March 24, 2011; Clearwater, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Jim Thome (25) before the spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Phillies The Ones In 2012

Back in 1980 when I was a sportswriter in Philadelphia, the town went crazy when the Phillies won the World Series. Although students of history understood that such a development was about as regular as the Cubs and Red Sox winning a Series, the normally cynical sports city tilted towards optimism.

It so happened that Philly was just fooling itself and three decades passed before the team won another crown. By now, management believes the Phils should have won two or three after capturing the National League East five times in a row since 2007 instead of just the 2008 title. Adminstrators recognize that they have a team at the top of its game and that it should start the 2012 season as the favorite to win it all.

Windows do not remain open forever, however, and there is also a recognition upstairs that teams that stand pat run in place, not hoist pennant flags. So as industrious as some other teams have been in the off-season throwing around a couple of hundred million dollars here and another couple of hundred million dollars there, the Phillies have been judicious, fill-in-the-blanks personnel seekers.

Since they already had a payroll that rivals the gross national product of certain small South American countries, the Phillies did not go wild and crazy and bring in Albert Pujols. But they did go shopping. This was a tricky business because Philadelphia already thought it had the best team in 2011, only to lose early in the playoffs to the unheralded St. Louis Cardinals.

What do you give a man–manager Charlie Manuel–as a present who has everything? More of everything.

The Phillies sought to make an upgrade in the back of the bullpen by signing former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon and parted ways with Ryan Madson. They gave Papelbon the richest contract for the longest time for a reliever, or some statistic like that which only the Elias Sports Bureau keeps track of. The regular season is not even much of an issue. Does anybody doubt that unless an epidemic of dengue fever overwhelms the clubhouse that the Phillies will win their division?

Nov 14, 2011; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon addresses the media during a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Injuries do happen, of course, and that is the one wild card for the Phillies. Remember Ryan Howard? Amazing how he hurt his achilles tendon on the last play of the last game of the playoffs in the last game of the 2011 season for the Phillies. How long will it take Howard to get well and play everyday again? Too soon to tell. The prognosis after surgery was about six months and that would be April, so not so bad if that is the case.

The Phillies shored up in other ways besides adding Papelbon. Jim Thomehas returned. Commonly known as the nicest man in baseball, this is probably Thome’s final year given that he turns 42 in August. He is one of only eight players with 600-plus home runs (604), a mark he passed with the Minnesota Twins last year. He is not going to be a regular, but can be an excellent clubhouse presence, a dangerous pinch-hitter, and a key fill-in. The only thing missing on Thome’s Hall of Fame resume is a World Series ring. He expects to get one this season.

In a quiet move, the Phils also signed Dontrelle Willis. Once upon a time Willis was a big-time winner in the majors. He has been diminished by injuries, but bad luck played a big role in his limited season with the Reds in 2011. It wouldn’t shock me if it comes together enough for Willis one more time where he could be a 10-game winner. There was little to lose with trying outWillis since he also is a clubhouse good guy.

Otherwise the Phillies are stocked with familiar faces, solid at catcher, in the infield, and outfield, with outstanding starting pitching.  These guys, from Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino believe they are the best and are determined to prove it. It’s up to them. The front office has provided the tools.

Some day Phillies fans hope this run is considered the good old days.

Tags: Albert Pujols Boston Red Sox Charlie Manuel Chase Utley Chicago Cubs Cincinnati Reds Cliff Lee Dontrelle Willis Jim Thome Jimmy Rollins Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Ryan Howard Ryan Madson Shane Victorino St Louis Cardinals

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