CD's Connect the Dots..Their Place In The Sun

We have come not to bury the Philadelphia Phillies but to praise them. The late John F. Kennedy once observed that "success has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan." Yet even in defeat the Phillies bandwagon has never carried more converts or supporters. It is well worth examining...their place in the sun.

Time and perspective are often the great physicians of the pained spirit and after several days of reflection most Phillie phans have recovered from a championship won to a championship lost. After all, it was no great embarrassment to be defeated by a New York Yankee team that was built precisely to play on the October [and now November] stage. And the Phils, true to the resilience spirit that they have shown repeatedly during the past three seasons never gave even the slightest hint that they weren't up to the battle, all the way to the final inning of the series.

Truth be told, the Yankees made a conscious decision as far back as one year ago to do everything in their earthly powers to insure safe passage through the oft times murky waters of the Major League baseball playoffs. Knowing full well that they would be opening a brand new $1.5 billion stadium in 2009 the Bronx Bombers set out to build a roster that would not only compete with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of the world, but defeat them.

In short order, they quickly perused the free agent list in 2008 and specifically targeted three players...mega star pitcher CC Sabathia, top of the rotation talent A.J. Burnett and the finest hitter on the market, first baseman Mark Texiera. That they were able to secure all three players might have been a minor surprise but that these three players would make a major difference on the field was not.

It is well worth noting just how well thought of this Yankee team is considered. With the winning of the 2009 World Championship, the New Yorkers secured title number 27 in their long and storied history. This number is a staggering testament to the greatness that has always been the New York Yanks. With that in mind, ESPN set out to rank the 27 champions in possible order of their greatness. From Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. From Lou Gehrig to Mickey Mantle. From Yogi Berra to Joe Dimaggio. All of the champions were ranked in order of their greatness.

Now granted, rankings are always subject to conjecture, debate, and dispute. But rankings also provide a solid opening basis for comparison, especially when given reasonable data and support. It may come as a surprise to some that ESPN ranked the 2009 Yankees as the tenth greatest Yankee team of all time. Greater than the Mantle and Maris lead 1961 team. Greater than several of Joe Torre's crew that steamrolled baseball consistently between the years 1996 and 2000. And greater than a few of the teams that starred none other than Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

History will be very good to this Yankee team. It is easy to suggest that the team that just defeated the Philadelphia Phillies will one day place no less than five and probably closer to seven or eight players in the baseball Hall of Fame. There is little doubt that shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and relief pitcher extraordinaire Mariano Rivera will one day grace the Hall walls. A strong case can be made that catcher Jorge Posada will eventually make the hall, and left fielder Johnny Damon is inexorably posting numbers that will make his entrance more than just a passing fancy.

Anyone watching smooth as silk second baseman Robinson Cano on a regular basis has to conjure up images of a young Robbie Alomar, and no one doubts that Alomar is a future Hall of Famer. Cano is likely to win a batting title or two before he is finished and at 27 years of age, probably has eight or ten more solid seasons to produce Hall-like offensive numbers.

With each clutch post-season win, veteran lefty Andy Pettitte makes his case and should he eventually retire as the all time winningest New York Yankee hurler, that will be powerful ammunition for a baseball community that is heavily influenced by the power of Yankee pinstripes. And there seems to reason to think that fellow southpaw CC Sabathia won't enjoy a long and fruitful career in the Bronx and could eventually compile career numbers worthy of Hall inclusion. The same might be said for teammate Mark Texiera.

Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Posada, Damon, Cano, Pettitte, Sabathia and Texiera. A veritable Who's Who of future baseball immortals. Yes, history will be very good to this team as ESPN recognizes even in the present. And with that, it can be said with no little doubt that history will be good to the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies. This was a very good team. A very, very good team.

The ramifications of the past two seasons in Philadelphia Phillie lore cannot yet fully be appreciated, time and perspective will take care of that. What has transpired is this...a downtrodden and beaten down franchise has literally been transformed before our very eyes, and all because of the efforts of individuals like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth.

