I spoke to David S. Cohen of SB Nation's Phillies site, The Good Phight, and he answered some questions about his team. I answered some questions for him as well, and those will go up at The Good Phight this morning.
The Phillies have won four consecutive N.L. East titles. In broad strokes, though, what will the near future of the team be like now that most of its core players are in their 30s?
Actually, make that five consecutive titles, with really no reason to think a sixth won’t be coming this year. After that? Well, that’s another story. The team is aging, with several core players dealing with serious injuries, both current and past (more on that below). Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino are in their contract years, the team’s best prospect (Domonic Brown) has serious question marks, and the minor leagues are lacking many other position prospects. But, with Citizens Bank Park filled every night, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee signed to long-term deals, a very lucrative television deal on the horizon, and a reasonably intelligent management team that finally understands Philadelphia is a big market, I’m optimistic that problems can be addressed. That doesn’t mean it will all work out, but there’s good reason to think we’ll have every chance at continued success.
I’d love to say "not at all," but we just don’t know. Both have had setbacks this spring. Chase Utley has been completely secretive about his condition, treatment program, and timetable. Ryan Howard is out of his boot but is slow to get back to baseball activity. Best case scenario is that both are playing by mid-May. Worst case scenario is coming back after that and never returning to form. I think the best case scenario is the better guess here.
How would you grade the offseason the Phillies just had?
B. They re-signed Jimmy Rollins, keeping a homegrown star at a key position. They signed Jonathan Papelbon to a pricey contract that they’ll probably regret one day, but in the meantime they get a top-notch back-of-the-bullpen guy who is a slight upgrade over last year. They added decent and somewhat versatile bench players in Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and Juan Pierre. Their big losses to free agency, Ryan Madson and Roy Oswalt, aren’t really going to be missed. But their big problem is that Utley and Howard are hurt (see above). The key here is that, having won 102 games last year, and just missing getting out of the crapshoot that is the first round of the playoffs, they really didn't need to do much this offseason other than tread water.
Juan Pierre: Why?
Look, no team's 25th guy is going to look good in isolation. As a 25th guy, though, Pierre might be very useful. He can give outfielders a break, pinch run in late innings, and bunt to get on base when needed. The trouble is if he’s used more frequently. But even so, his .342 OBP over the past three years is decent for a 25th guy. He just needs to cut down on his caught stealings (17 last year compared to 27 stolen bases). The Phillies are usually very good at not giving away outs on the basepaths; Pierre needs to learn that.
Many of the articles you've recently posted at The Good Phight seem to be elaborate responses to a fanbase that has lost its mind. What's going on there, and what kinds of comments can Pirates fans at PNC Park this weekend make to drive them even crazier?
Armchair psychologist hat on: the Phillies were so torturously bad for so long, but now they’re not. The fanbase has gotten used to winning, but still fears it slipping away at any moment and the team going back to the bad ol’ days. When perceived disaster strikes, like Utley and Howard getting injured, Dom Brown failing to materialize, and John Mayberry hitting horribly in spring training, the fanbase sees its winning days are over and panics. That’s what’s going on here. Well, that and people somehow think that Wilson Valdez was the team MVP last year (maybe a candidate for LVP, but certainly not MVP) and now miss him with Utley starting the season on the DL. So maybe shouting, "Miss Valdez much?" at PNC Park this weekend will drive your run-of-the-mill phan crazy.