Friday, December 26, 2014

Phillies can still finish first during the season

The Phillies may have finished third in the National League East last season and again this offseason, but that doesn't mean they have to finish anywhere other than first once the season begins.

Phillies can still finish first during the season

The Phillies traded righthander Vance Worley and prospect pitcher Trevor May to Minnesota for the left-handed hitting Ben Revere. (Jim Mone/AP file photo)
The Phillies traded righthander Vance Worley and prospect pitcher Trevor May to Minnesota for the left-handed hitting Ben Revere. (Jim Mone/AP file photo)

The Phillies may have finished third in the National League East last season and again this offseason, but that doesn't mean they have to finish anywhere other than first once the season begins.

At a dinner banquet in Allentown Thursday night, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. explained why this offseason has been different in terms of the team's moves.

Instead of one big splash -- a trade for Roy Halladay, the signing of free agents Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon -- that grabs the attention of the entire baseball world, the Phillies have made a series of smaller moves, dealing for center fielder Ben Revere and third baseman Michael Young while signing setup man Mike Adams, fifth starter John Lannan and right fielder Delmon Young.

As detailed in Friday's newspaper column, the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves have made the sexiest moves among the National League East teams this offseason.

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"We had a lot more to fill this offseason and a lot less dollars to play with," Amaro said. "Our big moves were made when we got Doc (Halladay) and we got Cliff and we signed Ryan (Howard) and we signed Chase (Utley) and also Jimmy (Rollins) as well. Those were our moves."

Therein lies the Phillies' hope and possibly despair.

Add Cole Hamels to Amaro's list and those are the six players that will determine whether the 2013 Phillies can contend with the Nationals and Braves in the National League East.

It is interesting to view the national perception of the Phillies. Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com, lauded Atlanta's trade acquisition of outfielder Justin Upton Thursday and declared that the Braves joined the Nationals, Giants, Dodgers, Cardinals and Reds in the discussion about the "Best Team in the NL."

The Phillies are only one season removed from putting up the best record in baseball for the second straight year and they did go 35-24 after dealing Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the all-star break.

"With Howard and Utley being back, we made up 14 games," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We were 14 under .500 and we played good in the second half as far as winning games and we can play a lot better."

Because of the way the Phillies have gone about their business, they should have payroll flexibility at the trade deadline if they're looking to upgrade in the outfield or at some other position.

"We're leaving ourselves a little flexibility ... in the hope that at some point if we need to, we can maybe add," Amaro said.

That will heavily depend on whether Howard, Halladay and Utley are better and, at this point, the Phillies are encouraged about all of them. Howard is among the regulars already working out down in Clearwater, Fla. and the medical reports on Halladay and Utley have been encouraging.

Amaro said Halladay, who missed nearly two months last season with a shoulder injury, threw off a mound for the first time Tuesday and was scheduled to do so again Friday. Utley has been sending Manuel e-mails that has the manager upbeat.

"He sent me a couple e-mails and the last one right at Christmas said, 'It looks like you're going to have a healthy second baseman,' " Manuel said. "The other day (trainer) Scott Sheridan had a DVD of him working out and he really looked good. He looked really strong in his legs. You can tell he's been doing something all winter."

A baseball scout was asked what he thought of the Phillies' offseason moves compared to what the Nationals and Braves have done.

"The Braves and Nats did better, but the Phillies did a nice job, too," he said. "The Phillies did well with adding the two Youngs and Revere and Lannan will be a solid fifth starter. Roy Halladay is far and away the most important player in the division this coming season. Which guy we see will determine the Phillies' fate."



Bob Brookover Inquirer Columnist
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