Phils count on veterans rebounding as camp convenes
Offseason additions bolster established core as club eyes first playoff berth since 2011
PHILADELPHIA -- Marlon Byrd spoke candidly late last month when asked about Phillies fans' lack of enthusiasm about the organization's offseason.
Byrd is the face of its winter improvements, which includes Roberto Hernandez, Brad Lincoln, Wil Nieves and Bobby Abreu.
"If I was a fan, I think I'd rather have Robinson Cano," Byrd said. "I think I'd rather have [Masahiro] Tanaka. I want those guys. Ruben [Amaro Jr.] went with the guys he thought would help this team. And until we get on the field and actually get to show it, the fan base will kind of be looking at this team like, 'Hey, two years of trying to get back to the promised land, we need 10 Robinson Canos in this lineup and a whole staff of Tanakas.' I think they'll be happy once we get on the field and we start producing."
That time has come, with Phillies pitchers and catchers holding their first workout at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla., on Thursday, and the team holding its first full-squad workout Feb. 18.
Byrd, Hernandez, Abreu and others have received most of the offseason attention, but the Phils are pinning the 2014 season on high-priced veterans Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon staying healthy and producing like they have in the past.
They paid these players hundreds of millions of dollars to produce.
If they do, the Phillies could make a run at the postseason. If they don't, it will be another long summer in Philadelphia.
Phils manager Ryne Sandberg is eager to get to work, and presumably those high-priced veterans are eager to prove they can still compete at a high level and get Philadelphia back to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Blue Jays, Feb. 26 at 1:05 p.m ET
Away vs. Rangers, March 31 at 2:05 p.m ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Howard be the Big Piece again?
The Phillies believe their offense will be improved if everybody is healthy and productive. Those are two huge ifs, and both hinge on Howard. Left leg injuries (Achilles in 2012, meniscus in '13) limited Howard to 151 games the past two seasons, in which he hit a combined .244 with 25 home runs, 99 RBIs and a .752 OPS. (He hit .173 with a .575 OPS against left-handers in that span, which must improve.)
In 2011, the last time Howard played an entire season, he hit .253 with 33 home runs, 116 RBIs and an .835 OPS. If he can stay on the field and return to form, it would help. Coincidence or not, the Phils were 77-63 (.550) when Howard started games the past two seasons. They were 77-107 (.418) when he did not.
2. What kind of rotation is this?
Sandberg said countless times late last season that improving the rotation should be the team's top offseason priority. They enter Spring Training having added only Hernandez, who has a 5.19 ERA over 67 appearances (59 starts) the past three seasons. Chad Gaudin signed a Minor League deal as a potential swing man.
Following Hamels and Lee, Kyle Kendrick must bounce back from a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts last season. And mystery man Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez must prove himself in a battle with Jonathan Pettibone and others for the No. 5 spot. If those three spots falter, Sandberg will be repeating his call for rotation help.
3. Is the bullpen ready for prime time?
It is hard to get a feel for the bullpen. It entered last season with high hopes, based on a strong finish in 2012, but proved to be one of the worst in the National League in 2013. The Phillies insist Papelbon can be an effective closer, despite a diminishing fastball, save completion rate, strikeout rate and concerted efforts to trade him in the offseason.
They will hope Mike Adams can bounce back following right shoulder surgery, Antonio Bastardo can redeem himself following a 50-game suspension for PEDs and the younger pitchers can continue to grow. If things break right, the Phils could have something, but after all that optimism entering last season, it would be foolhardy to get excited at this point.
73-89, fourth in the NL East
Projected batting order
1. CF Ben Revere:
.305 BA, .338 OBP, .352 SLG, 0 HR, 17 RBI in 2013
2. SS Jimmy Rollins:
.252 BA, .318 OBP, .348 SLG, 6 HR, 39 RBI in 2013
3. 2B Chase Utley:
.284 BA, .348 OBP, .475 SLG, 18 HR, 69 RBI in 2013
4. 1B Ryan Howard:
.266 BA, .319 OBP, .465 SLG, 11 HR, 43 RBI in 2013
5. RF Marlon Byrd:
.291 BA, .336 OBP, .511 SLG, 24 HR, 88 RBI in 2013
6. LF Domonic Brown:
.272 BA, .324 OBP, .494 SLG, 27 HR, 83 RBI in 2013
7. C Carlos Ruiz:
.268 BA, .320 OBP, .368 SLG, 5 HR, 37 RBI in 2013
8. 3B Cody Asche:
.235 BA, .302 OBP, .389 SLG, 5 HR, 22 RBI in 2013
1. Cliff Lee, 14-8, 2.87 ERA in 2013
2. Cole Hamels, 8-14, 3.60 ERA in 2013
3. Kyle Kendrick, 10-13, 4.70 ERA in 2013
4. Roberto Hernandez, 6-13, 4.89 ERA in 2012
5. Alfredo Gonzalez, did not pitch in 2013
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon, 29/36 saves, 2.92 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Mike Adams, 3.96 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Antonio Bastardo, 2.32 ERA in 2013
The new guys
RF Byrd: The Phillies have been trying to find a replacement for Jayson Werth since he left after the 2010 season. They tried Ben Francisco in '11, John Mayberry Jr. in '12 and Delmon Young in '13. The Phils are hoping Byrd can replicate the career year he had last season with the Mets and Pirates. If he can, Philadelphia finally has a right-handed bat to hit behind Utley and Howard. If Byrd can't, the search continues.
