Impact Player: 2B Chase Utley
Impact Pitcher: RHP Roy Halladay
Best Reliever: RHP Ryan Madson
Top Prospect: OF Domonic Brown
General Manager: Ruben Amaro, Jr.
Manager: Charlie Manuel (544-428, .560)
LHP Cliff Lee, OF/2B Delwyn Young, RHP Brian Schlitter, RHP Eddie Bonine
RF Jayson Werth, UTIL Greg Dobbs, RHP Chad Durbin
The Philadelphia Phillies pulled off the stealthiest of all free agent signings this offseason when they snatched ace left-hander Cliff Lee away from the talons of the Yankees and Rangers. The Phillies traded Lee the previous offseason to Seattle for a package of prospects to offset the damage done to the farm system by when they acquired Roy Halladay from Toronto. The signing of Lee along with the trades for Roy Oswalt and Halladay have given the Phillies one of the best pitching rotations in the history of game; on paper at least.
Combine that with a lineup that includes the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and the Phils will no doubt contend for another World Series crown. In the long history of the franchise, the Phillies have never put together a run as successful as the one they are on right now.
Having said that, there are a few concerns. The first is the bullpen which lacks consistent arms and depth, and the second is the age of the team. Domonic Brown is the only expected regular under the age of thirty and Cole Hamels is the only starting pitcher. The Phillies could be in trouble if a few injuries hit as most of their minor-league system, although impressive, is a few years away.
With Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and Oswalt, the Phillies will send out four pitchers who would be legitimate number ones on many teams in the league. After establishing himself as the best pitcher in baseball while in Toronto, the rest of the league finally discovered him in Philly last season. He won his second Cy Young Award after a 21-10 season with a 2.44 ERA and 3.01 FIP. He also threw a perfect game during the season and then just the second no-hitter in playoff history just a few months later.
Lee split last season between Seattle and Texas where he led the Rangers to their first World Series appearance in franchise history. He signed a five-year, $120-million deal that could end up being a bad contract in a few years if Lee begins to decline, but right now, he’s going to be a huge addition to an already very good team. Last season he led the majors with a ridiculous 10.28 K/BB ratio after walking just 18 batters all year and he also finished second in FIP at 2.58. He won’t repeat those walk numbers, but he’ll still be perhaps the second best pitcher in baseball behind his teammate.
Hamels gets overlooked a bit in this group, but make no mistake, he belongs. After struggling through the 2009 season, Hamels was back to form in 2010 posting a 3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP. At just 27, he’ll eventually have to take the reigns as ace of this team when the others begin to decline.
Oswalt turned his season around after being traded to Philadelphia from his long-time post in Houston going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 13 games with the Phils and a full season in a contending environment could bring out the best in the fiery competitor. He is the biggest question mark of the big four heading into this season as he is the most likely go get hurt with back problems in the last couple seasons. He’s small and 33-years-old; eventually he’ll show signs of wear.
The fifth starter will be Joe Blanton who is a decent fly-ball pitcher. He would probably put up much better numbers in a less hitter-friendly ballpark and although he’s obviously the weak-link of this bunch, pretty much any team would love a pitcher of his calibre as their number five option.
This is the area of greatest concern for the Phillies, but with all five pitchers in the rotation potentially putting up 210-250 innings this season, the bullpen will not be hard-pressed. Most games, they’ll only have to provide an innings or two of quality relief.
Brad Lidge once again enters the season as the closer. 2010 season was a bounce-back year for the erratic right-hander as he posted a 2.96 ERA and a decent 3.87 FIP. He had a K/9 rate over 10 and managed to keep his walk and homerun numbers low enough to be successful. If he struggles early, the Phillies would be smart to replace him in that role quickly.
Ryan Madson is probably the best reliever on this team and should be entering the year as the closer and probably would be if Lidge wasn’t being paid so much. Madson had a 2.55 ERA and 2.61 FIP last year to go along with an impressive 4.92 K/BB ratio.
