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O Happy Day

The four sweetest words in the English language: "Pitchers and catchers report."

If you can't be optimistic today, it's never going to happen. Looking around the Philly press, even Old Man Grumpus Bill Conlin seems to have caught the bug, as he implies that GM Pat Gillick is playing possum with his "not good enough" comments.

Then again, there's Bill's Daily News colleague Marcus Hayes--who after years of parroting the team line seems bent on showing his independent bona fides with a gloomy forecast predicting third place "at best." Given that the Marlins are pulling a "Major League" (but without Willie Mays Hays, Cerrano, Arnie from LA Law, or a Hollywood-mandated happy ending) and the Nationals have Ryan Zimmerman and a whole lotta nuthin, I have trouble seeing the Phils any lower than third; considering that the Mets are wafer-thin in the rotation and that the Braves are as or more dependent upon "young overachievers" (to use Marcus Hayes' formulation) as the Phils, upward mobility seems more likely than down, at least through these rose-colored glasses.

What Hayes fails to grasp, in his gloomy assessment of the Phils' pitching outlook, is that the team has more options at the back end of the rotation, and those options bring more upside, than last year's club. If Ryan Franklin, Ryan Madson, and Cory Lidle all struggle, let's see what Tejeda, Floyd, Brito, Rodriguez, Hamels, Haigwood and later Wolf can do. By the end of the season, it's reasonable IMO to expect that no more than three of the opening five starters will remain in the rotation, and that the team will be sharply better as a result.

Charlie Manuel is wearing the happy specs too, based on this interview with Randy Miller:

1. How are you feeling about your team at this point?

"We've got some question marks. But at the same time we've got some players, some young players, and quite a few pitchers I don't know. Basically, spring training will be real interesting. We've got a lot of guys to look at. That will keep us busy."

2. What's your primary concern right now?

"We have to stay healthy and be in shape when the season starts. I thought last year we were ready, but we got off slow. [April] was the worst month we had, and it put us in the hole."
9. Gillick says everyone - including his manager and coaching staff - are subject to daily evaluation. Are you worried about your job security?

"I feel like if I do my job, I won't have to worry about keeping my job. I feel like Pat Gillick is going to see me manage, how I run our club, how we play. Hey look, man, I've been in this game 40-some [bleeping] years. You think I'm worried about losing my job? I'm going to do my job. I'm not going to lose my job. We're going to come out and play. For me to worry about losing my job, damn. ... If that ain't negative, what is? In order for me to be good, damn, I've got to be positive. That's who I am."

I like Cholly, I don't care what everyone says. I really do believe that his steady hand in the clubhouse helps more than his sometimes-baffling in-game decisions hurt... though I still hope he gets better at the latter.

Personally, today marks the three-week countdown until I head down to Florida to catch some sun and spring baseball. So I got that going for me.