Nowadays, Terrell Owens is more welcome in Philadelphia than Ruben Amaro Jr. The Philadelphia Phillies general manager is abhorred to the point where a parody Twitter account has been established under the name Ruin Tomorrow Jr. The ensuing hilarity is not comedic but tragic.
The Phillies have nosedived so bad they are now the laughingstock of Major League Baseball. Since winning 102 games in 2011, they have bottomed out to the point where David Schoenfield of ESPN.com predicts they will only win 66 games in 2014.
Lacking foresight, Amaro has made things worse by doubling down on a roster chock full of overpaid and over-the-hill 30-something-year-olds.
Still, hope persists every spring. Philadelphia fans know this best. After all, this is the same organization that was the first in sports history to lose 10,000 games. Despite that, Phillies nation persistently comes out and provides one of the best ballpark atmospheres in MLB.
And while some things are easy to predict, like Cliff Lee pitching on a near-Cy Young level, others are not. Without further ado, let's delve into the ten bold predictions for the upcoming season.
1. At best, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will be a marginal reliever
Something doesn't smell right with this guy. After a groundbreaking six-year contract worth $60 million fell through due to physical concerns, the Cuban defector would settle for a mere $12 million deal over the course of three years.
Why? Red flags were raised concerning his elbow.
It appears those red flags were legit. Early on in spring training, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is not impressing bystanders. According to David Murphy of Philly.com, "Gonzalez's velocity looked down compared with many of the other pitchers around him who are supposed to have similar arm strength."
Little is known about Gonzalez. He hadn't pitched in a game for two years because of a suspension levied on him by Cuba for trying to defect numerous times.
Therefore, if anyone has an ounce of enthusiasm for what Gonzalez could bring to the club, they are likely blinded by rose-colored goggles. That is, until Gonzalez proves otherwise.
2. Maikel Franco will hit at least 20 HR in the majors
Obviously, projected third baseman Cody Asche will not suffice, and Maikel Franco will get the call to the big league's in 2014.
While Asche proved to hold a steady bat in the minors, his .235 batting average and 24 percent strikeout rate are not going to prevent Franco from supplanting him in the Phillies lineup. Franco is coming off of a year in which he hit 31 HR, 103 RBI and had an average of .319. He also strikes out less than half as much as Asche.
A top prospect in all of MLB, Franco has also flashed a good glove at the hot corner. The culmination of everything he provides will prove to be much better than what Asche can. If anything, consider Asche a speed bump to Franco's arrival in the majors this upcoming season.
3. A.J. Burnett will not be traded
If, or better yet, when the Phillies wheels begin to fall off and this season becomes more and more lost, the Phillies are expected to hold a fire sale—or one would think. While a plethora of likely trade candidates exist on the Phillies roster, don't expect A.J. Burnett to be one of them.
He was considering retirement for a reason. He wanted to pitch somewhere close to home and, at the end of the day, Philadelphia worked out best. In addition, Burnett is associated with assistant GM Scott Proefrock. The two live in the same area, and their sons are close friends, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com.
While he does hold a limited no-trade clause, don't expect Burnett to exercise an option to land anywhere else. The Phillies bring proximity and stability to Burnett's home life—something the righty was eager for—or else he was likely to retire.
4. Jonathan Papelbon will be dealt
Let's be honest, Jonathan Papelbon's tenure in Philly has been nothing but tumultuous. He has exercised dismay at the performance of the club while struggling himself for long periods of time. Additionally, his rich contract leaves many fans desiring more.
The Phillies pressed hard to trade Papelbon in the offseason—they found no suitors. Reality will smack Amaro across the face and he will have to eat some of Papelbon's luxurious contract in order to move him out of Philly. If not, the Phillies will continue to rely on a closer with diminishing velocity and less-than-elite stuff.
5. Cole Hamels will be traded
At 30 years old, Cole Hamels has been nothing but great with the Phillies. He was the World Series MVP in 2008 and, following that, he has been a staple of consistency while placing himself among the best left-handed pitchers in the National League.
Unfortunately, the prevailing losses will continue to mount, and Philadelphia will be stuck dumping him. Aside from Lee, Hamels is the Phillies' best asset to trade.
