After a big 2011 season, one would think that concerns for another playoff run would be minimal.
However, the 2012 Phillies are a team that has drawn some considerable concern. This concern generally arises from nagging injuries and lack of major-league-ready depth. After a 102-win season, it certainly isn't time to hit the panic button yet, but there are a few holes on the team that may become exposed as the season progresses, which ultimately may prove problematic.
The grading system will be as such: An A+ means that there is absolutely no concern at the position. An F means that there is major concern, and that the position will more than likely prove detrimental to the Phillies in 2012. I will be focusing more so on the expected opening day roster, and will not focus as much on possible late season call-ups.
The face says it all. These guys are mean.
The Phillies' starting rotation annihilated opposing hitters in 2011. From top to bottom, performance was consistent and spectacular. When your rotation features three guys who place in the top 5 of the Cy Young race, you're in pretty good shape.
Sure, you could be the devil's advocate, and point to the question marks that remain beyond the big three, but that's getting a little greedy if you ask me. Halladay, Lee and Hamels will all continue their success this season, and I expect Vance Worley and Joe Blanton to act as serviceable back-of-the-rotation guys.
You're crazy if you're worried about these guys.
Since Brad Lidge's perfect season in 2008, there has been perpetual concern with the bullpen.
The Phillies' bullpen features a dynamic array of pitchers. Last year, the Phillies relied heavily upon the arms of young guys like Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo. The bullpen in 2011 performed above expectations, and Ryan Madson did a great job taking over as the full-time closer.
Injuries were a problem last year, as Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras all missed significant time. However, with the probable exception of Madson, who will more than likely be gone in free agency, the bullpen should be at full strength.
Jonathan Papelbon has shipped up (or should I say, down) from Boston to help sure up the back end of the rotation. As the younger arms in the group continue to grow (including guys like Michael Schwimer, Justin DeFratus and Phillipe Aumont) and the older guys get healthy, the bullpen should improve quite a bit in 2012.
Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz is about as steady as they get defensively. His offense has gotten better over the years, to the point where he isn't a liability in the bottom of the order anymore.
Chooch isn't in there for his hitting, but he's not afraid to step up to the plate in a pinch, and has come up with a lot of clutch hits in his career.
The concern here arises more with the depth at catcher. Behind Ruiz, the Phillies have 35-year-old Brian Schneider. He, too, is a solid defensive catcher, but lacks any sort of consistency at the plate. If Ruiz sustains any injury, which he has shown a propensity to in the past, the Phillies may be in some trouble.
There is promise in young catcher Sebastian Valle, but at 21, he doesn't seem likely to see the majors in 2012.
At the present condition, Chooch will be a sufficient catcher, but if he gets injured, concern will rise significantly.
There is some definite concern at first base coming in to 2012. With Ryan Howard questionable for the start of the season, the Phillies' lineup will likely be without their most potent power threat for some time.
Even if Howard is able to recover from his torn Achilles tendon and get into the opening day lineup, the concern is still there. I mean, the guy has been in the league for six years and he still swings and misses at the low-and-away slider whenever it's thrown to him. There are plenty of questions surrounding the big piece. Will Howard be able to produce at a high level in 2012? Will he ever even be a 40 home run guy again? He should keep getting the RBIs, but will he be able to get them in clutch situations?
If Howard is to miss some time, first base will likely be occupied by John Mayberry Jr., Jim Thome or Ty Wigginton. Mayberry will contribute decently on offense, but cannot replace the power threat that Howard presents. Wigginton is in the same boat as Mayberry, and Thome, as great as he has been in his career, is 41 years old and hasn't played the field on a regular basis since 2005.
Whether it be Howard or someone else playing at the dawn of the 2012 season, there is a definite question mark for the Phillies at first base.
Chase Utley, though he didn't see the field until late May, had a down season in 2011. He hit .259, 31 points below his career average. He was also 33 points below his career on-base percentage in 2011, at .344.
Utley is a key cog in this offense, and in order for the Phillies to regain their position as one of the more feared offenses in the National League, Chase Utley is going to need to return to form.
Utley's defense has improved a lot since his early years in the league, but he is expected to be a big bopper in this lineup. I fully expect Utley to have a bounce-back year in 2012. He may not be the MVP-caliber player he's been in the past, but he will still be a force to be reckoned with.
