Sunday, December 08, 2013
I Still Believe
There is a lot being said about the age of the Phillies, and they can’t win because of that. However, if we take a look back 31 years to 1983, we have the ‘Wheeze Kids’ as the National League Champions. Prior to the 1983 season, the Phillies acquired Joe Morgan, age 39 and Tony Pérez, age 40, to compliment Pete Rose, 41, Ron Reed, 40, Bill Robinson, 39, Steve Carlton, 38, and Tug McGraw, 38. Add in Bo Diaz, 30, Mike Schmidt, 34, Gary Maddox, 34, Ivan DeJesus, 30, John Denny, 31, Al Holland, 30, and numerous other role players and pitchers. This 1983 team was older than the projected 2014 team.
During the 2013 season, Ruben Amaro put the Phils on a path to continue with the current team when he gave Chase Utley his extension. Whether or not he should have done so doesn’t really matter at this point. The team has Howard, 34, for the next couple of years, Rollins, 35, next year and 2015 if he plays most of the year, and now Utley, 35, Carlos Ruiz, 35, and Marlon Byrd, 36, for the next 2+ years. Add in other starters Ben Revere, 25, Dom Brown, 26, and Cody Asche, 23, to that line up. If they have ultimate failure and need to rebuild most of these players and contracts would be hard to move prior to the trade deadline of 2015. Plus the farm system does not have many prospects that have a great upside to replace them at this point.
In two years you will see basically the same names listed here but the ages will show as 38, 37, 37, 37, 36, 27, 28, & 25. At that point they will be much closer to be compared age of the ‘Wheeze Kids’ of 1983. The Wheeze Kids won by timely hitting and strong pitching. They were also smart and avoided the costly mistakes and errors that usually were associated by youth. Now we are also talking about a number of Hall of Famers and others who played very well in their careers to just miss the hall. The 2014 Phillies at this point do lack in the defense aspect when compared to 1983, but they are capable of putting up enough production that they could contend for the division and the playoffs.
2013 showed us that Utley is still capable of being a top second baseman especially on offense. His defense does leave room for improvement, but he is by no means a liability on the field. We saw down years from Ruiz C, Howard 1B, and Rollins SS. All three are very capable, when healthy and not suspended; to do much better. I would say at this point that the laws of averages say they will do better in 2014 vs 2013. At age 35, good players are usually several years from retirement, in which they all are. I would even venture to say that Ryan Howard, if healthy all year, stands a really good chance of being an early favorite for Come Back Player of the Year. Now, will they improve? We don’t know, but if they come into next spring in shape, healthy, and ready for the season, I do not see any reason why they could not have a much improved year. Yet, the Phils should be aware with a team of mid-thirty year olds that chances are someone will break down. That is where it comes into play to have a strong bench and reserves ready to step in.
In 2013 we saw Michael Martinez, Casper Wells, John McDonald, Roger Bernadina, and others all step in to play some or a lot and they had their share of troubles. What if it were players like Ben Revere coming off the bench or Nate Scheirholtz instead? In 2014 Ruben Amaro has to take a chance to improve the bench as much as possible as he takes a roll of the dice one more time with the same core of players from 2007 here. We all know that new players will be needed down the road in 2-4 years as this core will retire or move on, so trading the future away, such as Biddle, Brown, or Franco should be avoided unless it’s a deal one cannot refuse. Most of these players (the core) will have little trade value at this time and they are not really blocking anyone at this time except maybe Ruf if you think he can play full time. As for Howard he could become valuable if he has two really good years in 2014 & 2015 and an AL team needs a DH who only has a short time left on his contract. Then again the Phillies may be better off having a 40 home run hitter in the lineup.
Ok, so Ruben is ‘stuck’ with this group at least for now so he needs to make the most of the situation. In the Marlon Byrd signing he may have made the best decision with a more economical signing despite his contract possibly being too pricey for someone with only a breakout year. Byrd, when I looked at his splits, does really well against left handed pitching and is not a liability in the field. This helps in two of the teams weaknesses from 2013. The resigning of Carlos Ruiz was probably the best catcher that was available. McCann may be better than him on offense, but Ruiz is a better catcher and does not have a huge drop off in offense that would merit such a huge contract. Both of these signings do improve the team despite increasing age.
What can be done? With the offense, defense, and bench I would propose to add some quality players and ones that may cost a bit, but won’t break the bank. I would add an outfielder (preferably a righty) such as Rajai Davis, Franklin Gutierrez, or Andres Torres (switch hitter who bats better from right side). They could even add Grady Sizemore, a lefty who hasn’t played in a couple of years, but offers great upside and may come on the cheap for a one year deal. Also, with the non-tender players just added to the mix a few more options are there to consider. Any of these players would likely offer an upgrade over Mayberry who has shown a steady decline over the last 3 years when he had a chance to claim a spot. This would bring in competition for Frandsen’s spot as utility infielder which would be healthy for the team. As for third base, I expect Asche will get a rather long and patient look as an everyday starter (especially if he fields exceptionally well) before they consider replacing him. Also, I imagine Mikael Franco is the backup plan, but they may want to consider bringing in a player who can play third that provides extra offense from the right side of the plate. Ruben could help Sandberg greatly if he gives him a 25 man roster with good players from top to bottom.
Briefly on pitching they have Lee, Hamels, Gonzalez, KK, and Pettibone for their starters as of now. If they add 1 good quality starter, such as Tanaka having the biggest upside, or Garza being a quality arm (but expensive) without losing a draft pick. Then they should look for another starter such as Halladay, who would be coming off injury, but won’t be guaranteed a spot unless he proves his worth. This would bring 7 starters into spring to battle it out. Then beyond them they have Biddle and Morgan along with the likely non roster signings that usually occur each year.
For relievers, if Ruben can add a top setup reliever and possibly another quality arm to the mix they should be set. This year there are a lot of options and they do have depth in the system already. But it should be noted that we all thought that coming into 2013.
This maybe an older team in the league, but they are not as old as the Wheeze Kids. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ for 2014 such as "if Howard hits 40 homers", "if Lee and Hamels remain healthy", "if Rollins can hit better", "if the defense can improve", and so on. A lot has to go right, but in Rollins, Utley, Howard, Bryd, Ruiz, Brown, and Revere they all have produced in the past so we know they are capable of winning. Can Ruben add enough to the team and bench to give them another shot in 2014 and possibly into 2015? We will see. And we all will likely continue to be critical and cautious, but always hopeful.
*Written by loyal WSBGMs follower Bob D.
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