He still has another four or five years of quality, top-of-the-rotation pitching in him. Any candidate with the financial flexibility to take on his $22.5 million annual salary would be pressed to do so.
Lee will also be traded, but that isn't a bold prediction now is it?
6. Jimmy Rollins will be traded too
As I quipped, the Phillies will have to hold a fire sale in order to further replenish their farm system. They aren't realistic World Series contenders and, in order for them to be such, an extraordinary amount of things must sway in their favor.
That is unlikely to occur.
While Jimmy Rollins has been the face of this franchise since Larry Bowa was the skipper, he isn't immune to being dealt.
His production is beginning to trend in the wrong direction. For the first time since 2002, Rollins finished with a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) under 2.0 in 2013. With the Phillies not expected to contend, he would fit in better with a club that is ready to contend.
Rollins is no longer a bat worthy of having in the top three of the lineup. The makeup of the Phillies lineup requires him to do so and that further hinders his potential to produce, regardless of his age. He is a better fit elsewhere.
7. Jesse Biddle will provide some hope
The 2014 season will finally give the fans of the Phillies hope for the future. A transition will occur as we begin to see the stars of the Charlie Manuel era fade and new faces show promise for the future. Lefty Jesse Biddle will be one of those projecting promise.
He will finally get the call to the majors.
Despite some setbacks last season, Biddle actually didn't pitch as bad as his numbers suggest. He had some rough outings, but he improved on his strikeout rate. Additionally, opposing hitters Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) dropped to .278 from .308 the year before.
Control is still an issue with him, though. Without an extensive array of metrics to further enhance his projections, Biddle should be considered for what he is: a workhorse-type arm with a high ceiling.
He will get innings in the majors this year. While the Phillies may look bad in the standings department, Biddle will show everyone why the future is brighter than the dark clouds of today.
8. Ryan Howard will hit 30 or more HR
Often the butt of jokes in Philadelphia, Ryan Howard is no longer the hefty bat we have known since 2006. Still, he has enough pop in his bat to hit for a strong number of home runs. While his average is expected to hover around .250, Howard will provide fans with plenty of reasons to cheer.
Howard's defense, however, may hurt the team. Overall, his batting may not be enough to turn the tide in Philly, either. Phillies fans are stuck with him as Howard has a contract that breaks the bank.
Just take the home runs he will provide and be happy. It could be worse.
9. Ben Revere will steal 50 bases
Ben Revere will not hit a single home run, but he does provide blazing speed on the base paths. After a dismal start to last season, Revere turned things around before seeing his season end with a broken ankle. Revere finished with an average of .305 and an OBP of .338.
It's not near-sighted to suggest he'll finish with better numbers in 2014. With an increase in average and OBP, Revere will tally even more stolen bases. His career high came in 2012 with the Minnesota Twins when he stole 40 bases. Even more can be expected in 2014.
The Phillies will lean on Revere to get into scoring position via his speed. The Phillies lineup will struggle driving in runs, as they have each of the last two seasons.
Revere's speed gives the lineup a comparative advantage in this regard. Therefore, skipper Ryne Sandberg is expected to lean on Revere's speed as much as he can.
10. The Phillies will finish last in the NL East
Even those who think the Phillies are fading fast don't believe they'll finish behind the New York Mets and Miami Marlins.
Even with the current roster, the Phillies will struggle to touch 75 wins. What do you think will happen if or when Hamels, Lee, Rollins and Papelbon are dealt?
They will be worse, and that is why they need to deal those chips in order to restock the farm.
Don't forget, the Phillies finished fourth in the NL East behind the Mets last year. The Marlins have a young squad, but it is somewhat more respectable than the Phillies.
With Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are primed to win more games than expected. While it will not be many more than the Phillies, it still will be more.
The one positive to take away from such a disastrous finish is the likelihood that Amaro will be replaced. His decision-making has been atrocious. He is out of touch with the metric-based reality of baseball today, and 2014 will be the final nail in the coffin for Amaro's tenure as general manager.
Like Ed Wade, he will not be missed.
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