Contenders or Pretenders: Will Newcomers Help Phillies Overtake Washington in the NL East

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies  will be  a good team even if they don't  add another right -handed bat via trade or free agency.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies will be a good team even if they don’t add another right -handed bat via trade or free agency. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Perhaps the biggest question the Phillies will have coming into spring training and the 2013 season is if they’re better than last year’s 81-81 record.

An even deeper question is if they’re better than the Washington Nationals team that won the National League East last season.

We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. The Phillies still need a right-handed corner outfielder who can hit.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said even if he doesn’t find the right-handed bat via trade or free agency, he’s satisfied with his current set of corner outfielders including right-handed hitters  John Mayberry Jr. and minor-league sensation Darin Ruf, who batted .333 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games at the major league level.

“I think we have talent there,” Amaro said. “How we’re going to maximize that talent. I’m not sure yet. If we have to go with those guys if we feel the other alternatives all that much better, there’s no reason to go out and do something that doesn’t make sense for us.”

On the other end of that quote, Amaro could be open to bringing in Cody Ross, Vernon Wells or even 36-year-old Alfonso Soriano, who hit 32 home runs, drove in 108 runs and batted .282 with an OPS (slugging percentage and on-base percentage) of .821 for the Chicago Cubs last year. He played in 151 games in 2011.

That’s if and only if the price is right.

If you’re looking at things two months before spring training and taking in the Phillies new off-season acquisitions, I’m going to answer the question I used to start this column with a no. I don’t think they are better on paper than the team that was supposed to win the division last season.

But I’m not going to say that the Phillies will be taking space in the bottom of the division in 2013 either.

What I will say is that they’ll be competitive enough to be in contention for the National League East in 2013. The team solved their center field situation on the cheap by trading up and coming right-handed pitcher Vance Worley and a Double-A to the Minnesota Twins for speedy centerfielder Ben Revere.

If you look at his numbers from last season, the 24-year-old Revere, a left-handed hitter, played in 124 games, batted .294 and had a .333 on-base percentage. He batted .314 against left-handed pitching. He stole 40 bases, which ranked him third in the American League.  Revere had 150 hits and scored 70 runs. He is a career .278-hitter with 72 stolen bases and 64 RBI with zero home runs during his time in Minnesota.

Of course, Phillies fans are concerned about Revere’s lack of power and the tendency of teams around the American League to position outfielders to move in a little closer to take away the bloop singles Revere lives on.

“Hopefully here, I get that one big ol’ gust of wind to push it that five-feet,” Revere said of his lack of homerun power. “I’ll be doing cartwheels on the bases.”

Revere is a younger, faster version of Juan Pierre.  His ability to steal bases will definitely be a boost to the Phillies offense. You would think that Phils manager Charlie Manuel would work with the  young Revere on generating more power.  His speed on defense is also an asset.

“That’s what they want me out there for,” Revere said. “To make the defense much better and hopefully make the offense more dangerous.”

More than likely, Revere will bat eighth, but I think batting him in the No. 2 spot would be interesting because of his speed and Jimmy Rollins’ ability to swipe bases could make life difficult for opposing pitchers, especially with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard coming up in the lineup.

Phillies new third baseman Michael Young said he's excited to be in Philly. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies new third baseman Michael Young said he’s excited to be in Philly. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Phillies solved their third base vacancy with the acquisition of Michael Young from the Texas Rangers. Despite being 36-years-old and seeing his numbers decline in 2012 from 2011, Young is still an upgrade offensively from Placido Polanco.

In what was a down year for Young, he batted .277 with eight homeruns and a .682 on-base plus slugging percentage (ops). He also had 67 runs batted in while playing 156 games. Polanco batted .257 with in 90 games in an injury-riddled 2012.

Young will get to play one position—third base—that he didn’t get to do a lot in his last few years in Texas. He played shortstop, second base and first base for the Rangers.

“I think that my time at third will be easier because I can devote all my time to my reps at third,” Young said at a press conference on Tuesday.  “The toughest part about playing different spots is dividing your reps—all my time is devoted to one spot.”

After trading Vance Worley to the Twins, the Phillies found their fifth starting pitcher by signing John Lannan to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Last season, Lannan spent most of his season with the Nationals Triple-A Syracuse club. In six appearances with the Nationals last season, Lannan  was 4-1 with a 4.13 earned run average.

The Phillies also bolstered their bullpen, which often blew leads last season, by signing set-up man Mike Adams, who was 5-3 with a 3.27 earned run average. How effective he will be depends on how he has recovered from thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which a rib bone presses against the bone causing numbness in the arm.

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