Monday, February 11, 2008

Neither The Staff Nor Stuff Of Legends

The Phillies are not currently the team to beat in the NL East, at least not as currently constituted. Not even close. Their pitching staff is far too mediocre for them to be considered a playoff team and the names being bandied about as possible additions will do nothing to change that picture.

Kyle Lohse, a long-shot to be added, is a sub-500 career pitcher who gives up more than 4.5 runs per nine innings. Even my modest math skills tell me he is going to lose more than he is going to win. It's a testament to how thin the pickings are that he is still on the radar screen. Kris Benson is even greater testament to the bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings still looking for work. Another career sub-500 pitcher, he carries the added liability that he has had serious health problems. The fellows being counted on to hold down the middle of the starting rotation include the oldest man in baseball, still active division, a youngster who wasn't being counted on last season at all but who filled in on a long-term emergency basis, and quite well, and another career sub-500 pitcher who may or may not have had shoulder miseries last year but certainly had performance ones. Oh, and the other starters are an ace who still hasn't proved he is healthy enough to go a full season without a breakdown along the way, and a fiery former closer who was a former starter who has reluctantly returned to the rotation. Neither the staff nor stuff of legends.

The bullpen isn't much better, with the closer a fellow who has had both psychological (confidence) and physical ailments and a setup man who has had major physical ailments for as long as anyone around here can remember.

* * * * * * * *

The Colorado Rockies keep signing their young stars to either long-term contracts or lucrative raises and there hasn't been any of the tension the Phillies are experiencing with Ryan Howard. Only time will tell if they were shrewd in signing these players but one has to be impressed with how all parties have handled negotiations.

The Phils' recent history with regard to signing core players has been mixed both in terms of the negotiations and the results. Pat Burrell, of course, is the most infamous recent case. A mere year after signing his long-term deal everyone in town regretted the decision, perhaps including Burrell. Lately, the few noises he's made about his tenure in Philadelphia have been surprisingly positive for a player about whom no one is neutral.

Jim Thome, gone two years now, is still costing the Phils money. He was the biggest free agent signing in Phillies history and lasted only a few years. Mike Lieberthal's deal quietly dragged down the budget until it expired a year ago. Chase Utley is only in the second year of his long-term deal and given how he has performed one wonders how much more money he would command if he were in negotiations today. Jimmy Rollins, believe it or not, is entering the third year of his four year deal (with an option for a fifth year). Given Rollins' recent history and value to the club, his $40 million contract (which computed out to $46 million in the end) was and remains a veritable bargain. If J-Roll were coming up for a renewal after last season, he would command a far larger piece of the pie to sign him and keep him happy. Another season like last year's MVP campaign and the Phils will almost surely be forced to extend his contract. Howard is arguably the face of the franchise if by that we mean the best-known player to fans around the country. Utley is the player many would choose if building a team. Rollins, however, remains the heart and soul of the franchise. He's fun to watch and listen to and he's a terrific all-around player.


David said...

I don't share your skepticism about the Phillies this time around, at least not right at this point. Whether or not they are the 'team to beat', they have a lot going for them, and it's hard to make a convincing argument that either New York or Atlanta, formidable though they'll be, have any more going for them.

Even though the Phillies went into spring training last year with six legit starting pitching candidates, I feel as though they've done more to improve the overall depth of both the pitching staff and roster in general. Though I would still have liked to see one more established middle reliever brought in, I'd have to say Pat Gillick has likely had his strongest off-season to date.

This isn't to necessarily say I like the Phils to win anything, but there's no doubt that they very well *could*. I don't usually fall prey to springtime optimism, but this year's edition has me less cautious about any season I can remember for over a decade. Even in the recent past, as the team would stock its roster with stars, most claimed they were 'poised', whereas I still sensed a latent tentativeness. But I think this year will be a fun one.

Tom Goodman said...

Fun? Yes, at least on offense. They have speed, power and moxie. They also have some legitimate star power. But oh, that pitching staff. I just don't see them holding down most clubs.

Bri said...

Just score more runs baby. Race to 100 wins. All starts tomorrow