Few general managers are likelier on a hotter seat entering the 2014 Major League Baseball season than Philadelphia's Ruben Amaro Jr. The Phillies have gone from 102 wins and a Division Series loss to St. Louis in 2011 to 81 wins and then 73 last year, finishing fourth in the NL East. It was the team's worst record since 1997. Another season missing the playoffs probably means a change at the top.
OF Roger Bernadina, RHP Tyler Cloyd, RHP Roy Halladay, C Eric Kratz, UT Michael Martinez, RHP Zach Miner, IF Pete Orr, RHP J.C. Ramirez, OF Casper Wells
SS Reid Brignac, OF Marlon Byrd, RHP Shawn Camp, SS Ronny Cedeno, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Brad Lincoln, C Lou Marson, C Wil Nieves, OF Clete Thomas
This will be the first season since 2004 that Charlie Manuel isn't in the Phillies dugout for Opening Day. He was canned last Aug. 16 by the team after it fell to 53-68 overall and just 5-20 after the All-Star Break. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was named Manuel's interim replacement and then officially given the full-time job in late September as the Phillies played much better under his watch. Of course Sandberg was briefly a Phillies player before the Cubs got him and Larry Bowa -- a former Phillies manager himself -- in a 1982 trade for Ivan DeJesus that became one of the most lopsided deals in big-league history. Sandberg is the first full-time manager who had a Hall of Fame career since Frank Robinson managed the Expos/Nationals from 2002-06.
Amaro had a rather unusual offseason. He wasn't afraid to spend money, but he's got a very old roster and yet he still signed 36-year-old outfielder Marlon Byrd. He had a fine bounce-back season last year with the Mets and Pirates, but $16 million over two years baffled many other executives. Byrd, who also has been previously suspended for PED use, will play right field and likely hit sixth. The team also gave 35-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz a three-year, $26 million deal to re-sign. The biggest loss was former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, who retired after an injury-plagued and disastrous 2013 campaign.
Amaro would take a bag of balls at this point for guys like overpaid closer Jonathan Papelbon, hugely overpaid first baseman Ryan Howard and way-past-his-prime shortstop Jimmy Rollins. If Alex Rodriguez is the most criminally overpaid player in MLB, Howard is No. 2. Howard can't stay healthy and even when he does he's an automatic out against lefties. He has hit .173 against them the past two years. Really the only young player with upside who will start Opening Day is outfielder Dominic Brown, who had a breakout 2013 season with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs. He also was rumored in some trade talks.
Third base is a big question mark with youngster Cody Asche penciled in as the starter for now. He hit .235 with five home runs and 22 RBIs last season as a rookie in 50 games. The rotation is solid at the top with lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee -- the Phils would trade either of them too -- but after them it's questions with three of Miguel Gonzalez, Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone and Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) filling it out. It's not a group that matches up with Atlanta's and Washington's in the NL East. Philadelphia will be an underdog on MLB odds most nights that Lee or Hamels don't pitch.
The Phillies are +2000 at BetOnline to win the NL pennant and +3300 to win the World Series.
Guys like Howard, Rollins and Chase Utley actually manage to stay on the field for at least 150 games apiece and hit like it's 2009. If Hamels and Lee can combine for something around 36 wins the team could contend for a wild-card spot. The Phillies could afford to add a piece if need be thanks to a huge new local TV deal.
Father Time continues to hammer the Phils and attendance keeps plummeting. Early struggles lead Amaro to start jettisoning guys like Brown and/or Lee in trades and the team finishes ahead of only Miami in the division.