While the Eagles are deep into the offseason, the Flyers are on Winter Olympic break, and the Sixers are on NBA All-Star break the Phillies are stealing some attention. Although the Phillies are still an aging team and aren’t helping themselves get younger, expertly demonstrated by the few signings in the offseason, it is always refreshing to see the Phightin’ Phils’ back down in Florida getting ready for the season. The Phillies have started spring training with a lot of buzz and there’s sure to be more as we get closer to the season.
The day pitchers and catchers reported started off with a bang as the Phillies signed former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher A.J. Burnett to a one year, $16 million dollar deal. In October Burnett announced that he would either retire or continue pitching for the Pirates in 2014, but Pittsburg’s refusal to meet a $14.1 million dollar deal seems to have changed his mind. Half of the fans are giving general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. some rare praise for the pickup of Burnett and even saying that Burnett’s signing makes up for the less than logical moves that have been made so far, some have even gone so far as to say that Burnett will take the Phillies to the playoffs. The other half of the fan base are annoyed that Amaro has signed yet another veteran of mid to late 30s age (Burnett is 37 years old).
Burnett does give the Phillies some stability in the rotation as he is a veteran presence who, for the most part, stays healthy and takes the ball every 5th day. In Pittsburgh, Burnett had 191 innings pitched and 209 strikeouts last season with a 3.30 ERA. The Burnett signing is a good deal because, let’s face it, the Phillies can never have enough starting pitchers. The most surprising part of the deal is that it’s only a one year deal which is different for the Phillies as the club has been giving out over 2 year deals to aging veterans. This signing gives a definite and stable starting 3 in the rotation in Hamels, Lee, and Burnett when they are all healthy.
The addition of A.J. Burnett also comes in handy with news that Cole Hamels will miss opening day and may not be ready for the beginning of the season. This is crucial as the Phillies have had health problems in recent years and how healthy the team can stay is a definite factor in their playoff chances. Hamels will miss opening day and most likely part of April due to feelings of discomfort in his pitching shoulder and has said that he is 8 to 10 days from throwing a bullpen session. Hamels said that he is not alarmed by the setback in his shoulder and also told the media that he felt discomfort in the shoulder in November but did not undergo an MRI. Hamels said the team medical personnel did not think the shoulder issue was serious enough to require an MRI. Since Hamels will be behind in workouts and getting ready it is very likely that Cliff Lee will be the opening day starter.
Another storyline in Spring Training is the Cuban mystery man Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez as he pitched a bullpen session on Thursday for the pitchers and catchers workout. Nobody has seen enough of the Cuban defector to give an official opinion of how he will fare in the big leagues. As Gonzalez’s workout started he drew a crowd which varied from people up in the front office, coaches, scouts, and even the recently retired Roy Halladay who is an instructor this Spring Training for the Phillies. Gonzalez is truly a mystery man as he initially signed a $48 million dollar deal in the summer but then that deal was restructured to a 3 year, $12 million dollar deal due to health issues. To add fuel to fire of Gonzalez not being healthy, he reported to the Florida Instructional League in September, but did not throw a pitch. Gonzalez was instead put on a strength and conditioning program, a usual procedure for players returning from injury. Ruben Amaro Jr. dubbed this a “rehab” program. Gonzalez is coming in to make the big league roster and his performances in Grapefruit league games will determine if he will make the big league club.
The Phillies are trying to make yet another postseason with the entire team one year older. The club is going to be under a new Ryne Sandberg regime complete with new coaches. The Phillies have so many ifs that include Ryan Howard being healthy, Domonic Brown producing and progressing after a break out year, and the bullpen being more than atrocious just to name a few things that need to go right for the Phillies. All in all, the Phillies are an old team that’s past their window but are trying to make the postseason just one last time. It’s highly unlikely that the addition of one pitcher will make all the difference for the Phillies.