Inside the Phillies: Is window of opportunity closing on aging Phillies?

Posted: October 16, 2011

Windows are as much a part of baseball as hot dogs, peanuts, and cracker jacks.

Whenever there is rain in the forecast, the owners are always looking for that window in the sky that will allow them to play ball and avoid postponement.

And, of course, there is the proverbial window of opportunity.

Is it open, closing, or closed?

The Phillies' core players have reached a stage in their careers where it's worthwhile debating whether the window is going up, down, or remaining stationary.

Obviously, the core players are getting older and have all had to deal with serious injuries.

First baseman Ryan Howard will be 32 next season and may not be able to make it to the starting gate in April after undergoing surgery last week to repair a torn Achilles tendon in his left foot.

Second baseman Chase Utley will be 33 next season and missed the first 45 games in 2011 because of patellar tendinitis in his knee. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes it is not magically going to disappear.

"I don't know if it's behind him," Amaro said. "Is he going to be a 30-home run, 110-RBI guy and hit .300? I don't know that. I hope he is. That will help us. Whatever we get out of Chase is going to help us. I know he is going to strive to get to the point where he can maximize his numbers and his production."

Third baseman Placido Polanco turned 36 Monday and celebrated the following day by having surgery for a double sports hernia. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be 33 next season and there's no guarantee he'll be playing in Philadelphia. He's a free agent who has missed 94 games the last two seasons because of groin, hamstring, and calf injuries.

A National League talent evaluator who has watched the Phillies quite often the last two seasons was fascinated last week as he listened to the general manager and some players talk about how the team will rebound from the National League division series loss to St. Louis.

"I was reminded of the aging boxer who wants to come out of retirement," the scout said. "It's like Marvin Hagler or Ray Mancini saying that they are still ready to be champions at 39, but their body can't do what their mind is telling them. I guess you do have George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins, too. They were able to do it. I'm not sure where the Phillies lie in that equation.

"I do know you don't get faster and you don't get quicker in your early to mid-30s. Go around that whole infield and every one of them has had fairly significant injuries below the waist. In the long run, that is going to compromise your foundation and take its toll."

The scout's solution would be to let Rollins walk as a free agent in an attempt to get younger.

"It might be time to find out about a guy like Freddy Galvis," the scout said. "I saw him this year and he really is improving. I don't know if he's ready to be an everyday player in the big leagues, but I just think they need to get younger. As good as they are, they have a whole lot of guys on the downside of their peak. To ignore that is foolish. To say, 'We'll bounce back and be fine next year,' it doesn't work that way most times. Usually, it ends up being ugly."

The Phillies figure to get younger by replacing 39-year-old Raul Ibanez in left field with John Mayberry Jr., who will be 28 next season.

"I personally do not think Mayberry can do it every day," the scout said. "Having seen him for two years, righthanders with a good breaking ball give him a lot of trouble. He always handles lefties well, but remember the league had a full look at him now, so it still remains to be seen what he can do next year and the following year. If he winds up being a platoon player, that's great, but you have to find somebody to play with him."

The scout agrees with manager Charlie Manuel that Hunter Pence, who will be 29 next April, added a needed dimension to the offense and the clubhouse, but he believes the Phillies need more of that next season if they're going to achieve their ultimate goal of winning the World Series. He thinks they need more complementary pieces like the Cardinals have with Ryan Theriot, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto.

Thanks to the rotation trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, the scout does still see the Phillies as the team to beat in the National League East in 2012, and he does not discount the idea that they can keep their current roll going for quite some time.

"They have great ownership, an aggressive GM, and the nucleus of players who have had success," the scout said. "The other good thing is that they fill that stadium every night, so they'll have the revenue stream to get players.

"I would say they are still the favorites right now. Until somebody beats them, how can you say otherwise? The Braves have proven they can't do it and Washington is not there yet. The Marlins are starting over and the Mets are at least a couple years away."

The scout said he believes the Nationals will be the next team in the NL East to threaten the Phillies.

"Those guys are getting better and they're going to spend money this winter," he said. "They'll have [Stephen] Strasburg and I think Jayson Werth has to be better. You watch, they'll make a run for either [Jose] Reyes or [Prince] Fielder in free agency."

The Phillies are an aging team with some wounded warriors and that's a major reason to be concerned about which direction their window is headed.

Great starting pitching will always keep the window open. The Phillies, however, clearly need an injection of youth in order to jump through the window and back into the World Series.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at bbrookover@phillynews.com

or @brookob on Twitter.

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