Philadelphia Phillies: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training

February 28, 2014 by Alec Snyder  
Filed under Fan News

Spring training is upon us, and with it comes the annual talk of positional battles. Who will end up winning the job at a certain position? How close are the competitors to unseating the incumbent?

No, this isn't a political race. But for most MLB teams, spring training holds the distinction of being the time in which players must prove themselves worthy of Opening Day roster spots.

However, the Philadelphia Phillies aren't most teams. Thanks to a plethora of reasons—whether age, guaranteed salary and/or a lack of prospect depth—almost all of the team's starters are cemented firmly into place. There are a few positions where this is not the case, though, and the issue will be covered at those positions.

All positions, including the rotation and bullpen, will be discussed in the following slideshow. With that in mind, here is a position-by-position breakdown of the Phillies at spring training.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies Spring Training 2014: Daily Updates, Scores, News and Analysis

February 26, 2014 by Timothy Rapp  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies certainly aren't getting any younger. In fact, this offseason they managed to get older, adding 36-year-old Marlon Byrd and 37-year-old A.J. Burnett in free agency, giving them nine players expected to make regular contributions that are 33 or older.    

So how will one of baseball's oldest teams fare against the younger and more talented contenders in the NL East, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves? Can the Phillies return to the postseason with the aging core that led them to a 2008 World Series title, or will they miss the playoffs for the third straight season?

Below, you'll find the team's schedule for all of spring training, a brief recap from each game and a full prediction for how Philly will fare in 2014.

 

 

March 4: Phillies lose to Blue Jays, 5-3

In a battle of former Cy Young winners, Cliff Lee outdueled R.A. Dickey, but the Toronto Blue Jays got the last laugh, leaving with a 5-3 victory. 

Lee looked sharp in his Grapefruit League debut, striking out two in three innings of work while giving up three hits and one run. He faced 11 batters and didn't walk anyone, leaving with a 3-1 advantage thanks to a Marlon Byrd two-run shot in the third.

"It went good," he said after the game, via MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "I'm pretty happy with it." 

After B.J. Rosenberg worked two innings of one-run ball, however, 27-year-old Luis Garcia was blasted for two runs in the sixth inning. He gave up singles to Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and Moises Sierra and was saddled with the loss. 

There wasn't much offense outside of Byrd, who had a single in addition to his homer, as veteran Bobby Abreu drew a bases loaded walk for Philly's other run. 

 

March 3: Phillies lose to Rays, 6-1

When Michael Stutes entered the game in the seventh inning, he had a 1-0 lead. By the time he made it through the inning, he had sacrificed five runs and the Rays were on their way to earning a 6-1 victory.

Roberto Hernandez pitched well for the Phillies, opening the game with three scoreless innings on the mound. Jeff Manship and Phillippe Aumont then combined to throw another three scoreless frames. 

But Stutes and Justin De Fratus (1.0 innings pitched, one hit, one run in the eighth) couldn't contain the Rays.

Maikel Franco led the Phillies with two hits, while  Leandro Castro scored the team's lone run on Wil Nieves' RBI single in the fourth.

 

March 2: Phillies lose to Pirates, 4-1

A.J. Burnett made his debut with the Phillies against his old team and worked just two innings before leaving the mound after allowing a single hit and run. He told reporters after the fact, via Rob Biertempfel of TribLive.com, that it was a sentimental moment:

Nah, I didn't. It wasn't weird. It's just facing another team, and it just happened to be those guys today. It was definitely good to see them. I always have respect for everything and everyone in this game, no matter who you play against. Any team I've played on, you're respectful to them. It was a good time.

Burnett did little to help the Phillies turn things around. The club has now lost four of five to start spring training with no reversal of fortunes in sight.

Tony Gwynn was the lone offensive bright spot for the Phillies thanks to his two hits to lead the team, but even he fanned at plate once and was stranded on base multiple times.

As has been the case all spring, Philadelphia fell behind early and failed to climb out of a 3-0 hole that was created by the end of the fourth inning. The team mustered seven hits but went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

 

March 1: Phillies lose to Yankees, 4-0

The Yankees put three members of their starting rotation on the mound in today's matchup in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka, who made his hyped debut. The Phillies' offense was no match in a 4-0 loss.

Philadelphia mustered just five hits and one walk. All six runners were left stranded. On the bright side, David Buchanan pitched two scoreless innings with three strikeouts as the starter. Miguel Gonzalez took the loss after giving up one run on two hits and four walks in 1.2 innings.

Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Cervelli and Adonis Garcia provided the offense for the Yankees with a trio of RBI singles. Garcia's plated two runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap the 4-0 win.

