Hold or Fold for the Phillies?

Can Ruben Amaro Jr. swing a deal to get the Phillies in contention?

Can Ruben Amaro Jr. swing a deal to get the Phillies in contention?

It is just under three weeks until the MLB non-waiver trade deadline and rumors are swirling all around the Phillies’ clubhouse. With the team currently sitting at 45-47, it is hard to definitively peg them as buyers or sellers at this point.

Should a team that appears to have a quickly closing window blow things up now, or try to search for the missing piece(s) that could give them one more run at a World Series title?

That question will soon be answered because it is safe to say that after July 31, this Phillies roster should look somewhat different.

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Phillies Update: Manuel’s Contract, Utley’s Knee and the Outfield

Having been down to Clearwater earlier this week, and getting a good look at the team, it is very obvious that they are looking overall pretty sharp. The Phillies pitchers have not been perfect this spring but at the same time, they look pretty good. It is clear that they are working on things and fine tuning some pitches so there is really no need to worry about that aspect of the team. The three concerns for the Phillies this spring have been Manuel’s deal, Utley’s knee and the outfield situation.

Manuel certainly has reason to smile in light of his new contract.

Charlie Manuel, the 67-year-old Phillies skipper, has a brand new contract with the team. It was announced early Thursday and really only seemed like a matter of time. The contract will keep Manuel in Philly through 2013 and will pay him $3.5-4 million annually including a raise for this upcoming season. The contract will take Manuel into his 70’s where he can decide whether or not he wants to stay in the game. Manuel’s deal will now place him in the top-tier of managers as far as salary and that is where he belongs. Fans might say “why were the Phils so worried about paying that price”, but they have to understand that the Phillies have never paid this much for a manager, but at the same time, this team could be the best Phillies team of all time and that will certainly depend a great deal on their quality skipper. Manuel certainly played his cards right. He never wanted this to be a distraction going into the season and with this new contract in place, there is one issue to check off the list.

Amongst the other issues is 2nd basemen Chase Utley. Utley is 32 years old and is facing Patellar Tendonitis in his right knee. The reckless play that Phillies’ fans have come to adore Utley for, may finally be catching up to him. The injury has kept Utley off the field all spring training, relegating him to only batting practice. In my time in Florida, all I saw of Utley was batting practice and picking up balls and bats afterwards. He certainly seemed in a somber mood and that could definitely be a bad sign. He has not reacted positively to the cortisone shot he received and now there seems to be some bone inflammation. The team continues to insist that surgery is a last resort, but as the days go by it seems more and more likely. Utley will most likely start the season on the disabled list and surgery could either end his season or he could play through the pain and almost certainly see a major dip in production.

Utley has patellar tendonitis which has kept him out of all grapefruit league games.

The Phillies have internal options to replace Utley if need be. Wilson Valdez filled in admirably last year at a couple of spots and is capable of stepping in for Utley at 2nd. He has shown some good fielding this spring but his bat will not replace Utley’s stat for stat. Another option is Delwyn Young. The Phillies have given him a couple starts at 2nd this spring. He has shown some ability and definitely has a shot at a bench spot. Pete Orr was signed by the team this offseason and will also be a candidate.

If the internal options do not work, the team could explore a deal for disgruntled Texas Ranger, Michael Young. Young has requested a trade and the Phillies have popped up as potential suitors in numerous reports. A Phillies package would almost certainly involve dealing Joe Blanton and his $8.5 million annual salary although the team has insisted on keeping Blanton. Texas is short on starting pitching. Young would be closer to Utley as far as plate production than the internal options but what would the Phillies do if Utley is ready to return later in the season. Having Utley, Polanco and Young could certainly pose a problem. Although this seems farfetched, the Phillies have certainly surprised fans before (Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, Lee again).

In addition to being a great acting duo, Utley and Howard have been one of the league's best #3, #4 combinations.

Utley’s absence will be most obvious in the lineup alignment. If any two spots were set in stone, they were Utley at 3 and Howard at 4. Howard will definitely not see many good pitches with Utley out and with Werth gone. With Utley out, a new #3 has to be found. The candidates will include Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino. My vote however, would be for Ben Francisco.

Francisco has undoubtedly won the right field job. He won it even before Dominic Brown’s injury but now it is all but certain. Francisco could be a decent option in the 3 spot because of his combination of pop and speed. He is more than capable of taking the ball deep and can get on base and swipe a bag if need be.

In other outfield news, John Mayberry is making a strong case for a roster spot. Mayberry is 27 and is at that age where it is becoming time to make the major league club. He has been great this spring hitting .286 with 2 doubles, 3 home runs, and 4 rbis. A righty outfielder with that kind of pop is something the fans felt the team needed to acquire all off-season and it looks like they already had it in the fold all along.

John Mayberry is having an impressive spring and seems to be in line for a spot on the big league club.

These 3 issues certainly will not be the only ones that occupy the team this season since its only March and a meaningful game is yet to be played, but at least two of them seemed to be taken care of. The fate of Chase Utley’s 2011 is still up in the air.

Pitchers and Catchers Report, and So Do Predictions

So, I was a little bit late with the rest of my Phillies predictions; and so is Ryan Howard when it comes to a fastball, but you let him slide. So, readers, please give me the same courtesy when it comes to lateness. That was my attempt at humor by the way. Anyway, back to business.

