"World Champion Philadelphia Phillies."
That's what the receptionist says when you call the team, and you can feel the actual genuine happiness as she does it, despite clearly having this as part of her office routine for the past six months. It's also something that still seems a little unreal. I mean, really -- the Phillies? They didn't have an ungodly payroll, a freakily productive farm system, a witch doctor GM, a tradition of championships... none of that, really. If it weren't for the century of combined failure from the four Philadelphia pro teams, it would have just seemed well, entirely random.
But last year exists, and the Hangover Year potential is strong, of course. It's also not helping that the team that many came to love has been more or less scattered to the winds to date, with Chase Utley rehabbing his hip, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard toiling for the national laundry in the WBC, Pat Burrell exorcised to Tampa Bay and the usual split-squad and extended roster action of the usual spring training.
But let's get to the point: Can they do it again?
In a word, no.
Ruben Amaro Jr. is the GM these days, and here's what he's done...
> Let Burrell walk to bring in Raul Ibanez. Now, Ibanez is a good hitter and will enjoy going to the weaker league and hitter's park. He also is, unfortunately, older and far more left-handed than Pat The Bat, neither of which will play well later in the year, especially against teams that have good left-handed relievers.
> Brought in Chan Ho (Pliss) Park to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation or a bullpen role, at the cost of $2.5 million. Park did put up some useful numbers last year, but he's also 35, has never been useful outside of Chavez Ravine, and also faded last year. Having already seen what happens when Park goes to a hitters park when he was young, why on earth would anyone pay to see what happens when he's old?
> Signed Ronny Paulino to compete for the back-up catcher role. Um, OK, whatever. Carlos Ruiz is 30, Chris Coste is 36, and while both are nice enough players, Paulino at age 27 is a nice fallback, at least until Lou Marson takes over. Hokay, whatever.
So, why can't they repeat, in addition to the two fairly weak personnel moves?
1) Brad Lidge won't be perfect again.
Not to say that he'll be bad, but well, it would be helpful if he were. Considering how improved the Mets are this year, and that the Marlins are absolutely loaded with good your arms, sliding back a game or two could matter. A lot.
2) Jamie Moyer won't go 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA again.
Now, I loves me some Jamie Moyer; I'm hoping like mad that he'll somehow piece together 54 more wins over the next 4 to 5 years and become the Last 300 Game Winner Ever. But in this park, with the miniscule margin for error that any 46-year-old has, let alone one who throws much slower to the catcher than on the way back... well. If you get 12-10 with a 4.5 ERA from a guy that takes the ball every fifth day while eating 180 innings, that's a win, but it's still significantly worse than last year.
3) They'll miss J.C. Romero a lot in the first 50 games.
While Howard, Utley and Rollins get the publicity as perennial MVP candidates, the secret sauce of the team, especially in the playoffs, was the lockdown bullpen work of Lidge, Romero and Ryan Madson. If you were behind after 6 innings, the game was over.
With Romero out, they'll have to lean more on less reliable arms like Park, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre and others; they've felt good about J.A. Happ, but still, that's a big leap. Last year, the late inning guys were sharp at the end of the year because they hadn't been overused. With Romero gone until June, the chance of that happening again are remote.
4) Lefty overload.
Seriously, the best right handed hitter on the roster, assuming that you don't want to give that designation to switch-hitters Rollins and Victorino, is Jayson Werth. And, well, Werth's 29, and has never stayed healthy in his prior career. Let's just say that I'm not thrilled by the odds that he'll be up to carrying the entire load against top lefty pitchers.
5) Hangover Decisions.
When you win a World Series, there is an inevitable move towards letting some things ride. After all, the champions should get a chance to defend their crown, and how bad could Replaceable Player X be, when they won it all with him last year? For the Phillies, the hidden bummer players of Pedro Feliz (at 33, not getting any better, and little more at this point than a tolerable glove at third), Ruiz/Coste at catcher (neither really shuts down the running game or hit), and, of course, Moyer. I realize that I'm not a nice person for saying that about Moyer.
So long as Cole Hamels is taking the ball, Brett Myers is on one of his good streaks, Cupcakes Blanton above league average and (most importantly) Utley, Rollins and Howard are all healthy and productive... well, there's a reason they have a trophy. But a second seems unlikely. (And no one should have a problem with that, really.)
Prediction: 82-80, third place in the East.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
"World Champion Philadelphia Phillies."