I read this morning that I believe Peter Gammons put out a report that Chad Durbin might be returning to the Phillies- please tell me that is just a bad rumor started by Durbin’s agent who is hoping to get some other team to up their offer. Even on a minor league contract, Durbin is not the right move for the Phillies- particularly since Charlie Manuel, with his love for old players, will find it hard to actually see Durbin for what he is (a pitcher who it seems lets up runs every time he comes into an important situation) rather than giving one of the young pitchers such as Bastardo or Herndon or Stutes a chance. Phils never should have resigned Romero, who we all know will do nothing but issue walks in key appearances, and need to tell Baez to get out of town. The bullpen is clearly the weakpoint for the Phillies- hopefully with the starting staff they won’t need anyone beyond Madson and Lidge very often, but when they do, let’s not cost the team games with the same tired arms who hurt the team last year.
I’m sure most Phillies fans had the same reaction I did when I saw the headlines about Cliff Lee’s injury/soreness “You’ve got to be kidding!!” The more I read about it, particularly the quotes from Amaro and Lee that everything is fine, the more worried I got. Not because I think Amaro is lying- but because athletes in general tend to downplay their injuries, and particularly so when they are a new arrival to a team (and have a had a history of small, nagging injuries). Hopefully this will be just what Lee and Amaro have stated- nothing to worry about- but history tells us that when someone says “there is nothing to worry about”, frequently we have a lot more to worry about than we ever thought possible. I, along with all Phillies fans will be watching Lee closely (if he does start when scheduled) during his first spring training appearance next week.
To date, most baseball writers have predicted that the Braves represent serious competition for the Phillies in the NL East. After comparing the teams closely, and trying to put aside my obvious rooting for the Phillies, I can say I just don’t see it. The biggest difference is defense, where the Phillies, assuming health by their regulars, are clearly dominant at essentially every position except perhaps first base where let’s call it even since I don’t know enough about Freddy Freeman’s fielding skills. I’d say the defensive differences provide the Phillies a 3-4 game advantage (more if the Braves put Brooks Conrad back out there). Looking at the offense by position, the Phils have a distinct advantage at 1B, CF, SS (think a big year ahead for Rollins) and likely 3B (no way Chipper comes back and plays more than 100 games and likely hits about .245 this year when he does play). I’d give the Braves the edge at only RF, with the teams relatively even at 2B (assuming this is where Uggla plays), C, and LF. Overall, I’d give the Phillies a 3-4 game advantage because of offense. With Starting Pitching, yes the Braves have some good/great pitchers, but they also have Lowe and possibly Rodrigo Lopez in their rotation. No need to discuss who the Phils have, but to me this is at least a 5-6 game advantage. With regard to the bullpens, the Braves have some good young pitchers, but the Phils pitchers have a better track record and I think Lidge will be adequate as closer, so I think this is probably a 1 game advantage for the Phillies. Taking into account other intangibles such as injury, bad luck, and managing, I’d say on paper and based on past performance, the Phils should finish at least 12 games ahead of the Braves- say Phillies with 98 wins, Braves with 86 and not in the playoffs.
Interesting to see that while all of the Phillies regular position players are already in camp, players you would think would want to get there as soon as possible to get the coaches attention, even if unofficially since they can’t have organized workouts, aren’t there yet. I’m referring to report in Inquirer this morning that players such as Tagg Bozied, Matt Rizzotti, and Freddy Galvis still aren’t in camp. To me, unless they have serious family emergencies or injuries, they should have shown up weeks ago. Maybe it’s a financial thing- which I understand- but this is the opportunity to impress, and given that all three are in position to at least be one of the first call-ups in case of injury, I question their thinking.
Scott Mathieson has been a Phillies prospect I’ve followed closely for the past several years and really hoped he would recover from his two Tommy John surgeries to be the player it looked like he could be back in 2006. Not sure why he has been one of my favorite minor league Phillies- probably his perseverance and seemingly positive attitude in the face of serious injuries twice just went it looked like he could become a full-time major league player. I know he has worked on a splitter with Bruce Sutter, although from an article in the newspaper today, not sure how well it is actually working for him as he still seems interested in developing his slider. It would be a great testament to hard work and dedication if he made the team this year, although I suspect they will send him back to Lehigh Valley to work for at least few months on his splitter. Anxious to see how he looks once the games start.
Read a quote today from Domonic Brown that I really hope Charlie Manuel reads and takes to heart. Here is Brown talking about why he has been in Clearwater ever since he left Winter Ball from an article by Bob Brookover in Philadelphia Inquirer:
“I wanted to come to Clearwater and work on my swing because I know I had a lot of kinks that weren’t there before. Coming off the bench kind of messed me up as far as my swing and what I was used to doing every day”
To me, the Phillies have only two choices, and the option they should choose is clear. First, no way Brown should be a part-time player- sitting against a really tough lefthander, yes, but other than that either he plays almost full-time in right field or you send him to AAA to play every day. If I had a say in the matter (wow, it would be great to be a GM) I’d tell Manuel- Brown is the right fielder- make sure he gets 450+ at bats- don’t sit him down just because he has a bad game or three. I can’t see that he has much more that he can learn in AAA- we all know he can hit that pitching. I am amazed, but I guess not surprised, by how quickly people seemed to have turned on Brown because of struggles in a very brief time in the majors with no consistent playing time. Yes, Brown struck out a lot, yes his average was low, but that has happened to many players who went on to have great, even hall of fame careers. For example, the best Phillies player of all time, Mike Schmidt, started his Major League career in 1972, with 40 plate appearances. In those appearances, Schmidt hit .206, with 1 HR, and struck out 15 times. In 1973, in 443 plate appearances, Schmidt hit .196, with 136 strike outs, but increased his power to 18 hrs. We all know what happened after that. Will Brown be a Hall-of Famer- the odds are of course against it, but he has all the skills to be one of the best rightfielders ever for the Phillies, with a little patience from Phils fans and more importantly Charlie Manuel.
Interesting that Phillies and Manuel have not come to an agreement on a new contract. According to Manuel’s agent, it’s all about the money, since Manuel wants to get top-five manager money, which I assume means $4 million per year or so. I’ll admit I’ve never been a big fan of Manuel’s style, but to the degree any manager has a real impact on his team, his work has certainly appeared to produce exceptional results. Whether they would have performed any differently under a different manager is of course impossible to say. In-game decisions certainly can play a significant role (and don’t necessarily appear to be Manuel’s strong suit), but really, much of what happens once a reliever is brought into the game or a certain hitter is sent to the plate is independent of the decison made by the manager. No manager can really know how a player will perform on any given day- even the best hitters are lucky to get hits 1 out of 3 appearances and everyone is familiar with the seemingly random ups and downs of bullpens. The role of a manager therefore probably comes down more to keeping the players working together through the almost inevitable struggles/firestorms that occur at least once per season and Manuel seems to have success in this regard. However, Manuel clearly prefers veteran players to younger ones, and often seems to make decisions that negatively impact the confidence of young players. Therefore, as the Phillies begin to move toward the inevitable turnover of some of their veterans over the next 2-3 years, I’m sure Amaro is wondering if Manuel is the right person for that job. With manager in waiting Sandberg in Lehigh Valley (and Mark Parent further down the system), no reason for Amaro to way overpay for a manager. I’d give Manuel a two-year extension, $3 million per year, and tell him that was the top limit. If he thinks he can do better somewhere else, thanks Charlie for your efforts and good luck.