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Phillies Spring Training 2014: Early Thoughts and Observations

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I’ve been laying pretty low in regards to my Phillies posts over the last several months. To be honest, part of it is boredom with this Phillies team, part of it is sheer indifference, part of it is not really knowing what to say about this team until the time came to play ball again.

 

I’ll unveil more thoughts in the next few weeks. This rounds everything out for now.

 

What’s really the deal with Cole Hamels?  The news that Hamels would be unavailable for the start of the 2014 season is not what we wanted to hear as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week. This reminds me of the time in 1992, when starter Jose DeJesus was injured before the season even started. Then Tommy Greene followed, then Lenny Dykstra broke his wrist on the second pitch of that season and a plethora of injuries plagued the team on the way to 92 losses. Now granted, there’s an overwhelming sense of paranoia when it comes to the Phillies’ brass discussing player injuries (see: Ruben Amaro and Chase Utley)

 

Hamels has battled elbow and shoulder issues on and off throughout his career. He’s entering his ninth major league season and recently turned 30 years of age. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s an aging veteran, but he’s not exactly a youngster, either. The fact that the team and Hamels are taking necessary precautions is the best thing they can do. Maybe it is what it is and nothing more. You just hope this isn’t a rather ominous sign of things to come this year and Hamels never gets on track. Realistically, this team needs all the breaks it can get if they’re going to win at least 80 games.

 

 Signing A.J. Burnett IS a good move, for several reasons-  Is A.J. Burnett the kind of pitcher you rest your postseason hopes on? Not a chance, but that’s not why the Phillies signed him. Truthfully, I don’t know if this deal gets done if Hamels is healthy, and we’ll never know for sure. I do find it odd that the Phillies landed Burnett right when the team announced Hamels’ status. Either way, Burnett is another veteran now in your rotation to complement Lee and Hamels whenever he returns. He’s not going to go 18-11, more like 12-11, but he’s a lot better than Chad Gaudin, who was promptly released the moment he failed his physical.Gonzalez photo: Kim Klement

 

Just how good (or bad) is Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez? Last summer, the Phillies offered Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, a Cuban defector, a $48 million dollar deal that was suddenly reduced to $12 as a result of physical issues. Truth be told, nobody knows just what the Phillies have in this guy. Gonzalez could start, pitch in relief, or open the season in Triple-A. This is probably another reason the Phillies decided that signing A.J. Burnett would be advantageous. I honestly could see this move blowing up completely in the Phillies’ faces just as easily as the probability of Gonzalez becoming the unsung hero of the rotation. You just don’t know. At all. To be

continued…

  

As Ryan Howard goes, so does the Phillies offense- Ryan Howard might be the biggest question mark of the Phillies season. The days of 44 home runs and 140 RBIs are over, but 33 home runs and 105 RBIs would gladly be accepted. Having Howard in the middle of your lineup automatically makes the team better if he can produce. People can rag on him all they want, but the fact is, the Phillies’ record is less than spectacular when Howard misses time. He’s missed less than half the team’s games over the last two seasons. Howard says he feels good going into spring training, but then again, he felt good last spring. Despite his injury setbacks over the last two years, Ryne Sandberg is calling him to task. If Howard can’t hit lefties this season or overall fails to produce, the Phillies will have a player they owe $85 to over the next two seasons sharing time with Darin Ruf. That’s not a good scenario.

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It wouldn’t hurt to bring back Ryan Madson- Madson hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. He’s been with two organizations since then. If Jonathan Papelbon is as ineffective or worse than he was last year, the Phillies are in big trouble, and Madson has proven he is a big league closer. Chances are you might be able to get Madson on the cheap. However, the reason why Madson returning is highly unlikely because Scott Boras is his agent, and the Phillies historically do not fare well with him in negotiations.

 

Ryne Sandberg means business- Ryne Sandberg gave us a sneak peek as to how he was going to run things during the final weeks of the 2013 season. The team played better, rules were established, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge any of his players. With Larry Bowa rejoining the team as Sandberg’s right-hand man, you can easily see a bad cop/not as bad of a cop tandem. Bowa is one of the best coaches in the game, and it will be interesting to see him reunited with Jimmy Rollins- who is also a question mark going into 2014.

 

Times are changing- This era of Phillies baseball is approaching its twilight in several aspects. While the team is trying to squeeze one final run out of the core that brought the city a championship, there’s changes in the broadcast booth as well. I feel bad when people diss Chris Wheeler. I know some didn’t care for his broadcasting style, but the man dedicated over 40 years of his life to the Philadelphia Phillies, and then became a victim of the corporate machine. Coming from someone who once lost his livelihood to corporate America and almost lost this site to corporate America, that stinks. I really thought Wheels had a lifetime pass here. He got a bum rap for what transpired with Harry Kalas, which further alienated him with a lot of the fan base. I’m not going to get into those details and I’m certainly not going to take a shot at Harry Kalas, but Wheels couldn’t win no matter what really happened. While Sarge wasn’t here as long as Wheels was behind the microphone, both guys were extremely generous and more than helpful contributing to A Snowball’s Chance, and for that I will be forever grateful.

  Fregosi photo: stlouis.cbslocal.com

Alumni from this era are returning in prominent roles- I’m not sure how Matt Stairs or Jamie Moyer will fare complementing Tom McCarthy in the broadcast booth, but I must admit, it’s great to see part of the 2008 team represented within the organization. Enough time has passed and players are retiring, so you will see this more and more (who am I kidding? Stairs and Moyer were in their forties during that season!).

Moreover, it’s great to see Brad Lidge down in Florida, and even though Roy Halladay wasn’t part of that team, he made enough of an impression on the Phillies while he was here to where he was invited to spring training as an instructor. While Dave Hollins didn’t play as prominent of a role historically as Stairs, Moyer, Lidge or Halladay, he was a member of arguably the most beloved Phillies team of all-time in 1993. The same goes for Larry Andersen, the only player who was on both the 1983 and 1993 Phillies pennant winners. And last but certainly not least, Charlie Manuel is back with the Phillies- where he rightfully belongs until the day he leaves the game of baseball. 

Jim Fregosi- The news finally broke early this morning that the 1993 Phillies skipper had passed away after a series of strokes last week. I grew up watching predominately crappy Phillies teams. That all changed in 1993, and Jim Fregosi was the man at the helm. During the times I bat boyed for the team, he was extremely generous and made me feel welcome from the minute I stepped in the clubhouse. Yet another member of my favorite team of all-time is now gone, but the memories live on forever. My sincerest condolences to his friends and family. It’s a sad day for Phillies fans.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Gonzalez photo: Kim Klement

Fregosi photo: stlouis.cbslocal.com