39-year-old veteran Jose Contreras thrived in a relief role last season after spending his entire career as a starter. His strike-out numbers went up and he was able to throw harder with less burden on his arm. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine him repeating those numbers in 2011 and he’s one arm injury away from retirement.
Veterans Danys Baez and J.C. Romero are both coming off of terrible years with FIPs over 5.00. Romero walked more than he struck out and had no success at all against right-handers which will relegate him to a LOOGY role in 2011.
The last two spot in the ‘pen will probably go to David Herndon and Scott Mathieson. Herndon is just 25 and had a decent rookie season in 2010 with a 3.56 FIP, while Mathieson was the closer in AAA-Lehigh Valley last season where he posted a 2.94 ERA, 3.50 FIP and 26 saves.
Starter Kyle Kendrick will also be in the bullpen mix after being the odd-man out in the rotation. He has one minor-league option left so the Phillies can send him to AAA for depth if he doesn’t make the team. He could however be a trade asset if the Phillies end up needing depth elsewhere.
Mike Zagurski, Antonio Bastardo, Brian Schlitter, and non-roster invites Eddie Bonine and Dan Meyer could also challenge for a spot.
Carlos Ruiz is a vastly underrated catcher. His .302/.400/.447 slash line, .366 wOBA and solid defensive ability gave him the second-best WAR among NL catchers last year. He did have a very high .335 batted-ball average, but even if that comes down, he can still be counted on for a 2.0-3.0 WAR season.
Veteran Brian Schneider will back up Ruiz and is more than capable. He’s a patient hitter who’s been around long enough to be able to handle any pitching staff; although anyone who can catch the ball is good enough to handle this staff of aces.
Although they are advancing in age, the Phillies still have a very good infield; perhaps the best in the league. The only problem is that three of the four appear to be in decline. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit just .240 last year, but was still solid in every other facet of the game. His problem was health (which is a theme with this group); he played in only 88 games, but still managed to accumulate a 2.3 WAR.
Second baseman Chase Utley was outstanding last season with a .275/.387/.445 slash line, but was limited to just 115 games due to an injury. At 32, decline is inevitable. He managed a 5.2 WAR in 2010, but has also seen his isolated power drop off in the last three seasons from .244 to .226 to .169.
It may not seem like Ryan Howard has been around long, but he’s 31-years-old and missed significant time due to health issues for the first time last year. He played in 143 games but saw his slugging percentage drop to a career-low mark. He’s still going to hit his fair share of bombs, but 45-plus homers is probably a thing of the past for him. He’s also fallen off defensively, not that he was ever amazing.
The only player in the infield who has yet to show signs of decline is its oldest member, third baseman Placido Polanco who returned to Philadelphia and third base and was as solid as ever. He finished with a .298/.339/.386 slash line and was outstanding defensively.
Veteran Wilson Valdez will be the extra infielder after filling that role well last season and Brian Bocock could also crack the roster. Ross Gload can also spell Howard at first base when needed.
Many considered last year a down year for centerfielder Shane Victorino because his average fell to .259, but his increase in power and solid defence led to a 3.6 WAR rating which was right around his career average.
In leftfield will be Raul Ibanez who is 39-years-old and saw his numbers regress to normal last year after a huge 2009 season. Ibanez is not a good defender and will likely head back to the AL as a free agent this offseason if he doesn’t retire.
In rightfield, the Phillies are going to give every opportunity to Brown to win the job. He’s put up monster numbers in his minor-league career and is the preseason pick of many to win the NL Rookie of the Year at age 23. If he struggles, fourth outfielder Ben Francisco is a decent replacement, but is more valuable to the team off the bench since he can play all three outfield positions and will be useful spelling Ibanez from time-to-time. Gload can also play the corner outfield spots.
The Phillies are the oldest team in baseball and have some depth problems should they lose a starter or two to injury, but there’s no questioning their talent. Anything less than a World Series title is a failure for this group and given the age of their core players and how far away the impact prospects are from the majors, the window will close quick.
Final Prediction: 100-62, 1st NL East