We’re all still basking in the afterglow of another championship come home to our city. While it wasn’t our beloved Phillies, I guess we can make some room in our heart for the Eagles and their first Super Bowl. So, while credit cards start to cool off from purchasing hundreds of dollars of Eagles championship apparel, we start to focus our attention on the boys in red pinstripes.
The Eagles’ improbable run to a championship was highlighted by the team overcoming the loss of their MVP candidate at the quarterback position (along with several others at key spots), and finding in Nick Foles a more than capable replacement for Carson Wentz. It got me thinking: if one of the starters on the Phillies gets hurt, who will pick up the slack?
If you want to find an answer, let’s set some parameters. First, we have to acknowledge the vast difference in roster construction. A baseball roster is almost half the size of a gameday football roster (25 v. 53). Twelve to thirteen of those spots are occupied by pitching specialists, of which anywhere from 3-5 of those are unable to perform on a given day. With football, you have players who can play at multiple positions along the defensive or offensive lines, at the linebacker or, in emergency, the safety position. They even have some players who are capable of kicking an extra point or snapping the ball in an extra point attempt. In other words, there is more of a “next man up” philosophy than there is in baseball. If the second baseman goes down to injury, you won’t see the lefty reliever entering the game any time soon.
Baseball and their rosters are a little more difficult to juggle. Where it does differ is that there are minor league players playing every day, honing their craft in the hopes of getting that call up to fill in in case of emergency, where a third string running back might get three to four plays a month if he’s lucky. Minor league baseball players get the benefit of being “up to game speed” more than a reserve in football. The issue then falls to the discussion of 40 man roster spots. We all clamored to see Scott Kingery last season due to his offensive explosion in Double-A Reading, but the fact that he was not on the 40 man roster meant he had to stay down lest the team be forced to expose someone they had to the waiver wire. You could argue whether or not those players were worth the spot they occupied, but the fact is that management’s hands were somewhat tied. In football, those reserves are already on hand. So, yes - there is a big difference in how reserves are deployed into a starting lineup.
Now, as we look ahead to 2018, we see that the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup is more or less set. In some way, shape or form, this is who will be trotting out to their positions in April:
2B Cesar Hernandez
CF Odubel Herrera
1B Carlos Santana
LF Rhys Hoskins
RF Nick Williams
3B Maikel Franco
SS J.P. Crawford
C Jorge Alfaro
P Aaron Nola
Judging from this lineup, we could say that the team is “set” at every position, in that, there will be very few, if any, battles during spring training for a spot in the starting nine. Right now, you could make the argument that if every thing broke right, this lineup is one that could make a playoff push (the rotation, on the other hand....).
But what if one of them went down?
There is some depth behind these players as well, which makes injuries a far less scary proposition than it might be on other teams. If someone like Carlos Santana strains a hamstring and needs to miss time, Rhys Hoskins is there to take his place, with Aaron Altherr backing him up in the outfield. If Jorge Alfaro sustains another head injury similar to the one he had at the end of 2017, Andrew Knapp and/or Cameron Rupp will be ready to step in. Going back to the minor league issue, Kingery is there as a safety valve should something serious happen to Cesar Hernandez. With the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego, keeping J.P. Crawford healthy is imperitive to success since there isn’t anyone close to his level of ability on the roster or among the minor league invites to spring training. Somewhat surprisingly, he might be the closest thing the team has to a “we cannot lose him to injury” player this team has.
My point is, Matt Klentak and company have built up an good amount of depth in case an injury does occur to someone important in the lineup. Paul Boye wrote a few weeks ago about the bench situation heading into spring and how it might not be as bleak as some might put it. None of the players he suggested are ones you’d want out there for an extended period and still have hopes of contending, but they can fill in for a week or two admirably if deployed wisely.
With players spending more and more time on the disabled list now that it has been reduced from fifteen days to ten, having that depth is what helps team contend throughout the long season. In the past, the depth has been non-existent. This year, there is more hope than before that a major injury may not fell this team as much as it might have before. With some fans harboring hope that a playoff run might be occurring this year, that is a nice thought as they head down the Clearwater.
So, what happens if someone gets “Wentz-ed”? Much like the Eagles, they’ll probably be just fine. Will it be all rainbows and sunshine? No. But thanks to the depth that Klentak has accumulated, provided the injury is too serious, this team should be just fine.