Get to Know a Division Rival: Philadelphia Phillies

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Philadelphia Phillies
2013 Record:  73-89 (Pythagorean 66-96)
2013 Runs Scored: 610
2013 Runs Allowed: 749

2014 Additions: Marlon Byrd, Brad Lincoln (trade), Wil Nieves, Roberto Hernandez (the Fausto Carmona one), A.J. Burnett

2014 Subtractions: Erik Kratz (trade), Roy Halladay (retired), John Lannan, Tyler Cloyd

The Philadelphia Phillies have been more on the “age and treachery” side of the ledger in the NL East due to being in a different spot in the organizational lifecycle than the other teams. Most of the core players from the 2008 World Series champions, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, are still there, but it has since been five seasons and age is catching up with them. The window for these players is closing, and a significant re-tooling of the infield seems to be coming in the next couple of seasons.

The 2013 Phillies really struggled on the offensive side of the ball. Carlos Ruiz, who started the year on suspension and then had hamstring issues, had a down year when he did play; but that did not stop the Phillies from re-signing him this offseason. Ryan Howard had a better year than he did in 2012, but it is still in decline from his prime years of the last decade and was only for half a season. Starting Third Basemen Michael Young played average offensive baseball before being traded in August, and eventually retiring this last offseason. His replacement, Cody Asche, failed to produce at the major league level. Asche’s struggles have continued into this spring, and top prospect Maikel Franco may be seen in the majors sooner rather than later.

Chase Utley and Domonic Brown were about the only two players to put together solid seasons last year. Utley had his most plate appearances since 2010, and the lack of injuries seemed to help his production. Dominic Brown took a huge leap forward at the major league level, and the Phils have to hope that he continues to play at that high of a level.

The major free agent signing this offseason, at least from a batting standpoint, was veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd. Byrd had a resurgent year in 2013, certainly his best offensive season, and was able to cash in on that year with the Phillies. He’ll be taking over in right for the combo of Delmon Young and John Mayberry Jr. that failed to produce at replacement level last season. Whether Byrd can continue to produce at the level will be the big question (think Adam LaRoche, Nats fans), but even if he falls back to career norms he will still be an upgrade.

On the pitching side of the ball, the big free agent signings that were made were to bolster the starting rotation. The bottom two rotation spots in 2013 were filled with Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd, John Lannan, and Roy Halladay, and the results were less than stellar. Halladay was a shell of his former self coming off of injury and hung ‘em up this offseason. Lannan had very Lannan-like production last season, and was let go in the off-season. Tyler Cloyd suffered a similar fate and was claimed by the Indians off of waivers.

To replace these players, the Phillies signed A.J. Burnett and Roberto Hernandez (FKA Fausto Carmona). Burnett has had a resurgence since coming back to the NL in 2012, and if he can continue to pitch at those levels, adds a formidable #3 to the Phillies 1-2 punch of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Hernandez, on the other hand, doesn’t really feel like an upgrade; but he will be producing what the Phils had in the #4 spot last year in the #5 spot this season, so that may be considered a plus. The Phillies also signed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez last July. Gonzalez was projected by some to have #3 starter potential, but elbow and shoulder injuries have set him back from being a rotation candidate early this year.

Overall, the Phillies upgraded their starting rotation over last year, improving upon what was their greatest strength. The gains won’t be fully realized until at least May, however, as Cole Hamels came into spring training with shoulder issues. His absence will push Kyle Kendrick and Hernandez up a spot in the rotation for at least a month, and players like Pettibone, Jeff Manship, or David Buchanan into that fifth spot. Essentially, the rotation for the first month will look much like it did last year, so the sooner Hamels comes back, the better for the Phillies.

The bullpen was a spot of weakness for the Phillies last year, but they did not make any significant changes or upgrades the change the outlook for this season. The one addition they did have was trading backup catcher Eric Kratz to the Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln. Lincoln did not come anywhere near the success he had with the Pirates in the American League, so the Phillies are taking the gamble that he can return to the (slight) success he had in 2012.

Out of all the teams in the NL East, the Phillies look like they have tried to make the most improvement in the offseason. They were not making like-for-like moves in production, and they were also not making small tweaks to already substantial roster. The Phillies added successful (at least over the last season or two) veterans to an already veteran squad. If they can have players return to form, and have those signings pan out the way they expect them to do so, the Phillies can make a serious at the playoffs, and possibly the division. But, the downside to veteran players is durability issues. Injuries are what derailed the Phillies last season, and it is likely to have an impact again this year.

Prognosis: Dark Horse.

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