5 Things Philadelphia Phillies Need to Do Before Spring Training Games Start Up
Now that MLB spring training is underway, the Philadelphia Phillies are just one of the league's 30 teams gearing up for the 2013 season. Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to the team's spring training complex in Clearwater, Fla. on Feb. 13, and position players are expected to report by no later than tomorrow, Feb. 16.
Between the pitchers and the everyday players, little goes on before the Grapefruit League (Florida) and Cactus League (Arizona) spring training games commence. A few news items will fly by the radar here and there, but until that happens, little to no roster news tends to come about.
However, for the Phillies, there are a few contentions that should be settled by the time spring training games roll around. The first game is an intrasquad match on Friday, Feb. 22, and after that, the first Grapefruit League game occurs the next day, Saturday, Feb. 23. Games will then take place almost every day until the beginning of the regular season.
In order to give some of the Phillies players more time to adjust to certain roles and assignments, it's important that the team establishes these things sooner rather than later. Here are five things the Phillies need to do before the beginning of spring training games.
Choose the Opening Day Catchers and Stick with Them
Phillies fan favorite and 2012 breakout catcher Carlos Ruiz will begin the 2013 season on the restricted list and suspended for the first 25 games after a second positive Adderall test. Ruiz spoke to the media yesterday down at Clearwater, and while it came across as a heartfelt address, it doesn't change the fact that he won't see major league action until April 28.
As a result, for about the first month of the season, the Phillies will have to rely on usual backup Erik Kratz to be their everyday starter. While the backup catcher's role is currently not set in stone, it's widely presumed to be non-roster invitee Humberto Quintero's job to lose.
Kratz's job is safe and sound, but the possibility of anything different lies within the backup catcher's role. First of all, Quintero is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, whereas catching prospect Sebastian Valle is. Valle doesn't have much of a chance of making the Phillies' major league squad this season, as he's no longer the Phillies' minor league catching preference. That distinction goes to Tommy Joseph, who headlined the Phils' return in the Hunter Pence trade at the 2012 trade deadline.
What the Phillies need to do is make it clear that Kratz and Quintero will be the only two catchers on the Phillies roster on Opening Day. Let Joseph and Valle know that they're in spring training for the experience but little else.
If the Phillies don't bring Carlos Ruiz back after his contract ends following the 2013 season, then it's Joseph's and Valle's time to shine.
Most importantly, give Kratz and Quintero the majority of the workout and game opportunities so they can mesh with the Phillies pitchers as much as possible. Ruiz shouldn't be getting those chances, as he's not with the team for the start of the season despite his spring training presence. Let him be a catching mentor and give him a game here and there, but limit it to that.
Formally Establish 4 Bullpen Jobs and Leave the Rest to Spring Training Alone
One of the most heated competitions for the Phillies this spring training will be who will win the vacant bullpen spots. Manager Charlie Manuel has a tendency to go with a seven-man bullpen, and there's no reason to expect that to change.
Given the amount of money each will be paid in 2013, the only true guaranteed bullpen spots right now are those of closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Mike Adams. Yes, Chad Durbin and Antonio Bastardo are both receiving contracts in excess of $1 million, but if something arises, that's not a lot of money to have to eat in a deal...
OK, let's be realistic here. What the Phillies need to do is make it clear to their contending bullpen pitchers that four spots have been assigned to Papelbon, Adams, Durbin and Bastardo. Only three are up for grabs, and while the organization has its thoughts as to who it might consider for the remaining spots, spring training and spring training alone will dictate who will make the Opening Day roster.
The names for consideration are likely among a long list consisting of Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst, Michael Stutes and Raul Valdes. Other names like Mauricio Robles, B.J. Rosenberg and Michael Schwimer could be dark horses, while names like Justin Friend, Zach Miner, Joe Savery and Kyle Simon are likely on the periphery at best.
Nevertheless, if one of the lesser names performs well against projected major league talent in spring training games, they should get the nod, if not heavy consideration at the bare minimum, for a major league relief spot.
It should motivate the relievers to pitch to their best and work to make the team. Besides, shouldn't the fact that Juan Cruz's departure leaves them with one fewer name to contend with be a motivating factor already? It just gets better from here.
Set an Unofficial Starting Outfield That Proves Its Official Worth
It's all about motivation, folks. And if the Phillies set an unofficial Opening Day outfield, that could be a huge motivation factor for some of the Phils players who may be on the fringe of earning an everyday job.
Going into the offseason, the Phillies' priority was finding a center fielder. After failed runs at B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan, the Phillies traded Vance Worley and Trevor May for Minnesota Twins center fielder Ben Revere. While it wasn't the flashiest acquisition, it gave the Phillies financial flexibility now and going forward. In fact, Revere isn't arbitration eligible for another two years, meaning he'll make just over the major league minimum until the 2015 season.
