The only legitimate questions that need answers where the Philadelphia Phillies are concerned involve their pitching.
Not that that is necessarily a good thing.
Saying there are no questions to be answered on the offensive side of the club does not mean that the Phillies have their hitting all figured out.
It just means that, barring some shocking development like a multiplayer trade or a big-money free-agent signing like Nelson Cruz, the everyday eight are basically set.
The Opening Day lineup is likely to look something like this:
- Ben Revere, CF
- Jimmy Rollins, SS
- Chase Utley, 2B
- Ryan Howard, 1B
- Marlon Byrd, RF
- Domonic Brown, LF
- Carlos Ruiz, C
- Cody Asche, 3B
It almost certainly will not last, of course. With five regulars in their mid-to-late 30s, injuries and ineffectiveness are sure to compel manager Ryne Sandberg to shuffle the deck frequently. But that looks like the lineup for now.
The two questions that still must be answered are therefore:
- Who will be Philadelphia's fifth starter?
- Will Jonathan Papelbon still be a Phillie on Opening Day?
The Phillies rotation starts out hot with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in the first two positions. The roller-coaster ride that is Kyle Kendrick will be the third starter, and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona will be the fourth starter.
After that, well, it does not look all that promising.
John Lannan is probably not coming back, though he is still unsigned. Jonathan Pettibone pitched well enough during his time in the rotation to deserve a look, but little has been heard from him since he was shut down in August.
According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, that fifth rotation spot might go to a wholly unknown commodity. The Phillies committed $12 million to Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in August, and they may just close their eyes and take their chances with him.
"(J)ust this week, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Gonzalez would be competing with Jonathan Pettibone and others for the fifth spot in the rotation," Zolecki recently wrote.
Who will the Phillies fifth starter be when they leave Clearwater?
Regrettably for the Phillies, the question surrounding their closer position is somewhat the inverse of their fifth starter issue. The Phillies are not sure they have a competent fifth starting pitcher and very much want one. The Phillies know they have a capable closer—and they seem to want him gone.
There are barriers to moving Papelbon; specifically, his lost velocity and the $26 million he is still guaranteed for the next two seasons.
But stranger things have happened. As Justin Klugh of Philly.com recently reported, the Baltimore Orioles "have recently gone through a mess of a closer situation."
First they lost incumbent closer Jim Johnson. Then they had Grant Balfour signed but backed out of the deal after his physical scared them off, per Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com.
So, you know, happy holidays and all that.