The luxuries the Philadelphia Phillies have been afforded during their most recent spring trainings are no more.
With their aging roster, with the injuries that afflicted three of their star players a season ago and with all the question marks in the outfield, on the bench and in the bullpen, this team will have its hands full from Day 1 of workouts, which for pitchers and catchers is Wednesday at the Carpenter Complex in Clearwater, Fla.
The Phillies, who finished 17 games in back of the National League East champion Washington Nationals and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, find themselves without the "team to beat" billing for the first time in years.
That suits general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. just fine.
"I'd like to be an underdog," he said during the offseason. "We were the favorites to win last year and we didn't do so well. Maybe the tides will turn."
Better make that a big "maybe."
While the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals opened their checkbooks and made splashy free-agent signings and trades over the winter (i.e. the Upton brothers in Atlanta and Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano in D.C.), the Phillies acquired players with issues ranging from an arrest to serious offseason surgery to someone who has yet to hit a big-league home run.
Newly acquired Phillies outfielder Delmon Young was arrested and charged with a hate crime last year and will likely start the season on the disabled list as he recovers from microfracture surgery on his right ankle. Not to mention, he hasn't played right field, the position Amaro hopes he will play, since 2007.
Reliever Mike Adams, targeted as the Phillies' eighth-inning man (a spot in the bullpen that proved disastrous last year — they had an eighth-inning ERA of 4.67, third-worst in the National League), had offseason surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. It's the same surgery Cardinals star pitcher Chris Carpenter underwent last July, and just recently he all but announced his retirement because he's still having problems following the risky surgery.
John Lannan, likely the team's fifth starter, made more starts in Triple-A (24) a season ago than he did for the Nats (six). His 4.13 ERA with Washington didn't get him on their postseason roster.
Center fielder Ben Revere has yet to hit a home run in 1,034 major league at-bats and at least one front office staffer has admitted that his arm is below average. But Revere was a bargain. He made less than $500,000 with the Twins a season ago and isn't eligible for salary arbitration until after 2014. He can't become a free agent until after 2018.
Third baseman Michael Young was acquired for his bat, not his glove, although neither have been particularly enthralling as of late.
For his career, he has just a .958 fielding percentage (358 games). He's unarguably a step down defensively from Phillies previous third baseman Placido Polanco, who owns the best career fielding percentage in baseball history at third base (.983). Making matters more concerning is that Young, 36, hasn't been a full-time third baseman since 2010. The last two years combined he's played only 65 games there.
Plus, Young had his lowest batting average (.277) and fewest RBIs (67) last season since he hit .262 and drove in only 62 runs in 2002, his second full year in the big leagues.
"We needed a center fielder, we wanted to add some depth to our bullpen and we wanted to get a third baseman and add some depth to our outfield," Amaro said. "We did those things. How effective they'll end up being? The proof is in the pudding and how they play.
"If the guys that we pay to play don't play, then we'll be in trouble. If they do and we think they are much healthier than they were coming into last spring, then we'll be OK."
Let's take a deeper look at other issues looming as spring training gets under way:
All reports from Amaro so far are positive. Halladay, out for about seven weeks with a right lat strain last year, has made some changes to his mechanics and offseason conditioning. The results? So far, so good. He has already thrown several bullpen sessions, which pitching coach Rich Dubee has watched and found encouraging.
Utley, who hasn't played in a spring training game since 2010 and missed the first 46 regular-season games in 2011 and the first 76 in 2012 because of knee issues, has been closely monitored by head trainer Scott Sheridan.
"Utley sent me a couple emails and the last one was at Christmas and he said, 'Looks like you're going to have a healthy second baseman,' " manager Charlie Manuel said in late January. "The other day Sheridan had a DVD of him working out and he really looked good. Looked really strong in his legs."
Amaro has a good vibe about Utley, but he still isn't completely convinced that a full season and spring training are feasible.
"When a guy doesn't play full seasons in the two years prior you have to be a little concerned," he said. "But we think Chase has learned and we have learned to manage whatever he's got going on in his knees pretty well. I think he's going to be fine. But you just never know."
