Inside the Phillies: Age is a consideration as Phillies GM Ruben Amaro builds his team for next season
Winning never gets old, but the players do and that has always been the tricky part for the men in charge of making sure the victories keep coming even as the names on the back of the uniforms change.
Two days after an unfulfilling end to the 2010 season, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was back at Citizens Bank Park Monday, starting the process of putting together the 2011 team.
The core group of players from the team's run to four straight National League East titles is expected to remain intact, with the one exception being free-agent rightfielder Jayson Werth, who probably said his final goodbyes after a 25-minute meeting with the media.
The biggest challenge confronting Amaro is how to replace Werth, and it may not be nearly as big as it seems to so many fans at the moment. If the Phillies are to continue their impressive run of division titles, they are going to have to get younger at some point.
That's what 23-year-old Domonic Brown brings to the table.
Amaro continued to stress that Brown will not be handed the right-field job if Werth signs elsewhere, and that's a smart move.
"We have not given the job to Domonic Brown . . . and he has been told that flat out," Amaro said. "He is going to have to earn a spot on our club next year."
Brown is obviously taking the challenge seriously because he will spend part of his off-season playing baseball for Escogido in the Dominican Republic winter league.
As well as Werth played during the last four seasons, there is reason to believe that Brown can be an even better player, and his youth is vital to an aging franchise.
Look at the life some of the National League's younger players injected into their teams this season. Rookie Jason Heyward was arguably Atlanta's best player, and the Giants are not playing in the World Series without rookie catcher Buster Posey.
Trace the Braves' 14 straight division titles and you'll see they were constantly adding younger players to the mix while also adding through free agency and trades.
Brown is less polished than Heyward and Posey, and he may not have left Phillies fans with a favorable first impression based on his 70 plate appearances this season. But he showed in the minor leagues that he is determined to improve and succeed at the big-league level.
Amaro acknowledged that he has some concerns about the Phillies' age. If Brown replaces Werth, he'd be the only starting position player under the age of 30 next season, the way the team is currently configured.
"Do I think about the age? I do," Amaro said. "Do we have to start filtering some youth into our club? Yes, I believe that. At the same time, we want to be a contender and we have to balance those two things."
There are three reasons the Phillies should contend for a fifth straight division title: Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.
Again, if you trace the Braves' unprecedented run of success, the three staples were Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Halladay and Oswalt are both 33, so the clock is ticking for them, although there is every reason to believe they'll be just as effective in 2011 as they were in 2010.
Many of the 30-something core players gave the Phillies reason for concern in 2010. The only regular who had a better season in 2010 than 2009 was catcher Carlos Ruiz.
"I think our offensive approach, we have to take a look at that and make sure that we improve in that area," Amaro said. "I think talent-wise, we're a better club than how we performed in the postseason and during the course of the season. We had about four or five guys that we had higher expectations [for] production-wise, and they didn't produce how they have in the past. Partly it was because maybe they weren't able to gain some kind of rhythm because of the injuries they sustained, but also when they were healthy and they were at the end of the year, we didn't have the right approach I don't think."
You can count shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard in that group.
The general manager still believes in all of them.
"I think it happens sometimes where there are blips on the screen where guys don't have great years," Amaro said.
You can find plenty of evidence to support that theory, and the fact that most of the Phillies' core players are in their early 30s is the primary reason for Amaro to believe that.
Amaro, however, also believes that aging players must spend more time getting ready for the season.
"Maybe we have to look in the mirror and have a little bit different approach in . . . preparing themselves for the season," Amaro said. "We're not getting any younger. I'm not sure our health issues were age-related, but there is often a correlation between the two. Some guys will have to look at preparing themselves a little different for the 2011 season as they get older."
Amaro started preparing for the 2011 season Monday. He is trying to figure out how to make sure his older players who have won so much can keep on winning.
Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.