Phillies hoping to keep their window open

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would provide a boost if they are healthy and ready for Opening Day.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would provide a boost if they are healthy and ready for Opening Day.
Posted: February 14, 2013

CLEARWATER, Fla. - An ideal piece of real estate in the greater Tampa Bay area has at least one room with a view and, if you're lucky, a patio that overlooks the gulf. No such land can be had on North Old Coachman Road in Clearwater.

You can't see the water from Bright House Field. The best seats in the house overlook a highway: Route 19.

But up above the concourse and along the third-base line are the executive offices with big windows and small porches for overlooking the activities on the field. The Phillies' higher-ups can even seek refuge in the cushiony, air-conditioned offices and keep an eye on the diamond, too.

Behind those windows are the people who make the crucial decisions that they hope translate into a winning and profitable baseball team. On the other side of the windows is a cast of multimillionaire athletes who make up a good portion of that roster.

In 2013, the proverbial window of opportunity is closing on the organization.

The Phillies are 5 years removed from the season that ended with them crowned as World Series champs. They're entering a season that's more of a crossroads than any since their division title run began in 2007 and ended last fall.

On Tuesday morning, a day before pitchers and catchers take to the fields for the first official workout at the Carpenter Complex, Ryan Howard greeted reporters just arriving on the scene and Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins took infield work. Roy Halladay played catch with Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz did the same with Erik Kratz.

A year from now, a few of those names - and Charlie Manuel, too - may no longer be around.

"Yeah, there are several possible free agents," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "Laynce [Nix], Michael Young, Delmon Young - all across the board there are a lot of guys. So in some ways, this could be a very pivotal year for us."

Utley, Halladay and Ruiz - who could all be in an argument as the team's most indispensable player - are entering the final years of their contracts. Manuel is also in the final year of his deal, with recently promoted Ryne Sandberg possibly in waiting.

As spring training officially gets under way, Amaro is sticking with his normal philosophy of running a major league baseball team. He wants to win now while also keeping a winning product on the field for the future, too.

He knows all about the window that is closing on the core of his club. Coincidentally, the window can only stay open for the older players - like Howard and Utley and Halladay - if the influx of younger players contributes.

"A lot of it will depend on how people perform, on how the young players perform," Amaro said. "At some point we're going to be filtering some young players onto this club and we need to find out who needs to be those guys to keep us going, to keep us afloat."

Having committed $532 million to Howard, Hamels, Halladay, Rollins, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon in the last 3 years, the Phils need the filtering in of those younger, cheaper players. No major league team, not even the Yankees, has a roster full of $10 million to $20 million-a-year players alone.

Therefore, in allotting his dollars this winter, Amaro chose to spend on the bullpen, guaranteeing $12 million to veteran setup man Mike Adams, rather than pay for an outfielder. The result was a trade for the cheap-but-useful Ben Revere and the uncertainty on the two corners that surround him in the outfield.

The most obvious objective of the spring is for the Phillies to get through the next 2 months with Halladay, Howard and Utley healthy and ready for bounce-back seasons. But it's also critical for their younger players to win jobs and prove their mettle as major league players.

"I just want to see development in our players," Amaro said. "Domonic [Brown] is important to us, [and] Darin Ruf and what he becomes. These are guys that have high ceilings. We want to see them start to reach those ceilings. That's very, very important.

"Obviously, the health of our players is an important element as well. But it'll be interesting. We'll be doing a lot of observing in a number of different ways for a number of different reasons, not just for the team this year but for the team long-term.

"We want to watch how [infielder] Freddy Galvis develops, how certain guys who are trying to put themselves in better positions, the bullpen guys from [Phillippe] Aumont and [Justin] De Fratus, [Mike] Stutes - how is he going to come back - and [B.J.] Rosenberg, guys like [Jeremy] Horst. We're going to be eyeballing a lot of guys because it's going to be important to assess what we're going to do down the road."

Everyone will be following the progress of Halladay, who showed signs of decline in an injury-ravaged 2012 season. They'll be waiting to see Utley's name in a Grapefruit League lineup for the first time since 2010 and they'll want to see Howard reach Route 19 with his patented, power stroke.

But the people behind the windows will be looking at the younger players this spring, too. They are expecting them to do their part in sustaining the franchise's decadelong run of success.

Phillers

Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard were among the position players already in camp. Although pitchers and catchers were required to report on Tuesday, position players don't officially have to check in until Friday. The first full-squad workout is Saturday. According to a Phillies official, 45 of the 60 players already had checked into Clearwater before Monday night . . . Among pitchers and catchers, righthander Juan Cruz, a nonroster invitee who will compete for a bullpen job, was the only no-show. According to Ruben Amaro Jr., there was a miscommunication issue with Cruz' agent about the report date . . . The Phils have unveiled a new building at the Carpenter Complex this spring. The doors opened last month on a minor league training facility that sits on 20,000 square feet of land. The building is equipped with six indoor batting cages and mounds, a state-of-the-art weight room and a video room, too.

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