The great thing about this time of the year is that fans in places like Kansas City and Pittsburgh and even Houston have hope for the 2013 MLB season.
Okay, maybe not Houston. Some causes are immune to even the most extreme optimism.
Pitchers and catchers report this week to warm outposts throughout Florida and Arizona, and their arrivals not only portend the coming end of winter; they also allow fans to dream of great seasons ahead. Hey, if Oakland, Baltimore and Washington can make the playoffs, why can’t the Mariners and Indians? Everybody is 0-0. Nobody has had a losing streak. And teams are relatively free of drama and controversy—except the Yankees, of course.
While that pleasing image sinks in, consider that for the first time in several years, a similar feeling of anticipation has been in short supply for Phillies fans since the 2012 season ended with a thud early last October. After watching the moves GM Ruben Amaro made in an attempt to shore up the many holes on the roster and charting the activity of NL East rivals, it’s difficult for any reasonable person to expect big things from the 2013 Phils. Instead of looking at a roster packed with proven performers, we are left to hope the previously injured players won’t break down further, to wish those who struggled in ’12 will improve, and to pray that youngsters who have yet to demonstrate the ability to produce consistently will become frontline big leaguers this season.
In other words, after anticipating greatness from several previous Phillies clubs, we are left to dream about success, much the same way denizens of forlorn MLB cities will spend the next six weeks conjuring scenarios that end with improbably prosperous outcomes. In the process, they will sound as if they are reciting “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
If Delmon Young isn’t too heavy and not a butcher in the field.
If Chase Utley’s knees don’t force him to the bench.
If Ryan Howard’s Achilles is fine, and his bat 35 homers can yield.
If Doc Halladay is again an ace, instead of just a pitching mensch.
Theirs is the division title and a return to the playoffs.
And—which is more—they’ll beat the hated Nats!
Sorry about that, but you get the picture. No Phillies team since the early days of last decade has relied on such a collection of question marks as this one will. Adding players like banjo-hitting centerfielder Ben Revere, decaying “third baseman” Michael Young and the aforementioned portly Young to a roster packed with uncertainty and early-80s birth certificates hardly inspires confidence.
We have heard from Amaro that his uninspiring moves were born from the constraints of the Phillies lofty payroll, as if the decisions to give Howard $25 million a year when he was in a clear free-fall from his high tide of 58 homers and 149 RBI in ’06 and to award Jimmy Rollins a three-year deal (with an easily attainable fourth season) when no one else was interested in signing him for that long were somebody else’s fault.
So, the Phils didn’t have a lot of money to spend. I get it. But does that mean they had to trade for Young, who makes sabermetricians scream in horror at the mere mention of his name? (An aside to all of you who think the growing use of advanced metrics in baseball is nonsense: Wise up! They are the best way to predict future success and a means of helping teams not waste money.) Was there a reason why the Phils had to invest $12 million over two years for reliever Mike Adams, when during the off-season he underwent surgery to correct the same condition that has likely ended Cardinals hurler Chris Carpenter’s career? And why trade for Revere—giving up the organization’s best pitching prospect in the process—when you aren’t going to hit him first, the better to make use of his basestealing prowess?
If the 2013 Phillies season appears to be a crapshoot, it’s because all of the hoping and wishing the team is doing is reminiscent of the days when division championships were not possibilities. Back then, fans were forced to concoct dream scenarios in order to manufacture hope. From ’07-’12, that wasn’t necessary. We are back to that once again, and it isn’t fun.
Spring training begins this week, and possibilities are endless, even in Kansas City. But unlike the young Royals, whose roster is loaded with talented prospects and potential stars, the Phils are hoping for enough to go right, so they can contend. If that doesn’t sound like a great plan, remember that anything is possible in February. Good health could prevail. Aging stars could rally for a final hurrah. Young pups could emerge as big contributors. The possibilities are endless.
So, hope now, because reality arrives April 1st.
• We ought to know everything we need to about the Flyers after this six-game road trip. Of course, with the NHL’s second-worst road record, the results of that excursion may be preordained. It’s going to come down to quick starts and a good power play. Execute in those areas, and life away from home won’t be so bad. Flounder there, and the post-season may be a dream.
• Boy, are the Sixers lucky they are in the East. Despite crippling injuries and some poor play, they are only three games out of the eighth spot in the conference. Were they out West, the Sixers would be in 11th place, with little or no hope of reaching the playoffs.
• The Paterno family’s largely ineffective rebuttal of the Freeh report offers little fact and tries to throw a pile of reasonable-doubt-creating “evidence” at a sad situation. Trying to convince everybody that Joe Paterno was clueless about the 1998 investigation of his most trusted assistant, and that in 2001, at age 75, he was unable to understand what Mike McQueary was telling him is insulting and continues to harm the victims of Jerry Sandusky’s horrific crimes.