Saturday, February 16, 2008

Philadelphia Phillies: Off-season Report Card.

Last season Jimmy Rollins proclaimed the Phillies the “team to beat.” And then they promptly went out and got swept by the Braves to open the season. But then they righted the ship. And then the Mets collapsed down the stretch. And then the Phillies won the NL East!

This season, the Phils were understood to be the favorites to win the division. They have guts. They have stick-to-it-iveness. They have moxie.But now the Mets have Johan Santana. And all of a sudden moxie seems like a not such a big deal.

Are the Phillies still the team to beat in 2008? No. Don’t be crazy. Johan Santana has shifted the balance of power in the NL East. But Phillies GM Pat Gillick made a few moves of his own this offseason.

First, Gillick traded a fourth outfielder and a couple of midlevel prospects for Astros closer Brad Lidge. This was a high risk, potentially high reward move. Lidge was once great. But he’s got a fragile psyche. How will he hold up in front of arguably the toughest fans in the game? That’s the million-dollar question. If he returns to elite status, the Phils will be in great shape. If he doesn’t, there’s no clear Plan B.

Acquiring Lidge enables the Phillies to move Brett Myers back into the rotation. Myers and Cole Hamels will be a formidable 1-2 punch. After them comes Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and … well, then it gets tricky.

Gillick signed SP Chad Durbin in the offseason. Durbin, who made 19 starts and 17 relief appearances last season for the Detroit Tigers, will compete with Adam Eaton for the fifth starter’s job but could find himself in the bullpen. Durbin has three times pitched in more than 20 games in a season (2001, 2004 and 2007) and he has not once kept his ERA under 4.00. Only twice did he keep it under 5.00, and that was just barely.

Next, Gillick signed Giants 3B Pedro Feliz (two years, $8.5 million), who is a prolific defensive player with some power and a propensity to swing and miss. He’ll help keep the ball in the infield. He should be most welcomed by second-year starter Kyle Kendrick, who is a ground ball pitcher and doesn’t record many strikeouts.

Third, the Phillies signed RF Geoff Jenkins (two-years, $13 million) who will platoon with Jayson Werth. Jenkins had a career-high 34 home runs and 94 RBIs in 2000 for Milwaukee, and he thinks he can replicate those numbers at homer-friendly Citizens Bank Park, surrounded by Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Burrell. But, realistically, he’s not going to get enough at bats to hit that many homers. For what it’s worth, Jenkins OBP has gone steadily down the last few years. But he’s a career .288 hitter against right-handed pitchers, so he should be an ideal platoon player.

The Jenkins acquisition and the loss of CF Aaron Rowand to free agency will move Shane Victorino to center.

Other moves you may have missed: The Phils traded for OF Chris Snelling. Though he missed most of last season with a knee injury, the 25-year-old has a .311 career average in the minors with 46 homers in 493 games. The team also acquired utility infielder Eric Bruntlett, who hit .246 with 14 RBIs last season, seeing time at shortstop, third base and the outfield.

The Phillies needed to upgrade their starting pitching and they did, by moving Myers to the rotation. They replaced Myers with Lidge. They replaced Rowand with Jenkins. And they upgraded at third base by signing Feliz. And yet all of this seems rather ho-hum when you consider the Phils still have Adam Eaton and the Mets have Johan Santana.

Key Additions:Brad Lidge, Geoff Jenkins, Pedro Feliz, Chad Durbin, So Taguchi, Eric Bruntlett, Chris Snelling

Key Losses:Aaron Rowand, Jon Lieber, Tadahito Iguchi, Kyle Lohse, Rod Barajas, Antonio Alfonseca, Jose Mesa, Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, Abraham Nunez

Projected Lineup:

1. CF Shane Victorino
2. SS Jimmy Rollins
3. 2B Chase Utley
4. 1B Ryan Howard
5. LF Pat Burrell
6. RF Jayson Werth/Geoff Jenkins
7. 3B Pedro Feliz
8. C Carlos Ruiz
9. Pitcher

Projected Rotation:

SP Cole Hamels
SP Brett Myers
SP Kyle Kendrick
SP Jamie Moyer
SP Adam Eaton/Chad Durbin

Setup - JC Romero
Closer - Brad Lidge


Atlanta Braves: Off-season Reports Card
Florida Marlins: Off-season Reports Card