2014 Philadelphia Phillies Preview

USA TODAY Sports

Talking Chop continues with its NL East previews with a look at the Phillies

The 2013 Phillies finished an abysmal 73-89, good for 4th in the NL East and only ahead of the Cubs and Marlins in the National League. They also held the crown for worst run differential in the NL. Anyway you slice it, it was a long, struggle of a season, in addition to the sad downfall of Roy Halladay, who was eventually pushed him into retirement. To compound problems, the team isn’t even in rebuilding mode. Their aging core has strapped them with massive contracts that provide very little flexibility to move forward in positions of need. The question for the Phillies remains how much of a contender can they really be with a dwindling, aging, core.

New Arrivals

C Carlos Ruiz (3yrs, $26MM)

C Wil Nieves (1yr, $1.125MM)

OF Marlon Byrd (2yrs, $16MM)

OF Bobby Abreu (1yr, $800K)

RHP A.J. Burnett (1yr, $16MM)

RHP Roberto Hernandez (1yr, $4.5MM)

Injury Issues

Currently, the Phillies are dealing with a handful of shoulder issues. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (uncertain), Jonathan Petibone (April), Ethan Martin (start of season), Cole Hamels (May) and Mike Adams (April) have all seen their throwing schedules interrupted due to discomfort in their pitching arm. For an aging team, injury prevention will play huge role in their ultimate success. Cole Hamels health will also be a big a key, as he was projected to be their opening day starter in 2014.

State of the Squad

In the infield, the Phillies will likely return the core of Howard, Utley and Rollins with Cody Asche manning the hot corner. Rumors have swirled around Rollins possible becoming a trade commodity, however, the 35-year-old doesn’t seem to be interested in waiving his no trade rights. Ryan "Replacement Level" Howard will again tie down the Phillies with one of the worst contracts in the game. The one bright spot is Utley, who when healthy, is one of the more productive second basemen in the league. While he has taken a major step back from his prime years, a 3-4 win season from Utley is very realistic. There is a (very slight) possibility that top-prospect Maikel Franco could replace Asche in 2014 if the power hitting third baseman continues to tear up the minors. In the outfield, they’ll sport a trio of Dominic Brown, Ben Revere and Marlon Byrd. Brown has the most potential, as we saw with his breakout offensive season in 2013. His poor defense will plague his overall value, but he will likely be the top power threat in the lineup this season.

If there is strength, it would probably be in the rotation. The Phillies will trout out Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels (once healthy) and A.J. Burnett, which looks to be one of the better trios in the league. Burnett was a nice addition on a one-year deal, and might be a valuable trade chip come the trade deadline (along with Lee). The rotation will be rounded out with international signing Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Kyle Kendrick. The amount of time Hamels misses will be key, as an extended absence from the rotation will again have the Phillies fighting to keep their heads above water. Expect Lee to be his usual dominant self and again flirt with a sub 3.00 ERA.

The bullpen will again be headed by Jonathan Papelbon, who enters the third year of his four-year deal (plus vesting options). Look for Jake Diekman and Mike Adams to be forces in the 'pen as well.

Projection

In 2014, it will be very tough for first year manager Ryan Sandberg to keep his team hanging with the Braves and Nationals. The more likely scenario is duking it out for the three spot again with the bottom dwellers of the division. The best the Phillies can hope for is good first half performances that may help unload some of their aging talent and regain the flexability to rebuild. The most realistic scenario is a fight to stay above .500, but ultimately finish in the 75-80 win range.

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