Philadelphia, PA – The fall from the top came hard and fast for the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies, but the club hopes it made the right moves this winter to delay a full-blown rebuild mode.
A franchise-record 102 wins in 2011 brought a fifth straight National League East title, but the Phillies failed to advance out of the first round of the playoffs just three years removed from a World Series title.
Things went south in a hurry for the aging Phillies, who saw the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay all slowed by injuries last season, contributing to the club being 14 games under .500 by mid-July.
That led to the Phils becoming sellers before and after the trade deadline, dealing outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence as well as starter Joe Blanton to the NL West in separate trades. And though the club rebounded to finish at .500, the writing appeared to be on the wall that the window was closing.
The Phillies went into the offsesaon with a handful of needs, but general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was able to fill all of his holes without spending a ton of money on the likes of a Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton or Nick Swisher (though they did make a run at Upton).
Amaro got creative by trading away young starters Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins for 24-year-old center fielder Ben Revere. And with free agency bare of any major upgrades at third base, Amaro sent a pair of relievers to the Texas Rangers for veteran Michael Young to replace Placido Polanco at the hot corner.
The rest of the holes were filled through free agency, with reliever Mike Adams signed to fix the team's eighth-inning troubles and outfielder Delmon Young brought in to fill the void in right field. Former Washington Nationals lefty John Lannan is expected to complete a talented rotation that still features Halladay, Cliff Lee and first-time Opening Day starter Cole Hamels.
On top of that, the Phillies are hoping that Howard and Utley can remain healthy all season, Domonic Brown can finally full fill his potential and closer Jonathan Papelbon can duplicate his 2012 success.
Philadelphia will need all of that to break its way to rise back to the top of a talented NL East.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Phillies, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (81-81) - Third Place (NL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Michael Young (3B), Ben Revere (OF), Mike Adams (RHP), John Lannan (LHP), Delmon Young (OF), Chad Durbin (RHP), Ender Inciarte (OF)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Vance Worley (RHP), Placido Polanco (3B), Juan Pierre (OF), Brian Schneider (C), Josh Lindblom (RHP), Nate Schierholtz (OF), Ty Wigginton (INF/OF), Jose Contreras (RHP), David Herndon (RHP)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Jimmy Rollins (SS), Michael Young (3B), Chase Utley (2B), Ryan Howard (1B), Delmon Young (RF), Carlos Ruiz (C), Domonic Brown (LF), Ben Revere (CF)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Cole Hamels (LHP), Roy Halladay (RHP), Cliff Lee (LHP), Kyle Kendrick (RHP), John Lannan (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Jonathan Papelbon (RHP)
MANAGER: Charlie Manuel
WILL THE PHILLIES STAY HEALTHY?
The Phillies began last season without Howard and Utley, while Halladay, Lee, Laynce Nix, Worley, Polanco and Carlos Ruiz all spent time on the DL.
Howard didn't return until July 6 from left Achilles surgery suffered on the last at-bat of the 2011 playoffs and Utley's knee issues kept him on the shelf until late June. Halladay missed almost two months, Polanco was in and out of the lineup and Ruiz lost a month of his All-Star campaign.
All teams deal with injuries, but the Phils were hindered from the start and would love to avoid a repeat. That seems to be the case as Howard is well- removed from his surgery and Utley participated in Spring Training games for the first time since 2010. Halladay has struggled during the preseason, but insists he is healthy.
While injuries are sure to creep up, Philadelphia at least won't be behind the eight-ball before Opening Day, though Ruiz will miss the first 25 games after testing positive for Adderall.
Also, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (34), Howard (33), Utley (34) and Young (36) make up an aging infield, Lee is only a year younger than the 35-year Halladay and the 34-year-old Adams did undergo surgery in October to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, which is caused by a rib pushing down on a nerve and results in a numbing sensation.
The Phillies know their window is closing, but a healthy squad in March has lifted some hopes.
CAN THE BULLPEN GET A LEAD TO PAPELBON
The Phillies blew 19 saves in 2012, but only four of those were by Papelbon, who was a solid 5-6 with a 2.44 earned run average and 38 saves in the first season of a four-year, $50 million deal.
It was the bridge to Papelbon that struggled. Philadelphia had a collective 4.67 ERA in the eighth inning and blew 13 leads in that frame a season ago.
Left-hander Antonio Bastardo and righties Michael Schwimer, Chad Qualls and Jose Contreras all struggled. Qualls was designated for assignment in early July, Contreras didn't pitch after June 1 and Schwimer is no longer with the club.
The Phillies are counting on Bastardo bouncing back and serving as the primary lefty, but Adams was brought in to fill the eighth-inning role. It is something that the eight-year vet has done well in his career, posting a lifetime 2.28 ERA. The bulk of that work has come in the eighth inning, where he has a career ERA of 1.82.
Veteran right-hander Chad Durbin, part of the '08 championship club, was also brought back this offseason.
HOW WILL THE REST OF THE NEW FACES FIT IN?
The most interesting pickup was Michael Young, who is in the final season of a five-year deal signed with the Rangers and is entering the twilight of his career.
Even on a down year, Young hit .277 but had just eight homers and 67 runs batted in over 156 games. He waived his no-trade clause to join the Phillies, having had his playing time with the Texas decrease over the past few seasons.
Young moved from shortstop to third base to utility man, seeing the majority of his at-bats as a designated hitter. He also played 41 games at first base and another 25 at third, where he last played full time in 2010. Not only will the Phillies hope his offense bounces back a little, but there is the chance he struggles at third.
Revere is more of a long-term piece and will provide hustle and a spark to the order. He played in a career-high 124 games in 2012 with the Twins, batting a personal-best .294 with 13 doubles, six triples, 40 stolen bases and 32 RBI. He has next to zero power, but if he learns to draw some walks he could be Rollins' eventual replacement at the leadoff spot.
Philadelphia entered the offseason with both left and right field open for the likes of Brown, Nix, Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr. That left a lot of questions at the corner spots, but the Phils solved one by signing reigning ALCS MVP Delmon Young to a one-year deal.
Young hit .313 with three homers and nine RBI in Detroit's four-game sweep of the New York Yankees after posting a .267 average with 18 homers and 74 RBI over 151 regular-season contests for the Tigers in 2012.
Like Michael Young, Delmon spent most of the season at the DH spot, but the Phils feel comfortable putting him in right field. He did have right ankle surgery in November and the club hopes he will be back by May 1 at the latest.
X-FACTOR: DOMONIC BROWN
With not a lot of talented youth on the roster, the Phillies desperately need Brown to find his game.
Once regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, the 25-year-old has hit just .236 at the major league level and has failed on a few occasions to lock down a roster spot. He didn't do himself many favors in 56 games last season, hitting .235 with five homers and 26 RBI.
Injuries have also prevented the slugger from getting extended looks at the major league level.
With Ruf having exciting power but very limited experience, and Mayberry and Nix not actually fit to play everyday, Brown grabbing a hold of a starting spot and forcing manager Charlie Manuel to rethink a platoon situation in left field would do wonders for the Phillies.
After dominating the NL East for the past five seasons, the Phillies find themselves under the radar and in the shadows of the Atlanta Braves and reigning division-champion Washington Nationals. That could help the franchise, which has sacrificed youth over the past few seasons to stay competitive and could see its veterans thrive with less pressure. But that is not to say Philadelphia can't surprise people this season. Howard and Utley look healthy and the club made solid offseason moves. Mix in a deep rotation and dominating closer and the ingredients are still there to make a run. Health, though, could be the one thing that holds this club back.