 

Feb. 28: Phillies beat the Tigers, 10-6

Led by an eight-run third inning highlighted by Jimmy Rollins' three-run homer, the Phillies defeated the Tigers, 10-6.

Marlon Byrd went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Darin Ruf contributed two RBI. Kyle Kendrick wasn't terribly sharp in the start, however, allowing two hits, three walks and three runs in his two innings of work.

Nick Castellanos led the way for Detroit, finishing 2-for-3 with four RBI.

 

Feb. 27: Phillies lose to Blue Jays, 7-5

The Phillies led 3-2 after three innings before five quick runs from the Blue Jays turned the game in their favor for the second straight day. They went on the win 7-5.

Jake Diekman gave up two runs on four hits before getting out of the fourth inning. That's better than what can be said about Ethan Martin, though. He allowed three runs on three hits and a walk without registering a single out before he was pulled in the fifth.

Darin Ruf and John Mayberry both hit their first home runs of the spring in a losing effort for Philadelphia. Cliff Lee gave up one run in two innings while striking out three.

 

Feb. 26: Phillies lose to Blue Jays, 4-3

Despite scoring two runs in the bottom of the first on RBI singles from Howard and Byrd, the Phillies fell to the Blue Jays in seven innnings (the game was called due to rain), 4-3.

Roberto Hernandez started and pitched two innings for the Phillies, giving up two runs and a Jose Bautista home run. Reliever Phillippe Aumont gave up two runs in the top of the third, before Jeff Manship, Antonio Bastardo and Kevin Munson combined to pitch four scoreless innings for Philadelphia.

Shortstop Ronny Cedeno added an RBI double in the fifth inning for the Phillies.

 

Pre-Spring Training Prediction for 2014 Season

At first glance, its hard to imagine this team competing with the Braves and Nationals in the NL East. They're simply too old.

Ryan Howard has played in a total of 151 games combined over the past two seasons. Chase Utley's 131 games played last year was his most since 2009, as were his 135 hits, 18 home runs and 69 RBI. Jimmy Rollins continues to play a solid shortstop, but his .252 average, six home runs, 39 RBI and 65 runs scored were wildly disappointing. Carlos Ruiz followed up an excellent 2012 with a really mediocre 2013. 

But there are good things, too.

For starters, Howard is healthy and is feeling pretty good, as he told Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News:

I feel good. Last week was a hard week—definitely different than spring trainings of the past. But you can definitely see what they're trying to do. Now it gets to where the games kind of become the easy part. You do all the work, put in all the work and your offseason training, and now the games begin and you can have fun.

A Howard that is having fun and producing equals a Phillies team that can compete. It's really that simple for Philadelphia. But there are more positives than Howard's health this spring.

Domonic Brown (.272, 27 home runs, 83 RBI) had a breakout season. The one-two punch of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels atop the rotation is one of the best in the National League. Highly-touted Cuban rookie Miguel Gonzalez could turn this from a solid rotation to an excellent one if he lives up to the hype. Jonathan Papelbon wasn't great last season, but he still has the goods to be a solid closer. Free-agent additions Burnett and Byrd are old, yes, but both are coming off excellent seasons. Ben Revere provides some speed on the basepaths and plays a tidy center field.

And there is the surprising development that Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs actually projected the Phillies as the second-most-improved team heading into the season:

The Phillies, in a sense, are a positive regression case. They also added A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, Miguel Gonzalez, and Marlon Byrd, so while they also don’t project very well, they should be in the hunt a little longer. It pains me to say that the Phillies should be better for no longer having Roy Halladay. It pains me less to say they should be better for no longer having Delmon Young.

Unfortunately, that analysis sounds like the Phillies should improve from last year's 73-89 mark to something along the lines of 2012's 81-81 campaign, not another trip to the postseason.

Keeping expectations in check when evaluating this Phillies team is important. If absolutely everything goes right, they might be able to sneak into the postseason.

More likely, however, they'll hover right around the .500 mark and finally put an end to an era of Phillies baseball that brought a World Series title, several postseason runs but, eventually, ended with a whimper, not a bang.

They'll finish third in the NL East and miss the playoffs once again.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies Prospects Creating the Most Buzz so Far in Spring Training

February 25, 2014 by PHIL KEIDEL  
Filed under Fan News

What do you call a 34-year-old baseball player in Clearwater, Fla.? A prospect.

The Philadelphia Phillies strip-mined their farm system in a series of trades that brought back big names of yesterday (Hunter Pence, Roy Oswalt) and today (Cliff Lee) while chasing an elusive second World Series title.

