Which Phillies Storyline Are You Following?

Now that baseball is back, every fan goes into spring training with a particular storyline he or she is most interested in. It may be the arrival of a hyped-up prospect, seeing a newly-acquired player (via free agency or trade), hoping for the rebound of a player who previously struggled, or wishing for the continued health of a recently-injured player. There’s a little of all of that in Clearwater, plenty on the menu for everyone. So what’s your big story? Check out some of the obvious storylines below, vote in the poll on the right, and expound in the comments below.

The Arrival of Domonic Brown

Early struggles, lack of use, and injuries each contributed to a disappointing Major League debut for Brown in 2010. But the rookie still has plenty of hype and expectations going forward. He is expected to platoon with Ben Francisco in right field, but there is the possibility he performs well enough in spring training to win the job outright. Brown still received incredibly high marks from all of the prospect gurus, finishing #4 on Jonathan Mayo’s top-50 and #3 in Keith Law’s top-100. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have Brown compiling a .280/.336/.467 triple-slash line (good for a 112 OPS+), results that should excite any Phillies fan.

Welcoming Back Cliff Lee

After some general managerial gymnastics by Ruben Amaro, who sent four prospects to Cleveland for Lee in July 2009, then traded him to Seattle for three prospects in December, the lefty wound up back with the Phillies. He was open about how he never wanted to leave Philadelphia, and even “left money on the table” to spurn the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers and return to Philadelphia. Lee is the fourth ace in the Phillies’ five-man rotation, easily the most fearsome in baseball.

This picture, via Todd Zolecki, says it all:

Jimmy Rollins‘ Future

The Phillies picked up Rollins’ $8.5 million option for 2011, but that means he becomes a free agent after the season. He will have spent 16 seasons with the organization, having been drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft, so he is essentially the Phillies’ Derek Jeter — someone who you couldn’t imagine ever wearing another team’s uniform. If Rollins has a bounce-back year and shows he can stay healthy, Amaro should have no problem extending his contract by another three years.  Despite low expectations, Rollins is still quite good and as cocky as ever.

The Closer Situation

Both Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson can become free agents after the season. Lidge has a $12.5 million club option that can be exercised or the Phillies can buy him out for $1.5 million. The Phillies have young some arms with closer-esque material, such as Justin De Fratus, but given their focus on the next few seasons, they may feel more comfortable with established veterans. It is likely that Amaro chooses between Lidge and Madson to close going forward.

Each has a checkered past. Lidge has had some very high highs and very low lows, while Madson has been an elite set-up guy with a perceived inability to pitch in high-leverage situations (which is, however, patently false). Given that Madson is younger, has endured fewer legitimate injuries (the broken toe is a freak injury), and that Scott Boras is his agent, the Phillies should expect to pay a lot of money to retain his services. Strangely enough, Lidge, will have trouble asking for more money despite his perfect 2008 season.

The #5 Merry-Go-Round

Over the winter, the Phillies were actively shopping Joe Blanton given their recent infusion of starting pitching talent. It was widely believed the Phillies would take next-to-nothing to rid themselves of Blanton’s contract, worth $8.5 million in each of the next two seasons. In his stead, Kyle Kendrick or Vance Worley would compete in spring training for the #5 spot.

Amaro had a change of heart, however, and decided that Blanton was worth keeping around and now there is absolutely no competition for starting rotation jobs. Kendrick and Worley will be auditioning for a mop-up role in the bullpen or a roster spot in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where they are the first line of defense in the event of an injury.

There is still the possibility that Blanton changes addresses by the July 31 trade deadline. Kendrick and Worley should not assume their chances of retaining a Major League job are slim, so spring training is still of great importance to them.

Which storyline has grabbed your attention? If there is one not listed, please share in the comments below.

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30 comments

  1. Brian

    February 22, 2011 08:38 AM

    Out of the ones you listed, it’s definitely Dom Brown for me. Can he claim the RF job? How much rope will Charlie/Ruben give him? I’m hoping he can bring a much needed spark to a veteran team.

    The major storyline for me, that you did not list is how will Utley & Howard bounce back from down seasons. Will Howard return to 40+ HR power? Was 2010 actually a season of decline, or were they both just slowed by injuries? Will Charlie give them a couple of more days off to keep them fresh? Personally, I think they both bounce back, but it will be something to follow especially early on.

  2. Mike

    February 22, 2011 09:06 AM

    I completely agree with Brian. Dom Brown’s development is important to watch, but for me Chase and Ryan’s health is the key to success for the Phillies this season. If the two of them can stay healthy and put up numbers around their career averages, then the lineup should be fine. If not, a heavy burden (not necessarily one they can’t handle) will be on the starting rotation.

  3. JB Allen

    February 22, 2011 10:01 AM

    Focusing on a specific player, I agree with Brian and Mike: Brown’s development is huge. But the storyline I’ll be following is the effects of aging. This is one old lineup, and some players never it past their early 30s.