That left the Phillies with uncertain corner outfield spots, but as long as they didn't make any other outfield additions, it looked as though Darin Ruf would be the team's everyday left fielder heading into spring training, and Domonic Brown would have the right field job.
However, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. struck up a one-year deal with Delmon Young and almost immediately anointed him the starting right fielder. What's a bit puzzling is that Young is bad enough on defense, but he hasn't even played in right field since 2007.
Fortunately for the Phillies' other outfielders, Young is recovering from offseason ankle surgery, so he likely won't open the season with the club.
In the meantime, the Phillies need to set an unofficial starting outfield in the event that the team decides to cut Young or sees true potential in their internal options.
Revere has the center field job locked up, but are Ruf and Brown the true favorites? Initially, Young's signing was thought to push Ruf down to Triple-A, but with Ruf only capable of playing in left field, is Brown the player who will suffer as a result? That seems to be the case.
Give Ruf and Brown the spring training starting jobs and see how they fare. If they do well, cut Young—after all, he's making only $750,000 this year. And since he really doesn't offer you enough on offense and defense, is he worth keeping at all? That's for another day. But give the young guys some confidence and a chance, even if that chance is minimal at best.
Leave the 5th Rotation Spot Open...for Now
One of the Phillies' biggest strengths over the last few seasons has been their starting rotation. In 2010, they had Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt under the moniker "H2O."
The 2011 season saw the return of Cliff Lee and the nicknames of "R2C2" and "The Four Aces."
Last season didn't have any fancy nicknames or acronyms, but with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and even Worley, it was certainly a formidable pitching staff.
Now that Worley's gone and Halladay's ceiling is questionable returning from some shoulder trouble dating back to spring training of last year, the Phillies rotation is a bit skeptical as well.
Kyle Kendrick, thought to be a possible cast-off before 2012, now has the fourth rotation spot in his hands. As for the fifth spot, that should go to offseason signing John Lannan, but don't let that get to his head.
What the Phillies need to do in handling the fifth rotation spot is make it out to be a competition even if it isn't one. With other starters like Tyler Cloyd, Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan, Aaron Cook and Rodrigo Lopez joining the Phillies for spring training, give them an impression as though they could win the fifth starter's job with a good spring.
The only realistic options who could potentially unseat Lannan are Cloyd, Cook and Lopez, but none are truly going to do that. Cloyd has little experience and too little zip on his fastball. Cook gives up too many home runs and isn't as capable as he once was. And Lopez is a bit older and, like Cook, was really only signed as minor league depth.
Even if Lannan should maintain his job for all of spring training, giving the other guys some motivation to possibly win the job should allow the Phillies to see what they've got in the event that one of them is needed midseason.
After all, unless Manuel, Dubee and Amaro are at every minor league game (which they obviously aren't at all), when else can they see everyone at once, firsthand? Doing this should give the front office and management some scope into who they can trust in the event of an injury, and that's always a good thing to know.
Name Cole Hamels the Phillies' Opening Day Starter
Over the last few seasons, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels has done nothing but improve. After a 2008 season which saw him win NLCS and World Series MVP honors, his 2009 and 2010 seasons poised him to fall further. But when 2011 and 2012 saw Hamels turn into the ace the Phillies had hoped he would, they rewarded him with a six-year, $144 million contract extension, which makes him the game's second-highest paid left-hander and a Phillie through at least the 2018 season.
Hamels wasn't always the hardest worker and has come under fire for things he's said to the media, whether he just wanted to go home during the playoffs a few years ago or that he intentionally beaned Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper.
But what Hamels hasn't been given enough credit for is just how far he's come in the last few seasons. His 2011 ERA was well under 3.00, and his 2012 ERA was close to doing the same. He's a fantastic pitcher and earned his contract.
Most importantly, though, is that Hamels has been along for the whole ride. He's taken the back seat to guys like Brett Myers when he was really the better pitcher, and he's silently relegated himself further back in the rotation when guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt came to town.
Now what the Phillies need to do is give Hamels his due.
He's worked hard and deserves the Opening Day nod as a result of his successes. Sure, he may not have the track record that Doc or Lee has, but he's arguably been their best and most reliable starter over at least the last season. And for that, he should be rewarded.
Doing so would motivate Hamels to live up to both his contract and frontline status. He may not have to be the true ace of the Phillies rotation, but even if he's given the chance to be that guy, he should be able to work up to that expectation. It also splits up the lefties and righties better for manager Charlie Manuel, if he pleases.
Everyone wins here, right?