However you feel about the Phillies chances in 2014, it should be fun to watch Hamels pitch.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been busy this offseason—just not in the way that most fans might have wanted.
Shopping in a free-agent market featuring great hitters like Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson, the Phillies came away with Marlon Byrd.
Top-tier starting pitchers Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and A.J. Burnett remain unsigned, but the Phillies appear unlikely to go back into the piggy bank after signing lesser-light Roberto Hernandez.
To be fair, the Phillies probably did not save enough money to land any of those big-name players by whacking Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews.
So what is left for the Phillies to accomplish before the buses leave Citizens Bank Park for Clearwater, Fla., and spring training? Let's take a look.
Adding Big Erv to the Phillies rotation would be a big move toward wild card contention.
The Phillies' only efforts to address their offensive deficiencies were the signing of Marlon Byrd and the re-signing of Carlos Ruiz. Neither of those players is apt to account for the 40-run net gain the Phillies would need to get out of the bottom half of the league in runs production.
So the Phillies need to double down (again) on their strength and buy another elite pitcher.
The Phillies have two legitimate star left-handed pitchers in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. They need to slot a strong right-hander between them in the rotation, and Kyle Kendrick does not fit that description.
That said, Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez would be very solid back-of-the-rotation guys, assuming that the Phillies do the smart thing and plug the hole between Hamels and Lee.
Howard has a better chance to produce if he is restricted to plate appearances against right-handers.
Howard did nothing in the 2013 season to undermine Baer's logic, hitting .173 and slugging .321 with 39 strikeouts in 81 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
In October, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hinted that Howard might be headed for a platoon at first base, via CBS Philly.
"If he proves to us that he cannot handle hitting left-handers," Amaro Jr. said, "then Ryne (Sandberg) may have to put someone else in there to hit against left-handers. It is what it is."
Here's the question: What is Amaro Jr. waiting for?
Just come out now and say that Howard is going to open the season in a platoon. Save Howard from answering a ton of questions about the issue in Clearwater and let him instead focus on hitting right-handed pitching.
Amaro Jr. should emphasize how much better the platoon will be for Howard's oft-injured body. Then, if Howard gets off to a big start in April, and the general manager wants to see if he can figure it out against left-handers again, fine.
For now, though, Howard's platoon status should be decided and it should be no secret.
If J-Roll wants to hit higher in the order, let him prove it.
Barring a multi-player trade or a big-money free-agent signing like Nelson Cruz, the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies' everyday eight are basically set.
The Opening Day lineup is likely to be 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
Because the Phillies probably lack the requisite courage to go to Jimmy Rollins and tell him the truth, the the only Phillies regular that Rollins can surely outhit is Asche right now.
Rollins posted some of the most anemic offensive numbers of his career. It was one of the emptiest .252 batting average seasons in recent Phillies' memory.
Rollins' six home runs were the fewest he hit in a season since he became the team's starting shortstop in 2001. His slugging percentage (.348) was also the lowest of his career. He drove in fewer runs (39) in 160 games in 2013 than he did (41) in 88 games in 2010. His 65 runs scored were his lowest ever for a full season.
For an offensively challenged team like the Phillies, leaving Rollins in the top three slots in the batting order to save his pride would be abjectly counterproductive. Besides, maybe challenging Rollins will motivate him.
Rollins should start the season batting seventh. If he has a huge April, the Phillies can reconsider the decision then.
The late-inning left-handed relief job should be Bastardo's to lose.
For all of Charlie Manuel's success as Phillies manager, his bullpen usage trended from negligent to reckless to outright dangerous.
In Manuel's defense, for the past two seasons, his bullpen options were usually limited. As a result, he often seemed to choose arms at random once his starter left the game.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg does not need to guess who to go with in the late innings in 2014.
Jonathan Papelbon is the incumbent closer, so the ninth inning is his.
Antonio Bastardo and Jacob Diekman posted the best statistics of any Phillies reliever not named Papelbon in 2013.
Sandberg should let Bastardo and Diekman know as soon as possible that the late-inning work in getting the ball to Papelbon will be theirs.
No one owes Mike Adams, Justin De Fratus or B.J. Rosenberg anything like an open competition for those roles in Clearwater after the years they had in 2013.
Utley has always been a man of few words. Let's keep it like that.
Chase Utley is the most popular player on a Philadelphia Phillies team that, frankly, lacks a lot of fan affection after two consecutive down years.
It must have been Utley's standing as the lone Phillie most fans are not either indifferent to or actively angry at that possessed general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to get Utley out there to do some press this offseason.
But a little bit of Utley with a microphone in front of him goes a long way. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who listened to Utley's recent appearance on Mike Missanelli's afternoon radio show on 97.5 The Fanatic.
Whether Utley was bemused, annoyed or actually pretty ticked off at the end of that interview is up for debate. Ultimately, though, it does not matter.
The point is that Utley did not distinguish himself as a "people person" or a fan-friendly superstar in any of his appearances.
The Phillies should just let Utley go back into his shell and concentrate on his hitting because whatever the Phillies were hoping for from Utley in this latest round of public appearances, they probably did not get.