Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Five crucial questions for Phillies
By Jim Bowden
If the Phillies aren't in contention by the All-Star break, Cliff Lee should be on the move.
When Ruben Amaro Jr. took over as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies following the 2008 season, he inherited a club that had just won the World Series. He went back to the World Series the next year, then made it back to the playoffs the following two seasons.
A year ago, I predicted the Phillies would miss the playoffs after five straight first-place finishes, and sure enough, they went 81-81. Now, for the first time as Phillies GM, Amaro finds himself in a really tough spot. With age, injuries and lack of depth catching up to his club, he has to start thinking about tearing down a team that is no better than the seventh-best in the National League.
It’s basically four months or bust for Amaro and the Phillies. If his team is not contending by the All-Star break, he must gut the team and start dealing his veterans while they retain some value and acquire young talent to replenish a depleted farm system. If Amaro decides to tear it down, everyone but Cole Hamels should be available via trade.
Thus, the following are five crucial questions Amaro’s team must answer within the first four months of the season. Otherwise, he should get to the task of tearing down and rebuilding the Phillies.
1. Can their corner outfielders produce? The offseason acquisition of Ben Revere solidified center field; he’s a fleet-footed outfielder with great range and is not afraid to leave his feet. He should serve as the table-setter and is the stolen-base threat this club has needed. The corners are a different story.
The Phillies signed Delmon Young to a one-year, $750,000 deal with the intent of moving him to right field, where he appeared to be better defensively. Young, 27, hit .267/.296/.411 last year with 27 doubles and 18 home runs. He does a decent job defensively on balls hit to his left or right but has very little range coming in and struggles at times against the wall. He has the power to hit 20-25 home runs, especially in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park. However, he’ll start the year on the DL after ankle surgery.
It’s a mixed bag in the other corner, with Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix competing. A last-minute trade for Alfonso Soriano is possible, but with his below-average defense in left and Young in right, I’m not sure how much a trade like that would solve. Unless Brown figures things out quickly, there is no obvious long-term solution.
2. Can Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard return to form? The 35-year-old Halladay has gone from their No. 1 starter to their No. 3 behind Hamels and Cliff Lee after a mediocre 11-8, 4.49 ERA campaign in 2012. After he logged more than 230 innings pitched every year from 2008 to 2011, I don’t expect Halladay to bounce all the way back from the shoulder woes that plagued him in 2012, but he should still be a double-digit winner. Howard, 33, hit at least 30 home runs every season from 2006 to 2011 but still was recovering from Achilles tendon surgery. Nothing is preventing him from bouncing back this year for a 30-home run, 100-RBI season.
3. What does Michael Young have left? The Phillies were looking for a short-term solution at third base as they wait for one of their top prospects, Cody Asche, to develop. The 36-year-old Young spent the past two seasons as the Texas Rangers’ primary DH but now will be asked to man third base for the Phils. It’s obvious that Young has lost a step or two in the field; however, he still has good hands and a solid arm and should be at least adequate defensively, especially with Kevin Frandsen available for double switches and an occasional day off. The big question will be his bat; it looked like it slowed down last year. If he can bounce back and do what he did in 2011, when he led the American League in hits with 217, this could turn out to be a difference-making acquisition.
Papelbon could bring the Phillies a nice haul of young prospects.
4. Can Mike Adams nail down the eighth inning? The Phillies had a real problem getting the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon last year. They think they’ve solved the problem with right-hander Adams, who signed a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason. Adams, 34, was one of the best setup relievers in baseball from 2008 through 2011, posting a combined ERA below 2.00 and a WHIP below 1.00. However, in 2012 he was just 5-3 with a 3.27 ERA and a career-high 1.395 WHIP, mainly due to thoracic outlet syndrome. He had offseason surgery to correct the problem, and a full recovery is expected.
5. Who will man the back of the rotation? Both the Nationals and Braves have strong back-of-the-rotation starters, and for the Phillies to be able to overtake either team, their fourth and fifth starters must have success. Between Kyle Kendrick, one of the more underrated starters in the league, and lefty John Lannan, who at one point anchored the Nationals’ rotation, the Phillies might have what they need.
Look, going for it one last time was probably the right move for Amaro, especially with two wild-card berths now in play. But I’m not sure they’ll be able to have a better record in the NL than the Nationals, Braves, Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. If things don’t improve by the All-Star break, dismantling the team is the only way they’ll be able to keep up in the NL East over the next five years.