
He can be deceptive, however, especially when he finds himself in counts favorable to throwing his slider. It's hard to imagine a situation where Bastardo can get much better in 2013, but I suppose it exists.
One of the Phillies' biggest Achilles heels last season, outside of Ryan Howard's actual Achilles heel, was the eighth inning, especially early in the season when both Antonio Bastardo and Chad Qualls struggled. The bullpen just wasn't built to compensate.
The Phillies addressed that situation this offseason by signing arguably the best setup man of the last half-decade or so in Mike Adams, who is recovering from offseason surgery to correct a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Adams should help the Phillies quite a bit. He'll be healthy, pitching in the National League and surrounded by a lot of exciting arms in the Phillies bullpen. This is a much better relief corps than the one that existed in 2012.
Jonathan Papelbon is in a unique situation for the Phillies because closers are always more valuable when their club is in contention for a World Series title. Because the Phillies are healthier, deeper and much improved in the bullpen, I don't think it is unreasonable to label Papelbon's stock as "rising."
Realistically, it is going to be hard for him to improve upon his 2012 season. Papelbon came to the Phillies and produced as-advertised.
But this is the kind of pitcher that thrives on pressure-packed environments. Because I believe that the Phillies are in a better position to contend this season, I also believe that Papelbon will be better as a result.