As a fan of a big market team who doesn't seem to understand how to rebuild (the Knicks), I feel the Phillies fan's pain. They were once the class of the National League East but since those glory days have faded, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. hasn't done much in the way of restocking the shelves. Ryan Howard continues to plod away at first base. A return to full health last year helped boost his numbers (23 HR, 95 RBI) from the comically woeful ones he had accumulated the two seasons prior (25 HR, 99 RBI combined). However, he still strikes out a gigaton and is painful to watch in the field. This is amplified by the fact that Philadelphia has been trying to trade him for the past two years and can't even salary dump him. Unlike Howard, second baseman Chase Utley (no relation to me sadly) will probably be out of the City of Brotherly Love by season's end. Like his former up the middle mate Jimmy Rollins, I expect the now healthy (for the moment) Utley to be plying his trade on the West Coast by or at the Trade Deadline. I say the defending champs could use a second baseman of Utley's pedigree to make a run at a repeat, no? As for the position Rollins vacated, shortstop, that spot is now Freddy Galvis's. He may be a slick fielder at a position where that is paramount, but the young Venezuelan has yet to shown he can hit much above his weight at the Major League level. He weighs 170 lbs. just so you have a frame of reference. Completing the infield is Cody Asche...for now. The Phillies have been patient with the 24 year old third baseman but his strikeout totals continue to rise. That wouldn't be a problem if his power numbers kept pace but they haven't. 2015 will be just his third year in the bigs, second full, but he will have to improve drastically to keep his job as slugger Maikel Franco, the only top 100 position prospect the Phillies possess, nips at his heels. The catcher position is the most stabilized in the Phillies' lineup but Carlos Ruiz is 35 and can't beat Father Time forever. He is in need of a solid backup and I don't think Cameron Rupp is it.
The outfield is a smorgasbord of unreliability and potential. Ben Revere would more than likely have been the Phillies' All-Star representative a year ago if Chase Utley wasn't voted to start. The speedy center fielder led the NL in hits (184), finished 5th in batting average (.306), and stole a career high 49 bases in a career best 151 games. Revere provides Philadelphia with a prototype leadoff hitter. He doesn't strike out often, gets on base, and then makes catcher's lives miserable. That is where the positives stop for the Philadelphia outfield. Grady Sizemore and Darin Ruf will battle it out for left field. That sentence alone should say all that needs to be said about Amaro's "rebuilding plan." Right field belongs to Domonic Brown. Brown broke out in 2013 with 27 home runs, 83 RBI, and a .272 average in garnering an All-Star nod. He played five more games in 2014 but those figures plummeted to 10, 63, and .235 respectively. He battled injuries at various points of the season but even when he was 100 percent fit he just looked dreadful at the dish.
The starting pitching staff, once a great strength, is going to look pretty weak once Cole Hamels is dealt. The talismanic left hander is still currently perched at the top of the Phillies rotation, but for how long? He posted his fifth consecutive 200+ inning season in 2014 and would fetch quite the bounty in the trade market. It just seems that what Boston got for Jon Lester and Tampa Bay got for David Price is significantly less than what Ruben Amaro Jr. wants for Cole Hamels, who is under contract until 2018 with a team option for 2019. Normally, the second spot in the rotation would be held by Cliff Lee. Nevertheless, Lee just got placed on the 60 Day DL as he tries to rehab a left forearm injury and avoid season ending surgery. So for now that second rotation position is filled by Aaron Harang. An underwhelming name indeed, but Harang had a bit of a career resurgence for Atlanta in 2014. The righty still gives up hits in droves and is susceptible to the long ball meaning that last year's 3.57 ERA could balloon in the smaller Citizens Bank Park. If you thought Aaron Harang was underwhelming, you are going to be downright depressed about the rest of the staff. David Buchanan is Harang-lite. Jerome Williams is a journeyman who one would consider a 4.75 ERA suitable. The last spot is Miguel Gonzalez's to lose currently but he is a walk machine. If the Cuban falters though, are Kevin Slowey and Chad Billingsley even Major League caliber pitchers anymore?
The bullpen at new manager Ryne Sandberg's disposal isn't much better. Fifty million dollar man Jonathan Papelbon enters the last year of his hefty contract as the Phillies closer and could be trade fodder before his $13 million vesting option for 2016 kicks in (once he finishes 55 games). Even if the former amateur Riverdancer stays for the entire year, getting a lead to him is going to be a messy proposition. Ken Giles would be the man to step into the closer's role if Papelbon is moved along. Giles placed fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting as a middle reliever last year which has to say something. He posted a 1.18 ERA with a 68 to 11 K/BB ratio in 44 games a year ago but had an up and down minor league career. If he can replicate his rookie campaign, the pen may be stronger than I'm giving it credit for. Nonetheless, I will not be praising the players trying to get outs in the 6th and 7th innings. Phillippe Aumont is a washout, Jake Diekman has a ceiling of "not-wretched", and Justin de Fratus is still trying to make the transition from starter to reliever.
I would say wait 'til next year to Phillies fans but I'm afraid next year doesn't seem to paint any rosier of a picture than this year's. Instead, focus on the Phillies more to avoid the impending Tim Tebow mania that will be soon descending upon your fair city.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #27 (DOWN 3)
PREDICTED RECORD: 60-102
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REP: Ben Revere (outfielder)
Trevor Utley is a lifelong Dodgers fan who has a Ken Griffey Jr. shirt that is older than he cares to mention.
Image Credit: Phillies logo (sportslogos.net)