Since then, the strategy employed by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has seemed almost exclusively to rely on the "back of the baseball card" theory. That is, look at the baseball cards of the available free agents and sign the ones who recently had good seasons.

Which is how you end up with a starting nine on Opening Day where, if Lee gets the start, six of the nine are going to be 34 years of age, or older.

At least we do not need to spend too much time or too many bytes here on kids who probably will not make the club out of spring training.

One who might, though, is corner infielder Maikel Franco.

Franco, who hit a combined .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI during stints in Single-A and Double-A last season, "has caught some eyes with his glove, arm and bat" in Clearwater, per Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com.

Manager Ryne Sandberg, who could clearly use some youthful energy on this moribund team, is happy with what he has seen from Franco thus far.

"He’s getting some good rips at live pitching. I just like the way he uses the whole field. He’s not a one-way type of a hitter," said Sandberg, per Salisbury's report.

With live exhibition action looming, Sandberg told Salisbury that he is eager to see what the kid will do against better competition: "I'm looking forward to seeing him in game action. I want to get a good look at him."

Salisbury's report also indicated that "Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg and Justin DeFratus have thrown the ball well in workouts."

At this point, though, these three pitchers are not really prospects any more. They will either earn their place in the Phillies bullpen or trudge back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Again.

The real prospects in the Phillies system—along with Franco—are probably a year or two (or three) away from making an impact in Philadelphia.

Keith Law of ESPN.com rated the top 10 Phillies prospects in January (subscription required). The list was headed by J.P. Crawford, the team's first-round draft pick last summer. Crawford has terrific tools (per Law, particularly at bat), but he probably needs a lot more playing time in the minor leagues before coming to Philadelphia.

As for left-handed starter Jesse Biddle, Law speculated that he "probably makes his major league debut this summer, boosting the back of the rotation."

That's about the best you can hope for, since the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb recently reported, "This spring is about education for Biddle, who will not make the team."

Right, because whenever you can hold a potential budding star like Biddle down to give Kyle Kendrick more starts, you have to do that.

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Why These Players Will Make Make Philadelphia Phillies Better in 2014

February 23, 2014 by David Cattai  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies have the chance to be a special team in 2014, whether people want to admit it or not.

Age is a problem, and so is a lack of offense over the course of two seasons. However, sometimes all of the ifs can go right—just ask the Boston Red Sox.

The Phillies have made some head-scratching moves over the the last few seasons, there is no doubt about it, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made a few signings this season that may pay off in big ways.

There are three players that will stand out for the Phillies in 2014. They each bring something special to the ball field, even though it may not be evident to the casual fan. The Phillies can completely be competitive and surprise people, but they will need to be impacted by these players to do it.

 

Jake Diekman

The Phillies have themselves a special player in Jake Diekman. The left-handed reliever throws in the mid-to-high 90s and has a deadly slider that can be very effective against left-handed hitters.

Diekman finished 2013 with a 2.58 ERA in 38.1 innings pitched. He also sported a FIP of 2.50, which would have placed him as one of the top 20 relievers in that category.

He has seen an increase in velocity during his first two seasons in the big leagues, averaging around 92 mph on his fastball.

He will have a huge impact for the Phillies out of the bullpen in late-game situations. Diekman was effective against left-handers, who hit .143 against him, only allowing one run.

Ryne Sandberg could benefit from having a hard-throwing left-hander reliever in his bullpen. If he doesn't choose to use Diekman regularly, then Sandberg will still have a great situational reliever to throw out on the mound in key situations.

 

A.J. Burnett

The phrase “wise investment” has not been used in the same sentence as “Philadelphia Phillies” often in recent years, but signing A.J. Burnett to a deal may be one of the best moves of the entire MLB offseason.

Burnett improved his ground-ball rate over the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He has also been able to recreate himself on the mound despite a dip in velocity. Burnett is throwing his curveball to left-handed hitters more than before and has been able to use his change-up to throw off others. 

Burnett now solidifies the top of the Phillies' rotation that includes Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, both of whom are more than capable of competing for the National League Cy Young Award in 2014.

The signing of the veteran right-hander enables the Phillies to split up their left-handers and gives them another innings-eater on the mound that can balance out the rotation.

Burnett makes the Phillies' rotation one of the best in the NL.

 

Marlon Byrd

The Phillies signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract to help protect Ryan Howard in the middle of the lineup.

The veteran outfielder is coming off the best season of his career, much in part due to a change in the batter's box. Byrd added a leg kick in 2013. Instead of taking a small step, he uses a bigger kick to time the pitcher's delivery.

