Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

 

After an early exit from the playoffs last year at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies entered the offseason with many question marks. How long will Ryan Howard be unable to play? Who will fill his spot? Does Cole Hamels want a long term contract?

These questions, and quite a few more, were in the mind of every Phillies fan after the October collapse, and it seemed like a giant mess that would take forever to sort out. Well spring training started last week, and for now, the wave of uneasiness that started with Howard’s ruptured Achilles seems to have calmed down a bit.

Beginning with Howard, the Big Piece seems to have been progressing nicely after offseason surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. Close to a month ago, Howard was allowed to resume light workouts and has since resumed baseball related activities.

As expected, Howard showed up to camp looking a bit out of shape, but after months of inactivity, that is expected. It was an encouraging sight to see Howard jogging, taking ground balls, and depositing several moonshots in batting practice (one of which is rumored to have left the park and hit Jose Contreras’ truck).

What may be more encouraging is that Charlie Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr. do not see Howard, the major league leader in homeruns and RBI since 2006, missing much time. Both think it will be a stretch for him to be out there on Opening Day, but a late April to mid May return is not out of the realm of possibility.

Regardless of  how long he is out, the Phillies are prepared. Offseason acquisitions of former Phillie Jim Thome, outfielder Laynce Nix, and utility man Ty Wigginton make it fairly easy to “replace” Howard until his return.

This is how it would work.

Wigginton can play first, third, outfield, and according to Amaro, second base. Thome, who has not played first since 2007, came to camp early, and in incredible shape to work on his fielding. Manuel thinks he can play first base a few times a week if need be. John Mayberry, Jr., presumably the starting left-fielder also has experience playing first.

So, if Mayberry is in left, either Thome or Wigginton will fill in at first. If Mayberry plays first, Nix, Domonic Brown or Wigginton can fill in for him.  Even if Mayberry and an infielder need a day off the same day, Nix or Brown can play left, Wigginton can fill in at third or second, and they still have a first baseman in Jim Thome.

The bench additions in the offseason have made it so every position can be accounted for if there is an injury or a player needs rest. This cuts down on the workload put on an aging Polanco and injury prone Chase Utley.

The only bench question that remains, however, is who will fill in for Jimmy Rollins should he be unable to play? Wilson Valdez, a key fixture of the Phillies bench was traded to the Reds, and Wigginton does not play shortstop (at least not that we know of).  There is talk of bringing up Freddy Galvis, the highly touted prospect, should that scenario arise, but it is unlikely he would be deprived of minor league experience to ride the Phillies bench.

The other injury questions have been answered in the first few weeks of spring training as well. Polanco, Hunter Pence, and Hamels have all recovered from their end of the season bang-ups and surgeries, and are all ready to go. Utley, who missed the first two months of last season with tendonitis in the knee, is taking it easy this spring to make sure he is ready to go come April as well.

Aside from injuries, another major question going into training was whether this would be Hamels’ last year as Phillie. Hamels had a career year last year, finishing with a 14-9 record and 2.79 ERA.  Should Hamels have a similar year this year, it seemed very likely that he would test the free agent market and probably score a huge long term contract for 2013 and beyond, possibly even in his hometown of San Diego.

That changed when Hamels talked to the media for the first time about his upcoming free agency.

Hamels addressed media questions about his contract the other day, stating that he has no deadline to reach an agreement (meaning he will be open to re-sign regardless of how long it takes), and that he enjoys the city of Philadelphia and does not want to leave. He also went as far as to say he would not want to play for a team whose fans only show support for three innings (Dodgers and Padres fans are notorious for not showing up until the third inning and leaving after the sixth).

In addition to thinking about the starting pitching, the Phillies have continued to make their bullpen a priority this offseason. Additions of Chad Qualls, Jonathan Papelbon and Dontrelle Willis, paired with the re-signing of Kyle Kendrick leave the pen in a formidable position, even though they lost Madson and Lidge to free agency. Spring training will be a fight for some pitchers to make the team, but having quality relievers all competing for a spot is certainly a good problem to have.

The rest of the starting roster looks pretty much the same as it did at the end of last year, with Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino, Mayberry, Rollins, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, and Roy Halladay all showing up to camp healthy and eager to resume workouts.

Halladay, who has somehow become even more popular after his offseason fishing adventure in which he rescued a naked man who had been attacked by an anaconda, will be the Opening Day starter for the third straight year. He will most likely be followed by Lee, Hamels and Worley, with the fifth spot still up in the air.

Lastly, Raul Ibanez will not be rejoining the Phillies for a fourth year, as the 40-year-old outfielder signed a 1-year contract with the Yankees. It remains to be seen who Roy Oswalt will sign with, although there is talk he could rejoin Philadalphia before April. Outfielder Ben Francisco will also not be wearing the red pinstripes in 2012, as he was traded to Toronto for  WCU alumnus Frank Gailey in January.

While there are still some doubts about this agin
g team, things are certainly looking up from where they did in October. A lot of the pieces have fallen into place, including the encouraging news on the Big Piece, Hamels, Polanco, and Utley.

In what will be a tight NL East race, the Phillies are ready to once again fight to reach October and to end this season with a parade down Broad Street.

Kenny Ayres is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.

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