RHP Hernandez: The Phillies hope Hernandez's move from the American League to the NL improves his numbers, which have not been particularly good the past three seasons. They also believe he got unlucky last season with the Rays with a disproportionate number of fly balls leaving the park for home runs. If Hernandez gets lucky, the Phils think they could have an adequate bottom-of-the-rotation starter.
RHP Gonzalez: The Phillies and Gonzalez agreed to a $48 million deal in July, which meant Phils scouts and executives believed he was at worst a No. 3 starter. But after an issue with his physical, he signed a $12 million deal, and Philadelphia has hit the brakes on any expectations for him ever since. From $48 million to $12 million to competing with Pettibone, Ethan Martin and Gaudin for the fifth spot, Gonzalez is a huge wild card for this rotation. If he pitches like a $48 million man, the rotation looks much better. If Gonzalez struggles to compete for a job, it is a different story.
C Wil Nieves: Ruiz has been on the disabled list each of the previous five seasons, so the Phillies wanted a veteran backup should something happen again. Nieves hit .297 with a .690 OPS in 206 plate appearances last season with Arizona. He has a .597 OPS in his 10-year career, but is known for his defensive capabilities. The Phils like Cameron Rupp, but the fact they signed Nieves to a one-year, $1.125 million deal makes him the favorite for the backup job.
RHP Lincoln: The Phillies acquired Lincoln from Toronto for Erik Kratz. Lincoln has made 97 appearances across four seasons in his big league career. He has posted a 4.66 career ERA and spent much of 2013 in Triple-A Buffalo as he battled command problems. The Phils believe Lincoln will get his command under control.
OF Abreu: Players signed to Minor League contracts typically don't make this space, but Abreu has a long history with the organization. Expect Abreu to be a favorite for a bench job, as the Phillies are looking for a left-handed bat.
Prospects to watch
LHP Jesse Biddle: The organization's top prospect, Biddle will get a chance to show everybody how close he is to the big leagues. The Phillies used 10 starters last season, so Biddle could get his shot this year. But the Phils need to see a more consistent, more mature Biddle on the mound before that happens.
INF Maikel Franco: The expectation is he will open the season in Triple-A, but if Asche struggles and Franco produces, it would not be a stretch to see Franco in the big leagues at some point. The Phillies need bats, and Franco provides one.
On the rebound
SS Rollins: He hit .252 with 36 doubles, two triples, six home runs, 39 RBIs, 65 runs scored, 22 stolen bases and a career-low .667 OPS last season. Rollins ranked 12th out of 17 qualifying shortstops in OPS and 131st out of 140 qualifying players. He acknowledged on the final day of the season it was hard to stay motivated playing for a losing team. Maybe a hot start would get Rollins back in gear.
C Ruiz: He suffered his worst season since 2008, which included a 25-game suspension for using a banned stimulant. But Ruiz posted a .795 OPS from Aug. 3 through the end of the regular season, which the Phils hope he can replicate.
CF Revere: Following a terrible April in which he carried just a .456 OPS, Revere had a .784 in his next 65 games through July 13, when he suffered a foot injury that forced him to finish the season on the disabled list. If Revere can pick up where he left off, the Phillies should have an exciting player to hit atop the lineup.
RHP Kendrick: He started to become a reliable starter in the Phillies' rotation through last June. Kendrick went 16-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 40 starts from April 29, 2012, through June 25, 2013, but went 3-9 with a 6.45 ERA in his final 14 starts before finishing the season on the DL with a shoulder injury. The Phils need the good Kendrick to show up in '14, or the rotation could be in trouble.
RHP Roy Halladay: One of the greatest pitchers of his generation retired in December, but he will be in camp as a special instructor. Perhaps Halladay can help some of the organization's pitchers, although it's too bad those pitchers won't be able to see how hard he worked to get ready for the season.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.