Due to this, Byrd was able to hit 24 home runs with the Mets and bat .291, ranking 31st and 35th in those respective categories.

The Phillies are expecting Byrd to come in and solidify the offenseor at least balance it out. Byrd can definitely do that. He has matured since his days with the Cubs and Red Sox. Expect him to come out raking, especially playing in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

 

Philadelphia is already doubting its team. Does it have a valid reason to? Absolutely.

Because of these three players, however, the Phillies are going to surprise the folks at home. They are going to be better than the fans think. They will surprise the rest of the MLB.

Can they be competitive in 2014? You better believe it. Watch out for these three players to make a huge impact this season.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Spring Training To-Do List

February 21, 2014 by Alec Snyder  
Filed under Fan News

Spring training is finally upon us. After a long offseason, baseball is back, and more specifically, Philadelphia Phillies baseball is back.

In some ways, the Phillies are stepping on new ground this spring. It's their first spring training without Charlie Manuel in almost 10 years, and already manager Ryne Sandberg has turned up the heat in workouts. It's a promising start for a manager who's taking charge following one who didn't always enforce such rigorous exercises at this point in spring training.

While there's still plenty of time for Sandberg and the Phillies to make roster decisions, they still loom over the heads of the players until said decisions are made. Competitions will boil down to performance and expected performance during the season; and with certain wild cards like Cole Hamels' shoulder injury giving more players a shot at making the Opening Day roster, the battles for roster spots should be that much more intense.

The Phillies' to-do list isn't extensive in 2014, since many of the team's position players are set in stone. Pitching is always up in the air, as is the bench. Keeping this in mind, here is the Phillies' spring training to-do list.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Breaking Down Ben Revere’s Role on Philadelphia Phillies’ Roster

February 20, 2014 by David Cattai  
Filed under Fan News

When the Philadelphia Phillies acquired outfielder Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins in a trade during the 2013 offseason for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May, fans were ecstatic.

With Shane Victorino out of the picture, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to fill a void that put up a lot of production during the team's 2007-2011 National League East run.

Amaro wanted to strengthen the middle of the diamond, and with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz having already established Major League careers, he needed to strengthen it with youth.

Revere, 26, is entering his second season with the Phillies, but it won't be his second full season. The young outfielder played 88 games before injuring his ankle in July.

What should the Philadelphia faithful expect from the young outfielder in Year 2?

Let's hope for less of this.

 

Leadoff Hitter

The Phillies offense, as well as the majority of MLB offenses, works best with speed at the top of the lineup. In his prime Rollins was that player, just as Juan Pierre and Ichiro Suzuki were for their teams.

Manager Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies offense would benefit if Revere became the leadoff hitter. Sandberg could bounce Rollins back or move Utley into the No. 2 slot in the lineup.

The problem for the Phillies was Revere's inefficiency with getting on base.

In April, Revere has a slash line of .200/.234/.222 in 96 plate appearances. It seemed like every ball was routinely being grounded to shortstop or second base. Some of the problem was a high strikeout rate, which was 10.7 percent, and a low walk rate, which was 4.8 percent.

To put this into perspective, Revere's career walk rate is far lower than Rollins' career walk rate.

But like all everyday major leaguers, Revere made adjustments at the dish.

The speedy center fielder had a career high .305 batting average and a .338 on-base percentage before a foul ball cost him what could have been a breakout season.

Revere got on base because of his .344 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) in 2013, which lead to him earning career highs in certain categories.

 

Base Stealer

Besides getting on base, the Phillies are relying on Revere to cause havoc on them as well. His speed is unprecedented. The kid can flat-out fly. If you don't believe me, take a look.

As you can see in the video, Revere gets a bad jump off Trevor Bauer but is still able to beat the throw from the catcher without a problem.

If Revere can get on base and cause havoc on them, the Phillies could have themselves a player similar to a young version of Rollins. Revere did steal 40 bases for the Twins in 2012. Expect him to be among the league leaders in swipes by the end of 2014.

 

Anchor in the Outfield

Revere's speed will also play a role on the defensive end.

There were times Revere has looked like a dominant outfielder.

And there have been times Revere has looked lost when running routes to the baseball. Revere had a UZR (ultimate zone rating) of -2.3 last season, which was a career low, dropping his career total to 23.0.

But these are things that can obviously be fixed and having the speed to run down balls makes that possible.

Revere will become the team's anchor in the outfield. I use the term "anchor" because a center fielder's job is to control the majority of the outfield, calling off players to take better routes to the ball.

