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It's Tough to Repeat

An interesting conversation in a FanPost, "The Team to Repeat?", has started to degenerate into an internet slap fight. Since I liked the conversation before it got to that point, I'm going to use my proprietor prerogative and put my own thoughts up in lights. (Also: it beats doing work.) 

I don't think the two main arguments in the discussion--that the team is about as solid and well positioned to contend as one could hope for, and that there's so much uncertainty inherent in a baseball season that it's little more than whistling in the dark to just assume they'll be back in the playoffs--are mutually exclusive. Compared to past seasons, there's less uncertainty about the 2009 Phillies as of March than in any year I can remember. The lineup is entirely set, and the bench is mostly set. There's one open rotation spot with a few viable options. There are between zero and two bullpen jobs available. Injuries could wreck the year, and we were *very* fortunate in that respect last season. But that's true for everybody, and the Phillies might be less at risk here than, say, the Mets with Santana's elbow and mileage, the recent injury histories of Maine and Putz, the erosion of K-Rod's peripherals, etc. The Braves probably had fewer healthy players than hurt guys last season. The Marlins had a wheelbarrowful of very talented young pitchers who thrived in '06, were hurt in '07, and started to come back last year. Going forward, who knows if they'll stay intact.

If the last decade of baseball has taught us anything, it's that all a GM and a manager can do is try to put a competitive foundation in place, try to make prudent midcourse adjustments, and then hope for the best. I feel pretty confident that over the course of a 162-game season, flawed teams get exposed--think of all the near-miss Phils clubs of 2001-2006 that fell short because of one awful regular (cough*DavidBell*cough), a totally limp bench (2005 team, I'm looking in your direction), or the want of one reliable late-game reliever (2003). Or the Mets' hideous bullpen last year. Or Arizona's inability to get guys on base. The Phillies have had that foundation--a team without obviously fatal structural weaknesses--since late summer 2007 when their bullpen solidified. That's still true. On the other hand, the 2008 Tigers didn't look to have obvious flaws either, and they stunk on ice. 

The division opponents did more to improve themselves this winter than we did. The Mets "only" added a few relievers (Sean Green, Ron Villone and Conor Robertson in addition to the two late-inning guys), but those additions push the holdovers into less important roles--so their value should go beyond their actual performance. The Braves did something similar with their rotation: Jair Jurrjens might not be as good this year, but he'll be the #4 guy, not the ace. And adding Lowe, Vasquez and Kawakami should take a lot of pressure off their talented but fragile bullpen. 

The Phils run some risk of turning into the 2003 Angels, who brought back virtually their entire championship team. Amaro replaced Burrell with Ibanez in part to avoid that--to bring in some fresh blood--but I think the bigger key might turn out to be how much help they get from rookies like Lou Marson, Jason Donald, J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco. One unusual thing about 2008 was that rookies contributed almost nothing to the championship club. 

This all is to say that there are many, many factors to consider, an almost unlimited number of potential storylines for the 2009 season to follow. At TGP, we want to have as much fun with the plot as it unfolds as we can; to both new users who have found us through Yahoo! and our beloved regulars, we just ask that you enjoy the ride with us, and that you be relatively excellent to each other.