The 2015 Philadelphia Phillies are not expected to make a run at the National League East crown. That message was loud and clear when interim CEO Pat Gillick met with the media during Winter Meetings. Gillick stated that Philadelphia is a few years away from competing. It’s a bold, but realistic statement for a team that has gone 73-89 in consecutive seasons. Philadelphia is dealing with the consequence of its core becoming older, more fragile, and less productive. Add in a barren farm system, slow development from young players, and numerous errors from general manager Ruben Amaro and Philadelphia is not ready to compete for a division title. Philadelphia’s rotation is anchored by aces, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, but the rest of the rotation is filled with question marks. Philadelphia’s infield is comprised of catcher Carlos Ruiz, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, shortstop Freddy Galvis, and third baseman Cody Asche. Philadelphia’s outfield will be manned by Dominic Brown, Ben Revere, and Marlon Byrd. Here are the five things to watch during Spring Training for the Phillies:
Storyline #1: Trade Ryan Howard?
It’s no secret that Philadelphia wants to unload Howard. Howard, who is owed $50 million over the next two seasons, has been a massive disappointment since his five-year, $125 million contract kicked in during 2012. Injuries and poor performance against left-handed pitchers have led to his decline. Philadelphia hasn’t been unable to unload him, so expect him to man first base in 2015.
Storyline #2: Keep Cole Hamels?
Alike Howard, Hamels inked a big money contract during 2012. Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million deal that will keep him in Philadelphia through 2018. Unlike Howard, Hamels has performed like a top player at his position. Last season, Hamels struck out 198 batters in 204 innings while posting a 2.46 ERA. Philadelphia has made it clear that they intend to keep Hamels, but unloading Hamels to help replenish the farm system could make the most sense for the direction the Phillies are currently heading.
Storyline #3: Moving on from Jimmy Rollins
Philadelphia traded shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two pitching prospects in their first major effort to get younger and cheaper. Rollins, 36, spent his entire career in Philadelphia and became one of the city’s icons. Rollins won the National League MVP Award during the 2007 season, but given his age and 2015 salary ($11 million), moving on from Rollins makes sense.
Storyline #4: Papelbon to Toronto?
Rumors have begun to swirl that the Toronto Blue Jays are interested in incumbent closer, Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon has voiced his displeasure with Philadelphia’s plan, so his departure may be welcome as the team rebuilds. Papelbon, however, will command a lofty return. During 2014, Papelbon saved 39 of 43 chances while posting a 2.04 ERA. Like the other expensive players on Philadelphia’s roster, having a well-compensated closer does not make much sense for a team that does not plan on competing for a playoff spot this season.
Storyline #5: The Status of Cliff Lee?
Cliff Lee loves living in the Philadelphia Metro Area and playing for the Phillies. Philadelphia may not love that Lee is owed $36.5 million over the next two seasons. Lee, 36, was limited just 16 starts last season after dealing with elbow issues. It’ll be a huge test to see whether Lee can face live hitters during Spring Training. If he can, expect Philadelphia to seek out a trade partner.
Currently, the average price for Phillies spring training tickets is $93.50 for 17 games at Bright House Network Field in Clearwater, Florida.