  4. illrhyme

    February 22, 2011 10:17 AM

    first of all, what we need most is a bounce back year for chase and ryan.

  5. Nik

    February 22, 2011 10:30 AM

    1. Nobody getting inured.
    2. repeat #1.

  6. Ken

    February 22, 2011 10:31 AM

    Everything listed rates important in the overall scheme, but what’s perking my interest are how Matt Anderson fares after such a long exit from The Game, whether Rule 5 Mike Martinez makes the ballclab, or at least if they carry infield depth behind Valdez. I’m pretty fired up to see how DeFratus does Sunday against the Yanks.

    On Brad Lidge, we’ve seen this so many times before. Guy enters free agent year, the world is healed. Supposedly being in peak health for the first time in a while, he can work on conditioning, as opposed to rehabbing, setting the scense for a great exit year. Even his fastball might revisit closer to 95 than the 91 he peaked at last year. It’s an interesting story, particularly if you have short term memory, a prerequisitie of being a fan, and can escape some of ther anguish he introduced us to in 09 abnd H1 2010.

  7. awh

    February 22, 2011 11:32 AM

    JRoll is the one in which I’m most interested.

    Actually, Bill, I slightly disagree. I thin the FO will extend Rollins even if he has what for him is a sub-par offensive year. Why? Because he still plays GG calibre defense and there’s no one else in the system.

    I agree that RAJ should have no problem re-signing him if he posts something like .280/.338/.440. OTOH, if he posts the equivalent (or slightly above) of the 2010 NL average for SS – .266/.325/.388 – then his plus defense still makes him an above average player and worth retaining. Also, I would expect that his SLG would be higher than the 2010 NL average, as it was higher for 6 straight years before his injury riddled 2010. So, .266/.325/.410 will probably get him re-signed, IMHO.

    So I believe he’ll be re-signed regardless of what kind of season he has (unless he outright stinks), as he’s worth more to the Phillies than any other team (face of franchise, etc.). He’s just playing for the LENGTH and VALUE of that contract.

    If he posts .280/.338/.440 and scores 100 with 30 steals, what is he worth going forward? 3 yrs, 24 – 30MM? OTOH, if he posts .266/.325/.410, IMO they’ll try to re-sign him, but at a significantly lower number.

    If he’s having a good season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get extended during the year.

  8. Andrew

    February 22, 2011 11:34 AM

    If it has ANYTHING to do with the Phillies, I will follow that story! Now that we have, aruably, the best pitching rotation ever, I hope that Howard “finds his bat.” The Phillies have all the talent and coaching they need to win another World Series Title. And I, for one, will be watching and cheering from over 2,000 miles away. GO PHILLIES!!!!

  9. awh

    February 22, 2011 01:33 PM

    One other thing to keep in mind when thinking about Jimmy Rollins:

    The Red Sox can buy out 35 year old Marco Scutaro after the season, and be looking for another SS.

    Seems to me Reyes, Rollins and Hardy would top their list, with Reyes and Hardy the two younger options.

    Also, I wonder how much payroll is/will be an issue.

  10. hk

    February 22, 2011 02:35 PM

    awh,

    I agree that the FO will look to extend JRoll before he becomes a free agent. However, if he does get to free agency, I don’t see Boston bidding on him unless his 2011 season is so bad that he’s looking for a short-term deal to re-establish his value a la Adrian Beltre last year. This is because the Red Sox have Jed Lowrie, who might take the SS job from Scutaro as soon as this year, and their top prospect is Jose Iglesias, a 21 year old SS who Keith Law called the best defensive SS prospect he’s ever seen.

  11. Steve Kusheloff

    February 22, 2011 02:42 PM

    Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? You can show me all the statistics about Ryan Madson you want, but they won’t change the fact that he is not a closer. He’ll save a few, then blow one; save a few, then blow one. You can even tell by his body language. In the 8th inning, he’s very confident. It shows in his face. In the 9th he’s like a deer in the headlights.

  12. awh

    February 22, 2011 03:09 PM

    hk, thanks. Didn’t know.

  13. awh

    February 22, 2011 03:10 PM

    “.”He’ll save a few, then blow one; save a few, then blow one.”

    Steve, you just described every single closer in MLB.

    Do you know what the average percentage is for sucessfully converted saves in MLB?

  14. Josh B

    February 22, 2011 03:16 PM

    I didn’t realize Jimmy Rollins had 40 walks in 88 last year. Had he stayed healthy all last season he could have easily had a career high in BB. (Previous high of 58 BB in 137 games in ’08) Could Rollins’ approach finally be changing? Would this affect his value going forward, if he starts to walk at a higher rate?

  15. FanSince09

    February 22, 2011 03:31 PM

    Focusing on Brown’s development. He has that unfixably flawed stance, and if he doesn’t change it, he won’t last long in the majors. I think he gets half a season to prove himself before they make a deal for a long term, productive replacement for Jason Werth in RF.

