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.