He will likely be slated between Domonic Brown and Marlon Byrd in the outfield. If Revere's defense can improve, which is obvious because of his career defensive metrics, then he will make Brown and Byrd better defenders. Having the ability to cover more ground in the outfield makes Revere a prime example for the Phillies having better defense in the outfield.

Revere has all the tools to become a productive everyday center fielder as well as a great leadoff hitter. The next step is making adjustments and improving on a productive 2013 season.

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What Is the 2014 Philadelphia Phillies’ Ceiling If They Get, Stay Healthy?

February 20, 2014 by Joe Giglio  
Filed under Fan News

On the surface, the Philadelphia Phillies look like a team in rapid decline. After setting a franchise record with 102 victories in 2011, the team hasn't been over .500 since. 

During the early days of spring training, optimism is easy to find on baseball fields in Florida and Arizona, where players are rejuvenated, refreshed and often in the best shape of their respective careers. By the time April begins, reality arrives.

In Philadelphia, a cast of former champions is trying to stave off extinction and produce one last run at glory. Yet, with 81 and 89 losses, respectively, over the last two years, it's not easy to envision this Phillies team playing meaningful September baseball.

If they do surprise, health will be the biggest reason for a turnaround.

Of course, unlike the run of dominance from 2007-2011, the Phillies don't have the firepower to cascade into October baseball. During that run, the Phillies' ceiling was routinely 100-plus victories and the best record in the National League.

Now, three years later, the same level of performance probably won't be good enough to garner a wild-card spot in the National League.

Don't tell that to relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. During a colorful session with the media in Clearwater, Fla., the longtime closer wasn't bashful about how good he thought the 2014 Phillies could be, per Jeff Skversky of 6 ABC Philly.

"If I was a gambling man, I would take us to go all the way," Papelbon said.

If Papelbon has any chance to look prescient, two areas of this team will have to come together to form a winning foundation: The big four and three aces.

Let's start with the position players.

In New York, the Yankees built a dynasty on the back of four homegrown position players: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. In Philadelphia, another quartet emerged into a winning nucleus: Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard.

Although different and less heralded, Philadelphia's nucleus delivered results, including a World Series championship in 2008 and return trip in 2009. 

Yet, since the end of the 2009 season, they haven't been on the field together enough to deliver the same results. According to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, the Utley-Ruiz-Rollins-Howard quartet has started just 116 of 648 possible games together over the last five seasons. 

In those games, the Phillies are 68-48, good for a winning percentage of .586. Over the course of 162 games, that winning percentage prorates to a 95-67 record. 

Clearly, it's overly optimistic to ask any of that group to play in every game in 2014—especially a catcher like Ruiz—but the point remains: When the Phillies have had their four lineup rocks together, they've won.

Unfortunately for Phillies fans, the quartet has aged and gone through a myriad of injury issues. Ryan Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, profiles as the biggest question mark of the four. After suffering through leg issues since 2011, the days of .900-or-better OPS marks are likely over.

That didn't stop the 34-year-old first baseman from expressing optimism when camp opened, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.

“I feel like I can play 162 games,” Howard said. “My whole offseason was dedicated to trying to play all 162, plus trying to make it to the playoffs. My goal isn’t to come out here and try to play 120 games. That’s not why I play baseball.”

At this point, the Phillies would gladly take 140 games from Howard, Utley, Ruiz and Rollins. While full, unimpeded seasons would be nice, they aren't realistic. Despite decline, each of Philadelphia's veterans has been adequate-to-excellent among their peers when healthy. 

In 2011, Howard's last season of 150-plus games, the slugger posted an .835 OPS. Last year, Allen Craig, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Eric Hosmer and Nick Swisher all failed to match that mark.

Despite an on-base percentage of only .317 since the start of 2012, Jimmy Rollins ranks seventh among shortstops in that category. With offensive and the run-scoring environment down, the 35-year-old still reaches base more than most of his peers.

In 2012, Carlos Ruiz posted a .935 OPS, 149 OPS+ and .394 on-base percentage. Over the last two decades, only five catchers have matched or exceeded a season like that. Their names: Piazza, Napoli, Mauer, Posada and Posey. 

During Chase Utley's prime (2006-2010), he was worth 39.5 bWAR. That figure is the second highest in baseball history for any second baseman between the ages of 26 and 30, trailing only Rogers Hornsby's run from 1922-1926. 

Those days are over, but Utley's 3.5 bWAR in 2013 was still the ninth best among second baseman.

If the Phillies' offensive veterans can profile as durable contributors, a dominant, top-heavy rotation could carry the team into relevance. 

