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Feb 13, 2014; Clearwater, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies second basemen Chase Utley (26) works on turning the double play during Thursday

Philadelphia Phillies: 2014 season preview

Manager Ryne Sandberg and coach Larry Bowa
Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Recap of 2013

Record: 73-89, 4th NL East

At the All-Star break in 2013, the Philadelphia Phillies were 48-48 and were a manageable 6.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the division.  However, the brief moment of optimism was just that, brief.  The Phillies promptly hit the tank and within a month they would be 20 games back in the division.  As injuries and poor play added up, the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park grew worse and worse.  Fans, spoiled for the last half decade, were confronted with a foreign reality: irrelevance and mediocrity.  In their worst season since 2000, the Phillies appeared to be heading toward another extended hiatus from winning baseball.

Key Additions

OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP A.J. Burnett, RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, C Wil Nieves

Key Departures

C Erik Kratz, LHP John Lannan

Payroll

Cot’s has the current Phillies payroll at just under $167 million, but Baseball Reference projects it to be closer to $174 million by the time the season starts.  The Phillies will have the 3rd highest payroll in Major League Baseball behind the Dodgers and Yankees.  They have more than $100 million tied up in five players in 2014: 1B Ryan Howard ($25 million), LHP Cliff Lee ($25 million), LHP Cole Hamels ($23.5 million), 2B Chase Utley ($15 million), and RHP Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million).

Player to Watch

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez: There is so much mystery about the Cuban right-hander that he’s a must-watch solely for the reason that we have no idea what he brings to the table.  With the addition of Burnett, the Phillies clearly aren’t counting on Gonzalez to be a third starter, but don’t be surprised to see the new guy get plenty of starts before the season is over.

Must Improve Upon 2013

There could be literally be a novel written at this point.  After a terribly disappointing 2013 campaign, the Phillies have plenty of players that need to perform better this season.  Jimmy Rollins had a down-right poor season in 2013. In 160 games and 666 plate appearances (ahh it makes sense now!), Rollins hit .252 with six homers and 39 RBI.  With a .318 OBP, Rollins clearly never got it going in ’13 and was a complete non-factor.  Defense aside, Rollins is way past his prime, but if the Phillies could get one more decent season out of him, the stage would be set for him to ride off into the sunset (2014 is the last year of his contract).

Regression Candidate

Domonic Brown finally had the season Phillies fans and front office have been expecting from the left-handed outfielder for several years.  Long heralded as a star in the making, Brown disappointed everyone up until the 2013 season.  He hammered 27 homers and knocked in 83 runs (both led the team).  However, don’t expect an encore performance like that; Brown is a good player and will have good numbers, but Phillies fans shouldn’t expect 25-30 homers a year from now on.

X-Factor

For the Phillies to even have a chance of making a playoff push Ryan Howard needs to close to the Howard of old. Granted 40-50 homers is not going to happen, but if the Big Piece can stay healthy for the duration of the season the management would be thrilled be 30+ home run totals and 100+ RBI.  Everything offensively hinges on how Howard performs and the record of the Phillies in the last 162 games where Howard played (92-70) proves how important he is.

He still is obviously overpaid and he is not going to put up numbers that merit that type of money, but it’s too late to do anything about that.  For the Phillies to be successful this year, everything has to go right and Howard is definitely no exception.

Biggest Question for 2014

Can the core group of players that have been with the Phillies for nearly a decade, muster enough to make one final playoff push?  It’s a valid argument that if Howard, Utley, and Rollins perform relatively close to what they did in their prime the Phils could make a run at a wild card.  However, considering the Phillies age and injury history that could be a tall order.  Fans can take solace in the Boston Red Sox from last season who were in a similar position: an aging team that just came off a terrible year and whom no one was expecting anything good to happen.  That team was able to make a run into the playoffs and ultimately won the World Series.  Are the Phillies that team this year? Probably not.  But that’s why they play the games; who knows what will happen.

Prediction: 72-90 (4th in East)

Tags: 2014 Season Preview MLB Philadelphia Phillies

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