The Phillies have officially started their Spring Training with the reporting of Pitchers and Catchers to Clearwater, Florida. Last week, I brought you my predictions for the Phillies rotation, some guy named Joe Blanton (yeah, I know, that was mean), and Carlos Ruiz. Today, I offer you the rest of my predictions for the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies. Lets go:

1. CF Shane Victorino 2011 Predictions

.288 AVG., 16 HR, 54 RBI’s, 31 SB

The Flyin’ Hawaiian had a bit of a disappointing 2011 campaign, having his worst season as a starter batting average-wise, batting .259. Many people believe that Victorino, 30, is on the decline, but I for one think last season was a fluke. He can obviously still hit, smashing 18 homers last season. He also is still a threat on the base paths, stealing 34 bases last season. I think its safe to say that with a little fine tuning on the skills that are already there, and more plate patience, that Victorino will have a fine season out of the leadoff spot, where more than likely he will start the season

2. 3B Placido Polanco/ 3B Michael Young 2011 Predictions

Polanco: .313 AVG., 7 HR, 61 RBI’s

Young: .290 AVG., 24 HR, 83 RBI’s

First off, the Phillies do not have Michael Young….yet. If you haven’t heard, the disgruntled Rangers’ third baseman wants out of Texas, and the Phillies have indeed made a call down South, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. Talks of a trade are currently dead, but I think they will resurface once all players are expected to report to camp. But, why the Phillies. It really is quite simple: the Phillies lack a solidified right-handed power bat after the departure of Jayson Werth. With the acquisition of Young, the Phillies fix that problem. To get him, it will more than likely take a package of the Polanco and Blanton for Young’s services. This seems to make the most sense for the Rangers, because it gives them a solidified number-2 hitter behind shortstop Elvis Andrus, and also gives the inning-eater that they have been seeking due to the departure of Cliff Lee. From the Phillies aspect, it makes sense because basically, you are upgrading your line-up big time for a very little cost; the Phillies payroll would only go up $2 million by taking on Young’s contract, and getting rid of Polanco’s and Blanton’s. Anyway, back to the current third baseman, Placido Polanco

Polanco, 35, has hit well throughout the course of his career. A career .303 hitter, Polly is likely to have another solid season behind the plate. One concern is an elbow injury that limited him to 132 games last season. It is uncertain if he will again feel the effects of  injury, which he had surgery on this past off-season. All things considered, he did play great through the injury-played 2010 season, so just imagine how he will perform if healthy the entire year.

3. 2B Chase Utley 2011 Predictions

.295 AVG., 31 HR, 107 RBI’s

Chase Utley still is the man. Period. Do not read into his 2010 season, where he had only 16 homeruns and 65 RBI’s. He was injured and limited to only 115 games. A healthy Chase Utley is what I think we are going to see this year, and his numbers will reflect it. Want proof?

Before last season, Utley had 21 or more homeruns and 90 or more RBI’s in a given season. He also batted .280 or higher in previous seasons. The 5-time All-star and 4-time Silver Slugger award winner achieved these feats for a reason; because he is the best second baseman in the National League. Don’t let last season fool you.

4. 1B Ryan Howard 2011 Predictions

.268 AVG., 37 HR, 122 RBI’s

Fastball high and inside, fastball low and outside, slider away; that is the formula for striking-out Ryan Howard, and has been a problem that he has yet to fix. Still, Howard remains one of the best power-hitters in baseball. But, he has seen his power numbers diminish. If you look at his last 5 seasons, you will see that his yearly-homerun total declines. It may be due to his inability to adapt to pitching, or the ability of the pitcher to adapt to Ryan Howard. But, if you really look at what is happening, nothing has changed. The formula stays the same, and you get outcomes such as this:

Nevertheless, I think Ryan will get back into the swing of things just a bit, hopefully making some plate-adjustments in his positioning. But, Ryan Howard is still Ryan Howard.

5. SS Jimmy Rollins 2011 Predictions

.281 AVG., 15 HR, 77 RBI’s, 37 SB

Hopefully I have as much success with predictions as Jimmy Rollins. Last season, he was flat-out terrible, but wasn’t healthy at all last season with an ankle injury that limited him to 88 games. But, even when healthy, Rollins hasn’t been able to replicate his MVP season. But, he is entering the final year of his contract, and you gotta think its on his mind.

Rollins, 32, has always been the trend-setter for the Phillies; as he goes, the Phillies go. In 2010, wasn’t the same and neither was the Phillies. In fact, last season was one of the poorest-seasons offensively for the Phillies, as it was for Rollins. I think because of this, that Rollins likely will not be the lead-off man for a team with such high expectations. He will need to earn that, and earn the contract that he wants at the end of the season. With all kinds of things motivating him, I believe Rollins will get his career back on track.

6. LF Raul Ibanez 2011 Predictions

.283 AVG., 26 HR, 83 RBI’s

Raul Ibanez had a fine season considering his age, but it was nowhere near as good as the 2009 season, when he belted 34 homeruns. But, he comes into this season with a high-level of excitement and a ton of motivation to exceed expectations. In a recent interview with Comcast Sportsnet, Raul is seen working out hard in preparation for this year. When asked if he feels pressure, he said, “pressure is a single mom, trying to work to jobs trying to feed a family.” He has a good attitude coming into this season, and I think he will exceed our expectations and be one of the surprise players of the year.

7. RF Ben Fransisco 2011 Predictions

.277 AVG., 23 HR, 79 RBI’s, 22 SB

Note above that I said Raul would be one of the surprises. Ben Fransisco will be the other.

Personally, I don’t believe that super-prospect Dominic Brown will make the team, considering his poor winter ball play and his 1st season with the Phillies. I don’t think he is ready, and I don’t think they want a Francisco-Gload platoon. So, I see Big Ben getting the start for the most part, and I think in the Phillies ballpark, he will excel as a starter. Remember, during the 2009 season with the club, he had a combined 15 homeruns between the Clevland Indians and the Phillies. Two years later, I think he is a much more matured player, and that he could make us forget about Werth relatively quickly.

There you have it. Stay tuned for more Spring Training updates.