The following chart compares the top three starters in two recent starting rotations. As you can see, Group A was superior in durability, run prevention and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Across the board, they trumped Group B.

Yet, the difference wasn't stark. Group B's performance was very, very good and capable of generating victories.

As you may have guessed, Group A is the 2011 Phillies' trio of Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Group B? The combined 2013 statistics of the newly formed Big Three in Philadelphia: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett.

If the 2014 Phillies can receive a close facsimile of either of those standout rotation numbers, the pitching staff will be in good shape. From dominance to innings, the Lee-Hamels-Burnett trio—if healthy—can be one of the best in the league.

Now that we've explored how the Philles reach their ceiling, what win total is actually realistic if so many question marks turn into positive answers?

Recently, MLB Network released the 2014 PECOTA projections for 2014 records. The Phillies came in at 76-86, which, despite how poor that looks, is actually a three-game improvement from last season. 

Those projections factor everything into account, from best- to worst-case scenarios. Factoring in the production of Philadelphia's veterans when healthy and the potential of the Lee-Hamels-Burnett trio, 87 wins feels right for a ceiling on the 2014 Phillies.

Unfortunately, for a city that became so accustomed to October baseball, the Phillies' best likely isn't good enough for a return to the postseason. 

Since 2007, the second wild-card team from the NL (factoring in which team was in that position in the years before the additional spot was added) averaged 88.8 wins. 

The 2014 Phillies can, and likely will, be better than their 2013 version. If everything goes right, meaningful baseball could be on the horizon in August and September. 

Yet, despite any optimism from Clearwater, Fla., predicting a return to glory in Philadelphia is too much to ask from this group.


Agree? Disagree? 

Comment, follow me on Twitter or "like" my Facebook page to talk about all things baseball. 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.

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10 Bold Predictions for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014

February 20, 2014 by Pete Dymeck  
Filed under Fan News

Nowadays, Terrell Owens is more welcome in Philadelphia than Ruben Amaro Jr. The Philadelphia Phillies general manager is abhorred to the point where a parody Twitter account has been established under the name Ruin Tomorrow Jr. The ensuing hilarity is not comedic but tragic.

The Phillies have nosedived so bad they are now the laughingstock of Major League Baseball. Since winning 102 games in 2011, they have bottomed out to the point where David Schoenfield of ESPN.com predicts they will only win 66 games in 2014.

Lacking foresight, Amaro has made things worse by doubling down on a roster chock full of overpaid and over-the-hill 30-something-year-olds. 

Still, hope persists every spring. Philadelphia fans know this best. After all, this is the same organization that was the first in sports history to lose 10,000 games. Despite that, Phillies nation persistently comes out and provides one of the best ballpark atmospheres in MLB.

And while some things are easy to predict, like Cliff Lee pitching on a near-Cy Young level, others are not. Without further ado, let's delve into the ten bold predictions for the upcoming season.

 

1. At best, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will be a marginal reliever

Something doesn't smell right with this guy. After a groundbreaking six-year contract worth $60 million fell through due to physical concerns, the Cuban defector would settle for a mere $12 million deal over the course of three years.

Why? Red flags were raised concerning his elbow. 

It appears those red flags were legit. Early on in spring training, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is not impressing bystanders. According to David Murphy of Philly.com, "Gonzalez's velocity looked down compared with many of the other pitchers around him who are supposed to have similar arm strength."

Little is known about Gonzalez. He hadn't pitched in a game for two years because of a suspension levied on him by Cuba for trying to defect numerous times.

Therefore, if anyone has an ounce of enthusiasm for what Gonzalez could bring to the club, they are likely blinded by rose-colored goggles. That is, until Gonzalez proves otherwise.

 

2. Maikel Franco will hit at least 20 HR in the majors

Obviously, projected third baseman Cody Asche will not suffice, and Maikel Franco will get the call to the big league's in 2014. 

While Asche proved to hold a steady bat in the minors, his .235 batting average and 24 percent strikeout rate are not going to prevent Franco from supplanting him in the Phillies lineup. Franco is coming off of a year in which he hit 31 HR, 103 RBI and had an average of .319. He also strikes out less than half as much as Asche.

A top prospect in all of MLB, Franco has also flashed a good glove at the hot corner. The culmination of everything he provides will prove to be much better than what Asche can. If anything, consider Asche a speed bump to Franco's arrival in the majors this upcoming season.

 

3. A.J. Burnett will not be traded

If, or better yet, when the Phillies wheels begin to fall off and this season becomes more and more lost, the Phillies are expected to hold a fire sale—or one would think. While a plethora of likely trade candidates exist on the Phillies roster, don't expect A.J. Burnett to be one of them.

