World Champions Reload, Reorganize, for Repeat
- Updated: April 8, 2009
The start of this offseason brought about a bevy of unwelcomed, albeit unsurprising news to the 2008 World Champions. Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero, who had a 0.00 ERA in four World Series appearances, finally learned the fate of his appeal for violating the league’s steroid-abuse policy. Romero was sentenced to a 50-game suspension to begin the 2009 regular season.
The Phillies were also faced with the departure of left fielder Pat Burrell, the team’s longest tenured player, who left to swim in the unchartered waters of free agency. The grand marshal of the Phillies’ World Series parade signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, the same team Burrell helped the Phillies defeat to earn the illustrious crown.
New general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., who served as assistant general manager to both Ed Wade and the recently retired Pat Gillick, had to react fast to fill the holes presented by these problems. Amaro responded in December by signing veteran RBI-machine Raul Ibanez to a 3-year, $30 million contract. Ibanez has averaged 25 home runs and 112 RBIs over the last three seasons, all the while playing his home games in cavernous Safeco Field in Seattle.
Another move made by Amaro in mid-December was the free-agent acquisition of right-handed pitcher Chan Ho Park, who was signed to a one-year deal for $2.5 million. Park was originally signed to be a middle reliever, which was the same role that he filled with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. The 35-year-old was actually better as a starter than he was as a reliever last season as he posted a 2.16 ERA in 25 innings in five starts.
Park shined in Grapefruit League play this spring as he posted a 2.53 ERA to go along with four starts and had struck out 25 batters. He was recently named the winner of the fifth starter competition, outlasting J.A. Happ, Carlos Carrasco, and Kyle Kendrick. Carrasco was sent to Triple-A affiliate Lehigh Valley and Kendrick was demoted to the Phillies’ minor league camp.
In a move that brought relief to many Phillies fans, left-handed veteran starter Jamie Moyer was resigned to a two-year, $13 million contract. The Souderton, Pa. native was the best starter for the Phillies last season, going 16-7 and had a 3.71 ERA. Moyer is the poster child for control over power as his fastball rarely breaks 83 miles-per-hour and is entering his 23rd professional season with a career 4.19 ERA.
To fill the void “left” by Romero, the Phillies traded catcher Ronny Paulino to the San Francisco Giants for southpaw reliever Jack Taschner. Paulino was acquired back on December 10 in a minor league catcher swap with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jason Jaramillo. Paulino struggled in Grapefruit league play by hitting only .194 in 31 total at-bats and struck out 13 times.
In Taschner, the Phillies get another left-handed option out of the bullpen in addition to Scott Eyre. Last season, Taschner had a 3.03 earned run average in the first half of the season, which bodes well for the Phillies as they wait for Romero to serve his suspension.
All-star second baseman Chase Utley underwent right hip surgery in the offseason to fix an ailing problem that limited him to just eight home runs in the second half of the season. It was originally believed that Utley would be out for the first six weeks of the regular season. But thanks to an aggressive rehab program, Utley began hitting off of a tee early in Spring Training and was ready for Opening Night.
The Phillies, however, received a scare when World Series MVP Cole Hamels was briefly shut down in mid-March with inflammation in his left elbow. After signing a three-year extension worth $20.5 million, the last thing Phillies brass wanted to hear was their young ace sustaining any significant injury. Brett Myers was named as the opening night starter instead of Hamels as it is believed that he still needs time in Clearwater to get ready for the regular season. Hamels is slated to start Friday, April 10 against the Colorado Rockies in Coors Field.
Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard ended the yearly arbitration drama by signing a three-year $54 million contract. The deal allowed Howard to focus solely on baseball and not dollars and cents as the contract runs through the end of his arbitration years. In response to the new deal, Howard has torn through Grapefruit League pitching with a .315 batting average, 10 home runs and an on-base percentage of .400 through 73 at-bats.
Both Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino spent some time away from Clearwater as they played for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Their efforts helped lead the U.S. to the semifinals of this year’s tournament and the time spent playing meaningful games helped the young stars get into game shape for the upcoming season.
The only thing that is left to do now is raise the World Series Championship banner for 2008, then comes the title defense.
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