    I’m also following how Hammels is going to adjust to the new rotation and if he’s able to stand not being one of the top 2 on the staff, plus pitching with a contract decision looming. The guy has bad mental makeup and I expect him to really crumble this year.

  16. hk

    February 22, 2011 04:17 PM

    @ Steve: Further to awh’s point, are you aware that a pitcher who comes into the game in the 8th with a lead of 3 runs or less and blows the lead gets credited with a blown save, even though in most cases that pitcher was not going to pitch the 9th and have a save opportunity? Over the past 5 years, Madson has blown 16 saves, but 6 of those blown saves came in the 8th innin, 2 came in the 7th inning and 1 came in the 6th inning. The ones in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings should really be considered blown holds (if we really have to give them a statistical category), but they have no place in the conversation if we are discussing Madson as a typical 21st century closer who only pitches the 9th inning.

  17. Scott G

    February 22, 2011 04:28 PM

    I love how the 9th inning is always the highest leverage. It totally justifies saving your best reliever for the last inning. I love lifeguards because they save lives. I think lifeguards would make the best closers because if they have the mental makeup to convert saves with lives on the line, pitching in the 9th inning of a baseball game seems like child’s play (a.k.a very low leverage).

    I also love cabbage.

  18. awh

    February 22, 2011 04:48 PM

    Steve, just to help you out, the percentage of successfully converted saves in MLB last season was 69%.

  19. Dan'IP'ed

    February 22, 2011 04:59 PM

    I have to agree with Fan, above, the spotlight is on Dom Brown. I disagree, though, that he should get a half season. We will know if he’s able to cut it in the majors after about 100 or so at bats. If not, we should probably look to get a vet like Magglio Ordonez and possibly some pen help from the Tigers, in case one of our starters goes down. Hopefully, the cheapness in not signing Werth won’t come back to bite us and waste what could be a great season. Thoughts?

  20. awh

    February 22, 2011 05:10 PM

    hk, Madson has 20 Saves. Extrapolating your data, that means he’s blown 7 of 27 save opportunities in the 9th inning.

    That’s a 74% success ratio, above the 2010 MLB average of 69%.

    (Hint: In 2009 it was 67%, in 2008 it was 64%).

    Steve, the perception you have of Madson closing games in the 9th inning is probably influenced by the fact that he has, as of yet, not been the regular closer. As a result, it’s possible (I don’t know the inner workings of your mind) that “your own eyes” tell you that Madson can’t close because your mind tends to emphasize the negative [like all true Philadelphians :)], especially for a guy who you don’t believe is predisposed for the role. It confirms what you already believe.

    A single failure or two is what your mind emphasizes, rather than the far greater number of successes that he has actually had.

    The simple fact is that Madson has been an above average 9th inning closer, regardless of what your eyes tell you or what your mind perceives.

  21. hk

    February 22, 2011 05:25 PM

    Either that or he heard it from Howard Eskin or Mike Missanelli and figured it had to be true if they said it.

  22. Fatalotti

    February 22, 2011 05:40 PM

    awh,

    The scary thing is that Madson has admitted to getting overamped for the 9th inning, which he feels has caused his performance to suffer. If he were able to get past that, he’d be more than an above average closer. He’d probably be an elite closer, saving something like 90-95% of games. This could easily be accomplished if he were given the role full time

    That’d be awesome.

  23. Chris

    February 22, 2011 06:47 PM

    Definitely agree on Dom Brown’s stance. His hands need to be lower, needs to be able to “throw his hands at the ball”…which is almost impossible to do effectively against MLB pitching when they’re way up high like that. They’ll work him away and then come in, and repeat, if he keeps those hands up that high. Too much wasted time when you onlny get .4 seconds to decide where hit a fastball.

  24. Steven

    February 22, 2011 07:30 PM

    Chris is right, Brown shouldnt hold his hands high as if police officers were aiming at him with their guns lol…

  25. Fatalotti

    February 22, 2011 07:56 PM

    Bill, it may be ex post facto, but given that he went Rambo on a chair after a blow save, I’d say the evidence does shade a bit towards his getting overamped for save situations.

    Just my opinion, though.

  26. Tom

    February 22, 2011 11:08 PM

    The fact that people STILL argue/agree/etc with FanSince09 after all this time is amusing to me.

  27. sr. phightans

    February 23, 2011 02:05 PM

    Now that Comcast rules the world, we get to watch EVERY game,right? =D

  28. B-Five

    February 24, 2011 10:08 AM

    Reference to all the posts about Dom Brown: He has worked in the off season and has lowered his hands in his stance. About Ben: It also seems that Ben Fransisco is a lot better than most people realize. I’d like to see Chad Durbin back but it might seem that there is no room for him in the pen. I wouldn’t worry about too much. The Phillies are going to be great. There are plenty of guys to fill any holes due to injuries if that happens from the bench and in the minors…. Don’t worry, Be Happy! Ps: Expect C.C. to with the Phils next year!! LoL to The Yanks…. Good luck trying to keep C. C.

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