With the success of the past two seasons, the Phils have rightfully taken their place among the perceived "haves" of the baseball universe, teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels and the St. Louis Cardinals. They have been discovered by a national media that for far too long considered Philadelphia as no more than a place where the opposition went in order to build up their winning percentage.

It is interesting to note that during the series, Google online reported that the Philadelphia Phillies were regularly placed as the first or second most googled sites on a daily basis. It was almost as if people were so fascinated with this team that they had to learn more, had to understand how a team they had hardly recognized could be battling for a second straight World Series championship.

Suddenly, names like Utley, Howard, Lee and Rollins became recognizable to a public that for far too long hardly recognized them at all. And with recognition came appreciation. Appreciation for the daily grind it out efforts of Chase Utley, who placed himself in stored Reggie Jackson company with his five home runs in the first five games of the '09 series. Appreciation for the stout efforts of lefty Cliff Lee, who stood toe to toe with the Yankee hitters and defeated them twice in impressive fashion.

Certainly, it was Utley and Lee who carried the team during the taunt and tense eight days of battle with the Yankees, but there were less likely heroes whose names are likely to be remembered long after the last out was recorded. Right fielder Jayson Werth came of age, as did catcher Carlos Ruiz and relief pitcher Ryan Madson. And while shortstop Jimmy Rollins and center fielder Shane Victorino struggled with the bats, it became obvious to a sporting world that these were two great talents on display in the national spotlight.

Yet, in the end, it is a sporting truism that in the ultimate championship contests the ultimate stars must perform well for the championship to be won. And in 2009 it was the Yankees and not the Phillies whose stars shown brightest at the most opportune time. In fact, slugger Ryan Howard and '08 series stalwart hurlers Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge were bitter disappointments in the recently concluded series and had they performed up to past standards the results would have likely been different.

Howard set a series record for futility with 13 strikeouts and without his power bat on display in the middle of the Phillie order, a giant component of the Philadelphia engine was left out of commission. This no doubt affected the entire lineup and place undo pressure on Utley, Werth and left fielder Raul Ibanez to produce the kind of power that was left lacking with Howard's struggled.

As for southpaw Cole Hamels and relief pitcher Brad Lidge? Their key failures in games three and four were the ultimate deciders in a series that was closely fought and well dependent on the fortunes of key personnel on an almost nightly basis. It can be said with some justification that the entire series turned on a dime when Hamels surrendered an early 3-0 advantage in Game Three.

Up to that point it was a Phillie series, as both Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez had largely silenced the powerful Yankee bats and the momentum clearly favored a confident and loose Philadelphia Nine. One could almost feel the wind fall from the Phillie sails when Alex Rodriguez hit a fourth inning home run against Hamels to bring the Yankees within a run. That was probably the moment when the series turned.

It must be recalled that in 2008 Cole Hamels was the dominant performer on the entire baseball stage. His 4-0 record gave the Phils the impetus they needed in order to easily dominate the Brewers, Dodgers and Rays. Not so in '09 and although the Phils were able to overcome his struggles against the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers, they could not do so in his only appearance in the World Series.

The same can be said for relief pitcher Brad Lidge, though in retrospect, he came oh so close to becoming a potential Philadelphia hero again, as he was in 2008. After an abysmal '09 regular season Lidge was brilliant in the opening two rounds of the playoffs against Colorado and Los Angeles and came within one strike of possibly winning Game Four of the series against the Yankees. But when Johnny Damon successfully fought off three tough two-strike pitches and eventually singled to left field, it was the beginning of the end for Lidge...and the Phils.

Still, in retrospect, it was a wonderful season in PhillieLand and there is little reason to suspect that the winning won't continue for a franchise that has suddenly placed itself squarely in the center of the entire baseball universe. Equipped with a brand new stadium that regularly sells out all games, a solid nucleus of seasoned but not yet old veteran stars, and a pharm system ready to produce no less than three sterling prospects, the Phillie reign is unlikely to end soon.