If Utley faces any more injuries, the Phillies have a few viable replacements in Michael Martinez, Wilson Valdez or Ty Wigginton.
With Chase Utley back and healthy for a full season in 2012, second base should be much better off than it was in 2011.
Finally, Jimmy Rollins is back in Philly.
He came at a very reasonable price. Thank God that Ruben Amaro didn't give him the five-year deal he was looking for. The Phillies' lineup is old enough already, and committing big money to Rollins for that long would have been a big mistake.
Now that he's back, Rollins figures to continue producing at about the same level that he has for the last year or two. He's never going to be the kind of guy that hits .300 at the top of the order, but he still finds a way to be a legitimate catalyst for this offense. It's clear to see that when Rollins gets going, the Phillies get going.
He may lose a step both in the field and on the bases in 2012, but still has enough speed to be a game-changer.
The majority of the concern here arises from Jimmy's glass hamstrings. He can't seem to avoid tweaking them at some point or another each season.
Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez wait in the wings in case of an injury to Rollins, but they both are offensive liabilities. Similarly to second base, it's a matter of health that dictates the concern at shortstop.
If it wasn't for Placido Polanco's Gold Glove in 2011, I may have resorted to applying the infamous "F" grade to the Phillies at third base.
The fielding was very good at third base in 2011, but the hitting from the hot corner was atrocious. In a team that is so desperate for offense, this is simply unacceptable. This is why I felt strongly that the Phillies should have made a play for Aramis Ramirez.
Instead, the Phillies are stuck with the incumbent Polanco in 2012. Maybe I'm being a little hard on the guy. He was the only Phillie to win a Gold Glove in 2011, and he hit well to start the season. His average was well above .300 in the season's opening few weeks, but between an inability to stay on the field and inconsistency when he was able to play, Polly's numbers dropped precipitously.
Polanco will continue to be a good fielder, though he could lose a step or two at 36 years old. The Phillies do have help with Ty Wigginton in town, and Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez each spent time manning the hot corner in 2011, but third base is traditionally a spot for a big bat. The Phillies severely lack in that, and this is going to be something to watch come the trade deadline in 2012 if Ruben Amaro is serious about making a World Series run.
I guess the concern here is more about who is actually going to play left field for the Phillies in 2012. I strongly feel that Mayberry deserves his chance to be an everyday player, but his services may be required at first base to start the year.
Beyond Mayberry, the Phillies signed former Washington Nationals outfielder Laynce Nix, and may eventually bring back Raul Ibañez in 2012. None of these guys are going to be great offensively or defensively. It will more than likely be a platoon in left field in 2012, which is something Charlie Manuel has shown he is comfortable with doing.
The Phillies need one of their potential left fielders to hit– plain and simple.
Domonic Brown still lurks in the minor leagues, but he isn't ready to take over as an everyday player. For now, the Phillies will have to get by with the two or three guys they have in left field and hope that somebody gets hot in 2012.
Shane Victorino is going to be Shane Victorino.
He is about as reliable as they get in center field, both defensively and offensively. He has great range and a cannon of an arm, and he hits for a good average and surprising power.
I personally feel that Victorino belongs in the leadoff spot of the Phillies order, as his combination of consistent contact and speed are more fit for the role at this point than Jimmy Rollins, who often finds himself mired in a deep slump.
The Phillies are sitting pretty with the Flyin' Hawaiian in center field in 2012.
Phillies fans are ecstatic to see Hunter Pence for a full season in Philadelphia. There isn't a more captivating player in this offense than Pence. His goofy play style and infectious disposition make him one of the more likable guys in baseball.
Oh, and by the way, the guy can rake. Pence is the impact bat the Phillies so desperately needed in 2011, and he will be a focal point of the offense in 2012. Sure, he didn't carry them to the World Series, but he hit extremely well after coming over from the Houston Astros at the trade deadline.
Pence hits for a high average, hits some mammoth home runs, has above average speed and can throw with the best of them. He is the definition of a five-tool player and will prove his worth even more in 2012.
The one thing that is a concern for Pence is offseason hernia surgery, but this seems to be only a minor issue that will not pose a problem by the time opening day rolls around.