HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Hello everyone from Philadelphia… the “Voice of Summer” has returned for another great season of baseball coverage, both thought provoking and fun.

The last time I spoke with all of you was after the World Series when my hometown Phillies lost to the Yankees in the Fall Classic. It certainly wasn’t the ending to the season that Phils fans were hoping for. And when a team is that close to being a repeat champ, the fans WANT it that much more.
But we have had some interesting revelations in the off-season… Ryan Howard saying that maybe the team did rest on their laurels a little bit during last season, Brad Lidge recently admitting that his knee was hurt and that he didn’t tell the team that it was actually causing him a problem.
Funny thing is that the fans knew that both of those statements were actually true before the players came out and said it. Someday, players in all sports are going to figure it out. In Philadelphia (and in many cities in pro sports), the fans are a lot smarter than you think and can see through the uh, well… horse manure. Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb… TAKE NOTE!!!
But as we are under 30 days to the four best words in the sport (Pitchers and Catchers Report), it is time to take stock of the off-season for some of the teams that many of you die-hards out there follow.
I will post one review a day as we get ready for Spring Training to get started, and we will start with the National League East, and, more locally important, the Phillies.
Additions
RHP Roy Halladay
INF Placido Polanco
RHP Danys Baez
C Brian Schneider
UTIL Ross Gload
INF Juan Castro
Losses
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Pedro Martinez
3B Pedro Feliz
RHP Brett Myers
UTIL Eric Brunlett
C Paul Bako
LHP Scott Eyre
OF Matt Stairs
RHP Chan Ho Park
RHP Clay Condrey
What They Did
General Manager Ruben Amaro knew exactly the task ahead of him right when the World Series ended, and it didn’t take Ruben’s Stanford degree to figure it out… fix the the bullpen and fix the bench.
The bench, which was one of the key reason to the Phillies winning the World Series Title in 2008, became a bit of a liability in 2009. Key contributors, like Greg Dobbs and Eric Brunlett, had sub-par seasons last year. But the additions of Schneider, Gload and Castro help Philadelphia be a much more flexible team in the field for the upcoming season. Schneider could be a 2-3 day a week catcher if you want, while Gload will be able to give Ryan Howard an occasional day off. Castro will give you a more athletic player who can play 3B, SS or 2B.
And don’t forget that while Polanco was brought in to be the every day 3B, he can slide over to 2B if you need him to (although i don’t see that happening very much).
The bullpen is a whole other kettle of fish. With one month to go, there seems to be a little work still to do. I think Amaro would like to be able to get another veteran lefty in here as an insurance policy to take over the role that the retired Scott Eyre had last year. At this point, I don’t think you can count on either J.C. Romero or Brad Lidge being ready for Opening Day. And so knowing that there was something wrong with Lidge, the Phillies added Danys Baez to be the 8th Inning man (or backup closer if Lidge struggles again this year).
Chan Ho Park is still out there in the available and would, no doubt, fit in, but he still has this grand idea that he can be a starting pitcher. That idea last year was exactly a walk in the “park” for either Chan Ho or the Phillies. 
Starting Nine
There isn’t much doubt that the Phillies starting lineup is one of the best in all of baseball and is one of the main reason that they have won back-to-back National League crowns. But there are some issues that need to be corrected in 2010, starting with the leadoff spot in the lineup.
There is no doubt that Jimmy Rollins is the ignition switch to this lineup. When he is on, he makes this THE BEST lineup in the game (sorry Yankees fans). And Rollins’ second half to last year helped the team get out of large holes, but Rollins can not afford to have the same start to the season this year as he did in 2009.
Rollins may get a lot of help behind him in the #2 hole with Polanco hitting there. He put the ball in play and will take pitches to allow Rollins to steal a few bases. Not that Shane Victorino was bad in that spot, but putting Shane in the #6 hole makes the Phils lineup that more impressive.
What To Watch For
Cole Hamels needs to return to the form of his 2008 post-season. Another season of 10-11 will certainly put him in dangerous territory for his next contract. That means developing a 3rd pitch. Hamels’ curveball was sloppy at best last year. Hopefully, the lefty has been able to work on his stuff more this off-season than last when he was the headliner at almost every banquet held in the Phillies honor.

Brad Lidge needs to recover from the recent surgery to clean out his injured knee and get strong. Now that they have Baez, the Phillies can wait a few weeks into the season (if need be) to get Lidge out on the mound for 2010. It is safe to say that if Lidge had been straight with the team about his injury, Amaro and the staff could have corrected the problem before it became the firestorm it did in a sports-crazy town.
Roy Halladay needs to take this team and town by storm, right from the beginning of Spring Training. He is the “big horse” that every staff wants and the Phillies now have. He is a pitcher that will be expected to win around 18 games and lead the Phillies back to the promised land of the World Series for the third year in a row.
Jayson Werth is playing for his next big contract this year… maybe here in Philly or somewhere else. So you know that he will put up big numbers, but what does that mean for Werth’s future in Philadelphia. The ownership was adamant about not going above $140 million in payroll this year, and the team has already locked in salaries of $122 1/2 million for next year. But next year won’t be a big free agency or arbitration year for the Phillies, so the possibility of re-signing Werth might not be that far fetched. 
The funny part is that the key to re-signing Werth might be, of all people, Jimmy Rollins. Rollins has a club option on his contract next year. If Rollins stumbles this year, it may open up a slot in the salary structure for Werth. But you also have John Mayberry and Dominic Brown in the back waiting for their chance.
Forecast
There isn’t much doubt that the Phillies should win their third straight NL East title in 2010. The Braves, and their strong pitching, might have something to say about it, but it should be the Phils again in 2010.
And they should be the favorites to win the pennant for the third year in a row as well. Nothing less will be accepted by the fans of this town.
But that leaves the World Series. The Phils got Halladay for two reasons- first, to balance out their rotation and give them a right-handed hammer in the rotation, but also to take on the American League in the World Series.
We’ll see.

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