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Five Questions: The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies

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I asked the insanely prolific Eric J. Seidman to answer five questions about the outlook for the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies, whom we'll face today. He sounds pretty confident about his squad.

1. The Phillies had a lot of things go right for them last year, including Jayson Werth, Chris Coste, and Greg Dobbs's breakouts, and Brad Lidge's bounceback. But one weakness was the starting rotation, which thinned out considerably after Cole Hamels. Will Brett Myers start? Can Joe Blanton be better than league-average in Citizens Bank? Do the Phillies have enough pitching to repeat?

The Phillies certainly had a lot of things break their way in 2008, just as it did in 2007, which is primarily why they have pushed past the Mets in both seasons when the pre-season projections peg the two as virtually equal in both seasons.  I'm a firm believer that luck plays a humongous part in success and something like that should not be written off. Jayson Werth was an example of an emerging star as opposed to a luck-based breakout and I fully expect him to once again produce in the +4-win range.  Dobbs likely won't even make the team with Ronnie Paulino in camp, and I think Dobbs has been a great enough pinch-hitter for a long enough period of time to consider him as more "real" than fluky.

Brett Myers WILL start, and if he can replicate his post-minor league demotion success, he will be the best #2 starter in the division.  PECOTA pegs him at right around +4.1 wins, which would tie him with John Danks and Aaron Harang, not too shabby company.  Blanton is an interesting study because he really looked dominant when he limited walks and found the strike zone.  I see him rebounding to his form from a couple seasons ago albeit with a slightly higher HR rate. Still, he is consistent and that's really all you can ask for out of a #4-type starter.  The Phillies are also solid in pitching depth with the best bullpen in the bigs from 2008 returning, and although they will all likely regress, a slight regression should still make for a dominant enough pen.


2. Many people have criticized the Phillies' non-upgrade from Pat Burrell to Raul Ibanez in left field, especially when Burrell signed for much less money than Ibanez had. How do you feel about the move? How does it affect your confidence in new GM Ruben Amaro Jr.?

Amaro got off to a poor start, making two seemingly nothing trades in Golson for Mayberry and Jaramillo for Paulino, and then signing Ibanez to a very lucrative deal before the market even developed.  I can understand his desire to avoid bringing back the entire club in tact, but he should have let the market develop before jumping on the Ibanez bandwagon.  He handled arbitration beautifully, however, making his first off-season a push in my eyes.


3. The Phillies saw their payroll inflate a great deal overnight, with raises due to a number of cost-controlled stars, culminating in a 3 yr/$54 million contract to Ryan Howard, who has declined offensively for two straight seasons. Can they afford to keep this team together past 2009, or do you see a midseason selloff if they're not in contention?

This ties into the 2nd question in that, by handling arbitration so well, Amaro did an excellent job of controlling player cost.  While players like Werth, Victorino, Hamels, and Howard all may have been in line for substantial raises following 2009, they are signed to either market- or below-market deals.  With that in mind, I see no reason why this core cannot stay together until the contracts of players like Rollins start to expire.


4. The offense was tremendous last year despite off-seasons from Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz, and a disappointing year from Pedro Feliz. Do you anticipate bouncebacks from them? Could the lineup actually be better than we think?

I don't consider Rollins' 2008 to be an off-season... I consider his 2007 to be incredibly fluky.  Last season was actually one of his better offensive seasons, all told, but it pales in comparison to his MVP season.  And Feliz was brought in for defense, so his offense wasn't disappointing really.  Ruiz stunk it up until the playoffs and with Lou Marson hot on his heels, he'll need to step it up, something I'm not sure he is capable of.  Howard has been dissected time and time again, and while I do expect him to bounce back to 2007 levels, he needs to exhibit more patience, which will in turn help his selection, help him become a better hitter, thereby increasing his intentional walks, which were a big reason his OBP/SLG were so high in 06-07.


5. What was the most surprising thing about the Phillies' 2008? What will be the most surprising thing about the Phillies' 2009?

Most Surprising: the bullpen, hands down.  Everyone had a career year at once.  Most Surprising in 2009 will be just how good Victorino and Werth really are: they aren't household names but will be after this season.

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