With word coming out of the Twitter-verse and then hitting the rest of the web about Chase Utley's shot knees this week, I thought this would be as good a time as any to do my breakdown of the 2012 edition of my favorite sports team, the Philadelphia Phillies. We'll go position by position and then hit the benches for whomever may be notable and into the news mix.
Carlos Ruiz anchors the pitching staff first and foremost and when you've got as many studs as this staff does, that should be the most important from the team's receiver. His knowledge with how to handle guys like Roy Halladay to Kyle Kendrick and set game plans with them for the opposing teams is becoming the stuff of legend in the city and "Chooch" has become pretty beloved by fans as well as his teammates.
That said, he isn't relied on for hitting as much as other team's catchers are. This isn't to say that he is a terrible hitter, because he certainly isn't, but it isn't what keeps him in the line up. It helps that he always seems to come up with a clutch hit and that his average the last few years has averaged almost .290.
Ruiz is healthy and will likely come out and get the Phils somewhere near 50 RBI, remaining a pesky lower order hitter. He is one area of the team that I'm comfortable with and knowing that he isn't brittle helps. Until we have some sure fire catching prospect that can hit bombs, Chooch is our man and we're happy with him.
Ryan Howard is still healing from that final swing of the bat in 2011's post-season where he severely injured his Achilles. There was a spring training setback in which the injury became infected and to this day he is still in a walking boot, but he is insisting on a May target date for his arrival back to the line up.
If that is the case and there are no more mishaps, I'm fine with Howard and first base. He isn't known as an injury prone player with the lowest game played total in the last six years being 143. I'm in the belief that Ryan would like to make up for his past two post seasons since he was the final at bat in both. People are going to write the big man off because of that combined with the injury and the fact that the last time he hit 40 or more home runs was 2009.
Howard is set to make $20 million this year and in order for him to deliver, the "Big Piece" is going to have to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100+ RBI. Those are fair numbers considering the time he'll miss due to injury. If he produces like I'm saying and how he is capable of, the giant contract extension doesn't seem so bad. But if this is a down year or a year lost due to recurring injury complications, I fear that the Big Piece may become the "big problem" since he'll be due around $125 million over the next possible 6 years (there is a club option for 2017).
This is where I've got to be frank. Chase Utley needs to go. On a team that is the second oldest (next to the Yankees) in the league, the last thing we need is a 33-year old with two bum knees manning second base and batting in the top third of our line up. This is a man who is due almost $16 million this year and if his stats even slightly amount to more than what he did last year, he isn't worth HALF of that.
For those who don't know, we've been treated to a repeat of last spring in regard to Chase and his achy-breaky knees. He was scheduled to get into a game this week but alas, his body isn't responding well and he'll need to see a specialist back up north. Last year he missed almost 50 games and when he came back, he was a shell of the player he used to be. This is a player whose numbers have declined across the board for the last FOUR years running. His contract keeps him here in 2013 as well, so this problem is something we're going to have to have next year too.
His knees aren't getting better. Utley may have been a really good second baseman for the early part of has career, but now all he is doing is taking money out of the pockets of the people who won't be able to afford to replace him with a comparative player. When will he play this season? Will he play at all? Will 22-year old Freddy Galvis be able to fill in adequately despite never having played in the majors? I get a headache every time someone mentions Utley to me and this migraine isn't going away at least for another full year.
Another position that has cause for concern as Placido Polanco has missed at least 30 games in each of his two seasons in returning to Philly. Already this spring he has jammed a finger and was forced to sit out. After having surgery for a double sports hernia and already having troubles in previous seasons from his back, abdomen and elbow, how much can Polonco truly be counted on for? Yes, he did manage to win a Gold Glove for fielding in 2011, but at 36 how much range can a banged up body have?
Polanco has never had power and never had 80 RBI. A career .301 hitter, he was almost thirty points below that in 2011. With his contract set to expire when the season is over, could some sort of upgrade be made during the season that may swap him out? How nice would the Mets' David Wright look in Phillies pinstripes?
It gets a little scary when you're talking about Jimmy Rollins as being the most healthy infielder you've got, but that is what he is for the Phillies. Jimmy missed 20 games last season and still nearly racked up 600 plate appearances. He'll be 34 this year and while clearly on the downside of his career, Rollins is still stylin' on the base paths.
