Philadelphia Phillies Season Preview

As we work towards Opening Day, John Pielli will be previewing each team based on past performance, offseason moves, minor league system, and overall outlook for 2015. Today: the Philadelphia Phillies.

If you have followed my predictions of the Philadelphia Phillies over the past two seasons, you will see that I have had more faith in the organization than most. Two years ago, I thought they were good enough to make it to the postseason, which of course, they didn’t. Last year, I saw how they could be a middle of the pack team and maybe overachieve; that did not happen either. I have a very hard time believing in a team to perform immediately whose message is “we have to rebuild.” See: 2011 Mets, 2010 Astros, 2013 Marlins.

The Phillies’ major moves this offseason were the trades of SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Marlon Byrd and LHP Antonio Bastardo. The team will continue to look to subtract before it will look to add, which summarizes the thoughts of their 2015 season. Before the middle of this season (and maybe earlier), the team will likely have traded RHP Jonathan Papelbon, LHP Cliff Lee, 1B Ryan Howard and maybe even LHP Cole Hamels. The major additions for the Phillies have been RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Chad Billingsley and pitchers Ben Lively, Zach Eflin and Tom Windle (all three of whom were acquired in the Rollins and Byrd deals).

The 2014 Phillies did not have a ton of hope going into the season. However, with the veteran presence of proven winners Rollins, Chase Utley, Howard, Lee, and Hamels, there was a thought that 2014 could provide a last competitive rush. The injury to Lee (4-5, 3.65, 13 starts) was a dagger that the organization could have done without. What was even worse was what happened to the offense. The talk coming into the season was how this team could overachieve if the likes of Utley, Howard, Ben Revere, and Domonic Brown could all stay healthy. Well… they did and it didn’t make much of a difference. The Phillies finished last in the NL East with a record of 73-89 in the first full season for manager Ryne Sandberg.

The pitching staff will look a lot different in 2015 and could look even more different if the Phillies decide to make a trade involving Hamels and/ or Lee. The pitcher that led the Phillies in innings pitched, starts, and batters faced last season was A.J. Burnett (8-18, 4.59), but he is back in Pittsburgh. Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 4.61) left as a free agent to join the Colorado Rockies. Hamels (9-9, 2.46 in 30 starts) is by far the one constant the Phillies can rely on in their rotation for 2015. I also think it would be silly if the Phillies traded Hamels for anything less than something comparable to Jackie Bradley Jr. AND Xander Bogaerts or Wil Myers AND Andrew Cashner. You can also make a case that the Phillies would be fine keeping their ace during their rebuild. After Hamels and Lee, the Phillies are expected to use two bright spots in the second half of their 2014 season. RHP David Buchanan (6-8, 3.75 in 20 starts) and veteran Jerome Williams (6-7, 4.77 in 37 games, 11 starts for three teams) both pitched very well and are expected to return to the rotation. Williams was 4-2, 2.83 in his 9 starts with the Phillies. Harang (12-12, 3.57, 33 starts for Atlanta) is the favorite to win the fifth spot in the rotation with Billingsley coming off Tommy John surgery to give Harang, Williams, and Buchanan a push. Miguel Gonzalez (6.75 ERA in 6 games) and Jonathan Pettibone (only 2 starts in 2014 after making 18 for the Phillies in 2013) should also be in the mix and will be the first to join the rotation of a trade is made involving a starting pitcher. Non-roster invitees Kevin Slowey and Jeanmar Gomez will be in Clearwater as well.

The bullpen is most certainly looking towards the passing of the guard. It is a matter of time before disgruntled closer Papelbon (2-3, 2.04, 39 saves in 66 games) is traded. That will open up the door for Ken “100 miles” Giles (3-1, 1.18 in 44 games, 64 Ks in under 45 IP) to become the closer. In the meantime, they do have a good mix of relievers with Jake Diekman (5-5, 3.80, 100 Ks in 71 IP), Justin De Fratus (3-1, 2.39 in 54 games), and Luis Garcia (1-0, 6.43 in 13 games). Expect more out of the 28-year-old Garcia, who should be very good with additional responsibility. He pitched to a under 1.00 ERA in his two years in AAA. LHP Mario Hollands (2-2, 4.40 in 50 games) will try to become that prototypical lefty-on-lefty specialist with RHPs Hector Neris and Ethan Martin trying to make spots in the pen.

With the exceptions of Rollins and Byrd leaving via trade, little is expected to change in the Phillies lineup. However, Rollins’ leadership and Byrd’s 2014 numbers (.264, 25, 85) will be tough to replace. Freddy Galvis (.176, 4, 12 in 43 games) gets his shot to play SS everyday. Offensively, he is better than his career offensive numbers but he really has to show it this season or he will be replaced. The problem is that the Phillies really lack a viable replacement should Galvis struggle. Cesar Hernandez (.237, 1, 4 in 66 games) is next on the depth chart followed by NRI Chase d’Arnaud (.232 in 149 MLB ABs). Veteran Grady Sizemore (.233, 5, 27 in 112 games for Boston and Philadelphia last season) inherits the starting LF job with Darin Ruf (.235, 3, 8 in 52 games) and Kelly Dugan perhaps getting a shot to play.

Ruf, Dugan and Maikel Franco (.179 in 56 ABs) will all benefit if Howard (.223, 23, 95) is traded. Howard was healthy and hit for some power, but clearly was nowhere near the dominant offensive player he was during the Phillies’ NL East winning streak. Utley had a very good 2014 season (.270, 11, 78) and if he continues to stay healthy, he is expected to duplicate his career averages. Revere (.306, 2, 28, 49 SB) was solid for the team as well. If the Phillies want to surprise anybody this season, they need a big bounce back season from Brown (.235, 10, 63), who will be back in RF after playing LF in 2014. The Phillies need him to become a power guy once again, but it doesn’t seem likely for him to duplicate his 27 HR 2013 season. The Phillies lineup should look something like this: Revere CF, Galvis SS, Utley 2B, Howard 1B, Sizemore/Ruf LF, Brown RF, Cody Asche (.252, 10, 46), Carlos Ruiz (.252, 6, 31). The fact that the Phillies can have as many as 6 left handed hitters in their lineup adds some value to guys like Ruf and Franco. Journeymen RH hitters Russ Canzler and Chris Nelson could be just as valuable if used the right way. Cameron Rupp is expected to be the backup catcher with Koyie Hill in camp to compete.

The Phillies may have the answer at SS down the road with 2013 1st round pick J.P. Crawford. Roman Quinn (who I saw play a couple years ago at Low-A Lakewood) looks like a decent option down the road. He is a switch hitter who has excellent speed. Neither will be up this season. LHP Jesse Biddle had a down season in 2014 in AA, but is certainly worth watching as the season goes on. Lively, picked up in the Reds trade for Byrd, is the one to watch as I think he can be a solid 3-4 starter in the Phillies rotation for years to come. 2014 1st round pick Aaron Nola rose through the Phillies system last year and is expected to be better than Lively.

The problem I have with the 2015 Phillies is the quit-and-rebuild approach that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. seems to be implementing. It’s great for the future, but it is a sign that the Phillies will punt the 2015 season away. Even if guys like Howard and Lee have very good seasons, it is likely the Phillies would rather trade them than make a run for a wild card spot. 2015 will be as bad as it will get for the Phillies, 65-97 (under 68 1/2), last place in the NL East division.

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