Competition awaits as Phillies head south

Manuel is excited about the bullpen, but has concerns about his defense in the outfield.

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:

What is the health status of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay?

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.

Advertisement