He was considering retirement for a reason. He wanted to pitch somewhere close to home and, at the end of the day, Philadelphia worked out best. In addition, Burnett is associated with assistant GM Scott Proefrock. The two live in the same area, and their sons are close friends, according to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com.

While he does hold a limited no-trade clause, don't expect Burnett to exercise an option to land anywhere else. The Phillies bring proximity and stability to Burnett's home life—something the righty was eager for—or else he was likely to retire.

 

4. Jonathan Papelbon will be dealt

Let's be honest, Jonathan Papelbon's tenure in Philly has been nothing but tumultuous. He has exercised dismay at the performance of the club while struggling himself for long periods of time. Additionally, his rich contract leaves many fans desiring more.

The Phillies pressed hard to trade Papelbon in the offseason—they found no suitors. Reality will smack Amaro across the face and he will have to eat some of Papelbon's luxurious contract in order to move him out of Philly. If not, the Phillies will continue to rely on a closer with diminishing velocity and less-than-elite stuff.

 

5. Cole Hamels will be traded

At 30 years old, Cole Hamels has been nothing but great with the Phillies. He was the World Series MVP in 2008 and, following that, he has been a staple of consistency while placing himself among the best left-handed pitchers in the National League.

Unfortunately, the prevailing losses will continue to mount, and Philadelphia will be stuck dumping him. Aside from Lee, Hamels is the Phillies' best asset to trade.

He still has another four or five years of quality, top-of-the-rotation pitching in him. Any candidate with the financial flexibility to take on his $22.5 million annual salary would be pressed to do so.

Lee will also be traded, but that isn't a bold prediction now is it?

 

6. Jimmy Rollins will be traded too

As I quipped, the Phillies will have to hold a fire sale in order to further replenish their farm system. They aren't realistic World Series contenders and, in order for them to be such, an extraordinary amount of things must sway in their favor.

That is unlikely to occur.

While Jimmy Rollins has been the face of this franchise since Larry Bowa was the skipper, he isn't immune to being dealt. 

His production is beginning to trend in the wrong direction. For the first time since 2002, Rollins finished with a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) under 2.0 in 2013. With the Phillies not expected to contend, he would fit in better with a club that is ready to contend.

Rollins is no longer a bat worthy of having in the top three of the lineup. The makeup of the Phillies lineup requires him to do so and that further hinders his potential to produce, regardless of his age. He is a better fit elsewhere.

 

7. Jesse Biddle will provide some hope

The 2014 season will finally give the fans of the Phillies hope for the future. A transition will occur as we begin to see the stars of the Charlie Manuel era fade and new faces show promise for the future. Lefty Jesse Biddle will be one of those projecting promise.

He will finally get the call to the majors.

Despite some setbacks last season, Biddle actually didn't pitch as bad as his numbers suggest. He had some rough outings, but he improved on his strikeout rate. Additionally, opposing hitters Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) dropped to .278 from .308 the year before.

Control is still an issue with him, though. Without an extensive array of metrics to further enhance his projections, Biddle should be considered for what he is: a workhorse-type arm with a high ceiling.

He will get innings in the majors this year. While the Phillies may look bad in the standings department, Biddle will show everyone why the future is brighter than the dark clouds of today.

 

8. Ryan Howard will hit 30 or more HR

Often the butt of jokes in Philadelphia, Ryan Howard is no longer the hefty bat we have known since 2006. Still, he has enough pop in his bat to hit for a strong number of home runs. While his average is expected to hover around .250, Howard will provide fans with plenty of reasons to cheer.

Howard's defense, however, may hurt the team. Overall, his batting may not be enough to turn the tide in Philly, either. Phillies fans are stuck with him as Howard has a contract that breaks the bank.

Just take the home runs he will provide and be happy. It could be worse.

 

9. Ben Revere will steal 50 bases

Ben Revere will not hit a single home run, but he does provide blazing speed on the base paths. After a dismal start to last season, Revere turned things around before seeing his season end with a broken ankle. Revere finished with an average of .305 and an OBP of .338. 

It's not near-sighted to suggest he'll finish with better numbers in 2014. With an increase in average and OBP, Revere will tally even more stolen bases. His career high came in 2012 with the Minnesota Twins when he stole 40 bases. Even more can be expected in 2014.

Why?

The Phillies will lean on Revere to get into scoring position via his speed. The Phillies lineup will struggle driving in runs, as they have each of the last two seasons.

