Philadelphia Phillies Preview

The rebuilding has begun in Philadelphia, as Charlie Manuel was fired midway through last season and former Chicago Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg is the new manager for the Phillies. The team that won five straight NL East titles, two National League pennants and one World Series title from 2007-11 is on hard times. The Notebook Nine focuses in on nine key points regarding the Philadelphia Phillies as a new season and new era begins…

* It’s only partially a new era. While Philadelphia is trying to get younger, there’s still a lot of players on the wrong side of 35 that will play key roles. Ryan Howard (1B), Chase Utley (2B), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Marlon Byrd (RF), Cliff Lee (SP) and A.J. Burnett (SP) are all 35 and up and only Lee is an unambiguous positive.

*Therefore, it’s no surprise that Las Vegas is not high on the Phillies. The Over/Under on the win propos is only 75, and it’s long odds for anything big—35-1 to win the NL pennant and 80-1 to win to follow in the footsteps of the Phillies of 1980 and 2008 and win a World Series.

*As if the personnel issues weren’t enough, there’s now some clubhouse drama. Rollins and Sandberg are apparently not seeing eye-to-eye. Trade rumors have started with Rollins pointedly noting that he has a no-trade clause in his contract. Rollins has been indisputably terrible at the plate the last two years, and I personally think he’s been mediocre for about five, and that on top of all that, his MVP year of 2007 was overrated. But he is a fiery leader and a clash with a veteran shortstop the fans love isn’t what Sandberg needs at a time when he’s likely looking at a lot of losing.

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*Not only is there age and clubhouse drama, but there’s a significant injury situation. Cole Hamels won’t be ready for Opening Day and the lefthanded ace is out until at least the end of April. Hamels is capable of giving this rotation an elite 1-2 punch with Lee, and when you hear the words at least April and then put it in conjunction with a shoulder injury, and it’s enough to make you wonder when Cole will see the mound again.

*Jonathan Papelbon isn’t in the 35 and up crowd, but the closer is 33 years old and had a mediocre season, blowing seven of 36 save chances. He recently told the media that he’d been struggling with a hip problem, but that he didn’t bring it up because he didn’t want to make excuses. Of course bringing it up now is still making excuses. There’s nothing wrong with that—a hip injury might well be a legitimate excuse, but don’t play the stand-up guy routine while milking everyone for sympathy.

*Sandberg will rely on two more imported veterans, A.J. Burnett and Roberto Hernandez in the rotation. Burnett may be 37, but the man takes his turn. You can pencil him in for 30-plus starts every year and while the performance tends to go up and down, the reliability in being there is something this team should value. Hernandez was terrible in Tampa Bay last year and I can’t think if a single reason why this year should be different.

*Chase Utley might be one of the senior citizens on this team, but the second baseman still played pretty well in 2013, with a stat line of .348 on-base percentage/.475 slugging percentage. His defensive range has been declining for years though, as one would expect. At a position where defense is so important, how well does Utley have to hit to make up for it?

*The bullpen in front of Papelbon looks very thin. Antonio Bastardo is still on hand as the top setup man, and he’s had a up or down career that’s coming off a good year in ’13—which doesn’t forebode well for 2014. Sandberg would be better off just letting kids like Cesar Jiminez have a chance and see if a star emerges.

*Did we say something about rebuilding? Yes, the Phils do have some young players they’re breaking in—Cody Asche at third is getting his first real chance at the majors. Ben Revere at center has gradually improved his offensive production over the past three years. Dominic Brown showed he could hit for power in the left field spot and now just needs to improve the OBP.

I’m going to go Under 75 on the win futures prediction. It wouldn’t shock me if the Phillies got to 78-79 wins if they get Hamels back. But if he doesn’t return, this is likely around a 74-88 team, and there’s a strong possibility trades are going to be made and the bottom will come out before all is said and done.