With this in mind, lets examine the Phillie horizon and see where they are at present and where they are likely to go in the not too distant future. With equal parts conjecture, assumption and simple logic it may not be to difficult to place ourselves into GM Ruben Amaro's seat and paint a viable picture of the teams likely landscape.

In fact, Amaro has already spoken volumes about his future plans in an interesting and thought provoking post series press conference this week. He indicated that the Phils would consider the possibility of replacing incumbent third baseman Pedro Feliz and emphasized the need to retool both the bullpen and the bench. What he did not say, but probably is thinking was a desire to find another starting pitcher over the winter, one that can comfortably sit between the top of the rotation efforts of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and the back of the rotation status of Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ.

It did not take long to observe Amaro's course of action in regards to Feliz. A day before D-Day [Decision Day], Monday, November 9, the Phillies rejected Feliz's $5.5 million option for 2010. Had the team picked up the option they would have basically committed themselves to the same starting lineup as they had this season.

If Amaro learned anything at all from his predecessor Pat Gillick, and it says here that he learned plenty, it's that a team is a dynamic component and to stay still is to move backward. That was the primary reason that Amaro chose to bid adieu to left fielder Pat Burrell last off-season and replace him with Raul Ibanez. The results proved Amaro correct in this belief system.

The same philosophy is likely to be used in regards to Pedro Feliz, despite two decent seasons as the starting third baseman. Amaro is likely to believe that A] he can find a suitable replacement at less cost or B] find a better player at a higher but still reasonable cost.

Names that quickly come to mind, all free agents in waiting, include Adrian Beltre, Chon Figgins, Mark DeRosa, Troy Glaus and former Phillie, Placido Polanco. As with most free agents, all come with varying degrees of positive and negative justifications. Figgins had a stellar season with the Angels but lacks power and would create a potential log jam at the top of the order. DeRosa is an Amaro favorite and has power [44 home runs and 165 RBI over the past two seasons] but is 35 years old and somewhat weak defensively.

The prevailing consensus is that the right-handed power-hitting Beltre would be a perfect fit in the middle of the Phillie order but it is well worth noting that his agent is Scott Boras, and although the confrontational agent no longer considers Philadelphia as the Siberia of the baseball landscape, he is equally adamant that his clients always receive top dollar for their services. Finding a middle ground with a Phillie team that may see his value somewhat differently will be a most challenging proposition.

Perhaps the Phils could convince Beltre that it would be in his best interests to sign a one-year, incentive laden deal, and restore his former standing as a top of the line third baseman after a less than stellar '09 campaign. Perhaps, but not likely.

An interesting and somewhat provocative choice might well be the 6'5" Troy Glaus, most recently with the St. Louis Cardinals. As recently as 2008, Glaus slugged 27 home runs and knocked in 99 runs in the cavernous reaches of Busch Stadium and might well provide the Phils with a stellar right-handed bat to offset the dominant lefty stances of Utley, Howard and Ibanez in the middle of the order. Glaus has had injury problems off and on for years now but at 33 years of age, might well be worth a look.

Placido Polanco, while a still competent player, did not care to play third base during his last stint with the Phillies and is unlikely to have changed his mind now. Besides, a case can be made that Polanco is very much the same type of player as is Feliz and if you are going to value a Placido Polanco, you might as well hold onto the dependable and probably less expensive Feliz.

As to the search for a middle of the rotation starting pitcher, three names that bare watching are righties Rich Harden of the Cubs, Brad Penny of the Giants and Ben Sheets, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers. All might well provide the Phillies with a relatively low cost, high reward arm for the 2010 rotation.

Rich Harden is the type of power pitcher that usually does well at Citizens Bank Park. He is a notorious strikeout pitcher, and had 171 strikeouts in 141 innings with Chicago this season. His problem is that he is forever suffering arm problems, none serious enough to permanently disable him, but serious enough to keep him from truly dominating the landscape. Still, he is only 28 years of age and could well bridge the gap until future Phillie phenom, Kyle Drabek, is deemed ready for the rotation. And a Harden/Jamie Moyer combination on a regular basis might be an interesting contrast as well as a successful one.