Revere's speed gives the lineup a comparative advantage in this regard. Therefore, skipper Ryne Sandberg is expected to lean on Revere's speed as much as he can.

 

10. The Phillies will finish last in the NL East

Even those who think the Phillies are fading fast don't believe they'll finish behind the New York Mets and Miami Marlins.

Think again.

Even with the current roster, the Phillies will struggle to touch 75 wins. What do you think will happen if or when Hamels, Lee, Rollins and Papelbon are dealt?

They will be worse, and that is why they need to deal those chips in order to restock the farm. 

Don't forget, the Phillies finished fourth in the NL East behind the Mets last year. The Marlins have a young squad, but it is somewhat more respectable than the Phillies.

With Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Jose Fernandez, the Marlins are primed to win more games than expected. While it will not be many more than the Phillies, it still will be more.

The one positive to take away from such a disastrous finish is the likelihood that Amaro will be replaced. His decision-making has been atrocious. He is out of touch with the metric-based reality of baseball today, and 2014 will be the final nail in the coffin for Amaro's tenure as general manager.

Like Ed Wade, he will not be missed.

 

All statistics provided courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Philadelphia Phillies Veterans Hoping Pride Does Not Precede Another Hard Fall

February 20, 2014 by PHIL KEIDEL  
Filed under Fan News

If you listen carefully, even with all of those snow piles still dotting the Delaware Valley, you can hear the chirping.

No, not the chirping of spring robins and cardinals. The idle chirping of ancient Philadelphia Phillies trying to convince you (and themselves?) that their time as relevant baseball players is not long gone.

"I feel like I can play 162 games," said Ryan Howard, according to ESPN.com (citing an Associated Press report.) 

"We've had a bad couple years and had injuries and all that stuff, but I don't think it's over," Howard continued.

Removing all doubt from the degree of his own delusion, Howard recently told Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News: "I’m more than capable of hitting 58 home runs."

Right.

Resident lightning rod/closer Jonathan Papelbon is also letting the world know that, at least in his mind, the Phillies are far from over.

Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com was one of many writers who were present when Papelbon let fly this proclamation: “I have looked at what people have predicted us to do. I don’t necessarily agree with that and if I was a gambling man, I would take us.”

Asked to clarify what he meant, Papelbon replied: "To go all the way."

Of course.

Marlon Byrd, 36 years young and new in Philadelphia for the second time in his career, is similarly going out of his way to allay your fears that the Phillies are too old to compete.

"You keep hearing old, old, old ... we're not an old team," Byrd said to Corey Seidman of CSNPhilly.com. "We can still play. Once you can't play, then you're old. We still have a lot in the tank, we just to have to show that and stay healthy."

Oh.

The longer all this happy-speak goes on, the more evident it becomes who is behind it all.

"Listen, I don't want to be foolhardy,'' said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. "But I do believe we have the talent to make a run at the National League East this year. And if we're making a run at the National League East, it puts us in position to win the World Series."

There are those words again. World Series.

Admittedly, there is nothing new to optimistic spin coming from baseball players and management in February. For the most part, such chatter is harmless, too.

With this Phillies team, though, it rings more hollow and borders on the sad.

"I don’t expect the GM of a major league team to actually say things like 'well, if everything breaks right, we can finish at .500,'" wrote Craig Calcaterra of HardBallTalk.NBCSports.com about Amaro's remarks. "But I do expect at least a bit of a nod to realism."

Which is precisely the point.

After winning 81 games in 2012 and 73 games last season, the last words anyone affiliated with the Phillies in 2014 should be tossing around are "World Series." Or anything related to October for that matter.

Now would be an excellent time for the Phillies to stop talking to the media about all of their big dreams and start figuring out how all of these old players are going to stay healthy and produce.

Because if the Phillies are 23 games out of the division lead again this coming September, all of this February's chirping will sound even sillier than it does right now.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Potential Breakout Players to Watch in Spring Training

February 19, 2014 by PHIL KEIDEL  
Filed under Fan News

Philadelphia is still in the throes of the third-snowiest winter in the history of the city, according to Steve Strouss of CBS Philly.

The cold and gray have aptly mirrored the feelings of Philadelphia Phillies fans about a team full of players in the winters of their respective careers.

Five of the probable everyday eight are at least 34 years old. The marquee free-agent signing on the offensive side of the ball is 36-year-old Marlon Byrd.

The Phillies made more news recently by shoring up the pitching staff, agreeing to terms with free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

At 37 years of age, Burnett should fit right in at the regulars' canasta games.

So it is an old team. Very old, really. And it could use an infusion of youth.

Where might that come from?

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