I'd like him to score more than 2011's 87 runs, but I'll take most of the same numbers from last year and be happy. It seems reasonable for Jimmy to hit 15 home runs and drive in about 60. A banner season would have our usually in the leadoff hitter scoring about 110 runs and stealing 40 bases, something that he hasn't done in the same season since 2007.
Rollins is due for an up-turn kind of season after signing a shiny new 3-year $33 million dollar contract. We still don't know if he'll retire as a Phillie, but we've got our most vocal clubhouse leader and best potential Hall of Fame candidate a little while longer.
Lets get the doom and gloom out of the way first. At the end of the 2012 season as of this second, both Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino will become free agents. Also as of right now, while John Mayberry is the lead dog to man left-field, we really don't know if he'll be there by the end of the year so potentially, the Phillies could have need of an entirely new outfield after this season depending on signings.
But that is later.
For now, we've got right-fielder Hunter Pence primed for his best season and I can conservatively say that if he is healthy the whole year (which the outfield for the Phillies tends to be) Pence should casually post 28 home-runs, 100 RBI and a .300 average. He'll be the main man in the lineup early on with so many other starters injured, which will place him as the likely cleanup hitter and think Hunter'll do just fine this year.
Hopefully not too fine that he'll jack his price up and have to leave, especially since....
Shane Victorino wants to stay a Phillie for the rest of his career. While that is awesome, the problem comes with him wanting a pretty hefty contract rumored to be in the area of 5-year deal that'd have to net him in ups of $60+ million.
It'd be tough not to re-up with Shane considering he has been one of, if not THE most consistent player on the team since he became a starter in 2006. He has been relatively injury-free and has put up consistent star (not super-star) numbers year in and out and on a team with such a fluttering offense, his day in day out appearance in the lineup card is a big deal.
John Mayberry will need to produce just like he did last year, if not better, in order to really stabilize left-field. This is a big man who is about to hit the prime of his career and it'd be so incredible to have the next "Jayson Werth" added to the batting order. Like Werth, Mayberry was looked upon as more or less a failed first round draft pick but something about coming to the Phillies has helped these players turn it around. In 104 games last season Mayberry hit 15 homeruns, had 49 RBI and 8 steals. It seems reasonable that even a slight improvement and playing a full season will net him 20-25 homeruns and 70-85 RBI. How nice would that be if John's adjustments at the plate last season were real and he is ready to take this next step? It'd be a wight lifted off the shoulders of Pence and a sigh of relief for Mayberry to know that he'll have finally cemented himself as a bonafide major leaguer.
Jim Thome is a great re-aquisition. Though I'm a little worried he may injure himself while attempting to play the field once a week, I think he is an awesome hitter to have available off the bench. I have confidence in Thome coming to the plate late in games with a win potentially on the line. When we're playing inter-league, who better to have as a DH? With more playing time, this is still a player (41 years old!) projected out to hit about 30 homeruns last season. I'll take him over Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo any day. Especially because...
It seems that Freddy Galvis is now ready to begin his major league career. The slick fielding 22-year old is presently leading the team in RBI during spring training and his bat is what had worried Phillies brass the most. Yes, it is early but the kid seems ready and I tend to be someone who likes giving youth a chance. If Galvis can hit at all (c'mon .250 or better average!) while subbing in for old man Utley, he may toss a positive monkey wrench into this franchise at second base. Yes, I'm still trash talking Chase!!!! If Galvis can play and somehow, some way we can recoup some of Utley's $$$ we could land a third baseman *cough* insert David Wright mention again *cough*.
As for players like Ty Wigginton and Lance Nix, the less I see of them the better that means our Phillies are playing. Same goes for Michael Martinez, but since he is currently in a walking boot after getting hit on the foot by a pitch, we're not seeing him for a little while any way.
I like the Phillies' position players, I really do...honest! But the fact remains that if you're in this city and watching them every day like I am, you pick out the faults much easier. I have no problem saying that I wouldn't want to be ANY other team in the National League, but the Phils aren't perfect. We're going to need that rotation to stand on its head this year and maybe serve up two 20-game winners.
If Howard comes back and Polanco remains fairly healthy and Galvis can hit and Mayberry is finally the real deal...we could be better than we're already believing we are. That is a lot of "ifs" but then again, they do play 162 games so we'll see.
I'll be scribbling my thoughts about the Phillies rotation and bullpen. Coming real soon!