6: Cole Sticks Around (July 25, 2012)
The only thing more popular for Phillies fans to do than speculating when Howard and Utley would return was to fret over the team possibly trading its ace Cole Hamels. It didn’t happen thanks to the team inking the lefty to a six-year, $144 million deal.
Mercifully, the long and arduous exercise known as Spring Training is nearly over. What started what feels like a lifetime ago is down to it's final week plus of games. With the exception of the World Baseball Classic and some very entertaining play from Domonic Brown, it's been a dull month of baseball. But as we near the finish line, we can step back and take stock of what the spring has revealed...
The Doctor is in. Or not: While Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee figure to be their usual awesome selves on the mound, the same cannot be said for Roy Halladay. The veteran right-hander, who dominated the National League for two years before succumbing to injuries (and possibly age) in 2012, is having a rough go of it lately, thanks to a stomach virus that reportedly resulted in him losing about ten pounds in the course of a few days. No good. Although we have no idea what the regular season is going to bring us, one thing is true: Spring Training hasn't made us feel any less concerned about Roy Halladay.
The bullpen is very, very good: Last season, the bullpen was the soft underbelly of a Phillies team that was already rife with weak spots. Aside from Jonathan Papelbon, it was hit or miss in the late innings, thanks to a revolving door in the seventh and eighth innings that resulted in too many blown leads late in games. Thanks to some re-tooling by Ruben Amaro and a handful of young arms, the bullpen figures to be a strength in 2013. Newcomer Mike Adams has been dominant during the spring, and Chad Durbin should add some stability to the 'pen in his second tour with the club. Add to that mix of solid veterans the likes of Antonio Bastardo, Phillippe Aumont, Mike Stutes, and Jeremy Horst, and you have a relief corps that will make games a lot shorting this season.
Everyone seems healthy: With the exception of Roy Halladay, everyone is in fairly good health. Chase Utley is playing in his first spring since 2010, and despite his performance, is moving around and swinging the bat without any issues. Ditto for Ryan Howard, who has five homers and a .972 OPS in 20 spring games. Unless something goes awry in the next week, the Phillies will have all their regulars on the field come Opening Day, with the lone exception of Carlos Ruiz, who will be serving a 25 game suspension.
Youth movement: One of the biggest knocks against the Phillies has been their rather advanced age. With most of the heavy hitters on the wrong side of 30, they were in desperate need of some young talent to step up and take the reins. Wish granted, it would seem, thanks to the spring performance of Domonic Brown (1.179 OPS), Ben Revere (.328 batting average), and Freddy Galvis (.811 OPS, 2 HR) – three players who figure to factor in heavily during the season. Also impressive were the prospect duo of catcher Tommy Joseph and 3B Cody Asche, who made the most of their limited playing time.
All told, the spring has made me a bit more optimistic about the upcoming season. Aside from Roy Halladay's malaise, the Phillies are in a much better place than they were this time last season. If they can get through an entire season with luck on their side, then they should have a legitimate shot at competing in the National League, even if they don't stand a chance in the division (sorry, it belongs to the Washington Nationals now).
There is just over a week to go until the regular season starts. If only that didn't feel like an eternity.