Howard missed more time than anyone expected last year after complications, mostly from an infection, stemming from his Achilles tendon surgery. It's worth noting that although he wasn't 100 percent when he returned, the Phillies fared much better once he and Utley were back.
Prior to July 6 (Howard returned July 6 and Utley came back June 27), the Phillies were 37-47. But from July 6 on, they were 44-33. Had those two been healthy all season and had the Phils kept up that pace, they would have finished 93-69, which would have easily given the Phillies the second wild card spot.
"Typically it takes a full year to gain your full strength capacity with an injury like that, and I think he's getting closer to that," Amaro said. "We've been monitoring him and he's seems to be doing well."
2.How will the bullpen shape up?
If this crew picks up where it left off last year, expect good things. After posting a 4.76 ERA and a .258 BAA before the All-Star break, from July 13 on the relievers lowered their collective ERA to 2.89 and had a BAA of only .200. They struck out 25 more hitters in 20 1/3 fewer innings and had a 13-11 record (they were 9-16 in the first half).
There's certain to be a mix of experience and youth. Jonathan Papelbon, Adams, Antonio Bastardo and Chad Durbin are givens. The remaining three spots will likely be between Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont and Justin De Fratus. If B.J. Rosenberg, Mike Stutes and/or Raul Valdes have impressive springs, they could be in the running as well.
"Our bullpen might be a little young yet, but by a month or six weeks, I think our bullpen is going to be strong," Manuel said. "I'm more excited about our bullpen probably than ever."
3.How will the corner outfield spots pan out?
To be blunt, this has the potential to be ugly, especially when it comes to the quality of defense out there. Delmon Young is the front-runner to be the right fielder, but he could start the year on the disabled list. That leaves Laynce Nix, John Mayberry Jr., Dom Brown and Darin Ruf in the mix to play right field (early on) and left field.
"My concern right now would probably be defense in the outfield," Manuel said. "When we get to spring training, we will be doing a lot of work on our defense and fundamentals. We've got to definitely get better with the routes we run. But if we catch balls we're supposed to catch and make plays we're supposed to, I think we will be all right."
At first glance, Ruf seems like the most likely candidate to be the odd man out because he still has options left. But Manuel hasn't counted Ruf out yet.
"We've got a situation in our outfield that's going to be good," Manuel said. "Especially Ruf can make it interesting. When I was in Cleveland, I traded for Ruben [Amaro] one year and we had Wayne Kirby. When we made the trade, John Hart and I thought Kirby would be platooning in right field, but a guy named Manny Ramirez came by and he was [a 22-year-old] rookie. So, see what I'm talking about with Ruf? Ruf might be ready."
4.Manuel was disappointed in his team's energy last year. Will changes to the roster help in that department?
The manager certainly thinks so. He praised Michael Young's dedication and work ethic and has Revere pegged as someone who will add life.
"What creates energy is how good we can be in the game, how aggressive we are and how we play and then our fans have more energy," Manuel said. "That right there is what we kind of missed. But I think some of the guys, like Ben Revere, he's got a chance to be an energy player. [And] the reason I like Michael Young … is he's got some Chase in him and the way he looks at the game and the way he wants to play the game. That gives us another guy in there that's going to be a front-line baseball guy."
He summed it up by saying, "When [Jimmy] Rollins is playing like Rollins, he's an energy player. There's no reason in the world we can't have more get up and go in us."
5.Who will be the back-up infielders?
Some of this depends on how the outfield takes shape, but don't be surprised if Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis are both on the Opening Day roster. Amaro views Frandsen as an insurance policy primarily at third base and second base. He likes Galvis as a backup at shortstop. And since Manuel is on the record now — several times — saying he plans on starting Rollins about 140 games, that's when he would insert Galvis.
"Somewhere along the line Galvis has to get some at-bats, enough where we can keep him at the major league level," Manuel said. "I've talked to Ruben and I'm sure he feels the same way I do."