Brad Penny has long interested the Phillies and they came very close to acquiring him from Boston last July before settling on Pedro Martinez. Instead, Penny ended up with the San Francisco Giants, where he was absolutely dominant. In six starts he pitched at least seven innings in five of them and fashioned a most impressive 4-1 record. There are those that believe that Penny's style of pitching is more conducive to the National League, a theory that seems somewhat supported by the facts. Penny is also playoff seasoned and by most accounts is an excellent clubhouse leader. Keep an eye on this one.

And if it is long shots that the Phils desire, they could do much worse than to sign righty Ben Sheets to an incentive laden contract. Sheets is a former All-Star and a dominant pitcher when healthy, As recently as 2008 he was 13-9 before going down with a serious arm injury, one that is now reportedly back to good health. Sheets, if healthy, would help form a potentially dominant triptych of hurlers along with Lee and Hamels. Stay tuned.

With the Phils having said good-bye to righty Brett Myers, and with the status of lefty Scott Eyre in doubt, it behooves Amaro and Company to find ways to upgrade the bullpen a bit. It seems at least problematical that middle inning gem Chan Ho Park will return if he is promised a starting berth somewhere else. This leaves a potential bullpen of J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker and Brad Lidge. Add to this list the possible inclusion of youngsters Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo and there still seems ample room for at least one more strong arm.

That arm might well belong to young Scott Mathieson, he of the crackling fastball and gut wrenching arm injuries. Completely healthy again after three surgeries, Mathieson has been dominant in the Arizona Fall League and was recently added to the Phillies 40 man roster. If he pitches well in the spring he will make the team, he is that good!

Should Amaro decide to look outside the organization, and he likely will, names to consider include lefty closer Mike Gonzalez of Atlanta and righty J.J. Putz, recently let go by the New York Mets. Both have the ability to close should Lidge not return to his '08 form. In particular, Gonzalez could well be a dominant lefty out of the bullpen should he decide to cast his fate to the winds in the direction of the City of Brotherly Love.

Amaro will also seek to add a solid right-handed bat or two for the bench. Names to watch include infielders Ronnie Belliard and Marco Scutaro as well as DeRosa and outfielder Rocco Baldelli. The Phils nearly signed the mercurial Baldelli last winter and may well revisit the talented outfielder this off-season. They will also look to find a veteran back-up catcher to assist Carlos Ruiz. The name Jason Kendall comes to mind quickly and easily.

The Phillies have the added luxury of formulating a plan to incorporate standout minor league phenoms Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Domonic Brown into the lineup by the end of the 2010 season. Drabek, a standout young hurler, could well be in the rotation by mid-season while Taylor promises to challenge for an outfield berth at about the same time. Brown is likely to start next season in Double-A Reading but is on the equally fast track to the major leagues. The Phils may well have to consider jettisoning one of Ibanez, Werth or Victorino at some point following the next campaign.

All in all, it has been a wondrous two-year run for the Philadelphia Phillies, one that should forever stamp their lasting legacy in the historical lore of great team eras everywhere. Indeed, it can be said with some confidence that the Utley-Howard-Rollins troika has quietly replaced the Schmidt-Luzinski-Carlton glory years of the mid-70's as the greatest period on Phillie history.

Ironically enough, it was in defeat that the team may have displayed its most dazzling colors in such an appealing way. Unfettered baseball fans everywhere suddenly adopted the team as their own during the World Series, and for many, those affections are unlikely to change with the passing of time.

Famed poet Edwin Markham once penned that "defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out." In defeat, the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies shook the very soul of the previously moribund Philadelphia faith base and forever cast away the clouds of past failure. Even in defeat, this team has found their way, their time and even more importantly to the future... their place in the sun.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast



Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories