The Philadelphia Phillies are hoping to start from scratch in the 2005 season. With new manager Charlie Manual at the helm, the team looks to rebound from a mediocre 2004 campaign, and make the playoffs for the first time since 1993.General Manager Ed Wade made it a necessity in the off-season to bolster a pitching staff that was plagued by injuries and inconsistency in 2004. In December, starting pitcher Jon Lieber signed a threeyear, $21 million contract to play for the Phillies. Lieber, who was 5-0 in September last year for the New York Yankees, will be counted on to be the team?s ace.
Randy Wolf played through many nagging shoulder injuries last season, finishing with a 5-8 record: a significant drop off from his all-star year in 2003 when he won 16 games.
Vicente Padilla will likely start the season on the disabled list due to triceps tendonitis, the same injury that cost him two months of action last season. Top prospect Gavin Floyd will replace Padilla temporarily in the rotation, and Brett Myers and Corey Lidle will round out the starting five.
Starting pitching was a determent in 2004, but the team chose to pass on top free agents in the off-season such as Carl Pavano, Tim Hudson, and Pedro Martinez. Although Lieber will be touted as a number one starter, fans still are frustrated that the team didn?t choose to go after a better option.
“The Marlins and Mets improved their staff and took chances in free agency,” said senior Jim Fiore. “But all we did was sign Jon Lieber, and that isn?t good enough.”
Wade, who in recent years has spent money in the off-season, proved during last season that starting pitching wasn?t much of an issue “Ed Wade showed how incompetent he really is last season at the trade deadline,” said sophomore Kevin Timlin. “A team is built around its starting pitching, and we needed it last year. When [Wade] didn?t want to fix that, I gave up on the team for good.”
There?s no denying that the nucleus of the Phillies has mostly remained the same over the last few years. It?s formula that just isn?t working, according to Timlin. “I?m not going to sit and watch the games knowing that this is basically the same underachieving team that goes out there each year,” said Timlin. “They did absolutely nothing in the off-season that makes me want to look forward to opening day. Nothing at all.”
The other key player acquired by the Phillies was 37-year old center fielder Kenny Lofton, who saw minimal action last season with the Yankees. Lofton, a former allstar and consistent contact hitter throughout his career, will help provide a solid one-two punch atop the team?s line-up along with shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Lofton, however, has been plauged by a hamstring injury throughout spring training, limiting him to only 12 at bats.
As for the rest of the starting line-up, first baseman Jim Thome anchors the offense and will look to improve upon his 42 homeruns from last year. Chase Utley will become the full-time starting second baseman to team with Rollins in the middle infield. David Bell and his reoccurring back injuries return for another season at third base. Catcher Mike Lieberthal will begin his 11th season starting behind the plate for the Phillies.
Bobby Abreu, fresh off a season in which he made his first all-star team, will return as the team?s right fielder. Pat Burrell, who had the best spring training of any player (.306, 6 HRs, 20 RBIs), will try to cut down on his 120 strikeouts from last season and have a break out year in left field. Lofton is expected to be the starter in center field.
The Phillies will carry five bench players and seven bullpen pitchers to start the year. Jason Michaels will be the team?s fourth outfielder, and Todd Pratt returns as the reliable back up catcher for Lieberthal.
Tomas Perez and Placido Polanco are utility infielders, and switch-hitting veteran Jose Offerman makes the club mainly for pinch-hitting situations. The bullpen will consist of closer Billy Wagner, set-up man Tim Worrell, and middle relief pitchers Ryan Madson and free agent pick ups Aaron Fultz and Terry Adams. Pedro Liriano makes the team as the long reliever.
The Phillies begin the season with their highest payroll in team history, $94.6 million. In January, the team chose to re-sign the versatile Polanco as a bench player. He will make $4.6 million this year. Burrell, who received a lucrative contract extension in 2003, is saddled in Philadelphia for the longterm. This season, Burrell will make $7 million, $9.5 million in 2005, $13 million in 2007, and $14 million in 2008. Other big contracts include Wagner, who will make $9 million this season, making him the highest paid player at his position in the National League.
The team?s record-high payroll likely won?t sit well for fans. The Phillies decided to raise prices at Citizens Bank Park in mostly all levels of seating at around 10 percent. Season tickets sales, though, are expected to drop from 23,500 from last year to less than 19,000 for this season.
The Phillies open the season with three home games against the expansion Washington Nationals on April 4th, 6th and 7th.
Final Record Predictions: 84-78, 3rd place in NL East. One To Watch: Ryan Howard, first baseman Howard, who combined for over 40 homeruns last year in double-A, triple-A, and in the majors, will start the season in the minor leagues.
As long as Thome is the team?s first baseman, it?s hard to believe Howard will have much of a future with the Phillies. Howard played a few games this spring in the outfield, but the Phillies decided to scrap the idea of converting the young slugger.
Offerman was selected to the roster over Howard, 25, due to his veteran presence, and the general belief is that Howard needs to play every day in order to continue his progress. There have already been talks about possibly using Howard as a designated hitter once the interleague games roll around.
This spring, Howard finished with a .315 batting average and three home runs, and is definitely one to watch in 2005.