2012 Spring Training

The Turnover of a Championship Team

Brad Lidge and Jayson Werth have gone south. (AP)

It is now common knowledge that Ruben Amaro Jr. was engaged in negotiations to essentially turn Joe Blanton into Bobby Abreu, then turn Abreu into AJ Burnett. I have a soft-spot for Blanton: the big Kentuckian was perfectly serviceable during the 2008 championship run and, like Cole Hamels, did not register a loss in the postseason that year.

Blanton is affable and epitomizes the imperfections of Philadelphia that fans can relate to. Is Blanton the biggest or strongest pitcher? No. Is he the fastest to the plate or does he have the best repertoire? No. But what Blanton does posses is an intangible likability and projects an image of a workman who packs his lunch. As a fan, it would have hurt to see Blanton, a member of said championship team, gone.

Then it hit me: they’re almost all gone already.

41 players wore white with red pinstripes in the 2008 season. Of those 41, only Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, and Blanton remain. Eight players are the last link to our World Championship team only three seasons later.

It is surprising but hardly jarring information. Most moves made the team more competitive, while other players who only had cups of coffee with the Phillies like Mike Cervanek or Brad Harman were never expected to stay. Some were rented mercenaries, acquired only to add some punch to keep us in the playoff hunt like Rudy Seanez or Matt Stairs. Most of the exits made sense: Pat Burrell was ready to move on, Adam Eaton was released, and Seanez retired. Some stayed around one more season to help us get back to the World Series before they left like Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre.

I think to an extent, it becomes difficult to separate the fan aspect from the human aspect of baseball. Blanton was such a gigantic part of leading the Phils into and through the playoffs that it would be heartbreaking to see him traded. But as a fanatic of the Phillies, I know heading into the season, the Phillies prospects for a World Series win may increase with somebody else taking the ball every fifth day. It is something we struggle with when talking about players like Howard, who have meant so much and share such an identity with the team, but whose contracts make even the average fan do a double take. And conversely, that’s what made it so gut-wrenching during the Rollins negotiations to hear him say he loved Philadelphia but imply that he might not be back.

To be honest, that’s the best part about being a fan. Reconciling business with loyalty, juxtaposing who helps you win the most with who gave you the best memories. That push and pull? That’s what I love about writing about baseball and the Phillies.

To the 33 members of the Phillies 2008 championship squad who are no longer on the team? Thanks. But I’d also like to move forward. This is quite possibly the most talented Phillies team out of the last six years. Their pitching is the best 1-2-3 in all of baseball. They have the best bench they’ve had in the last six seasons. Utley is healthy. This may be Victorino’s last year as a Phillie. Worse yet, it may be Hamels’s last year, too.

There will be a day when there are no longer any members of the 2008 championship team in the Phillies clubhouse, a day when Charlie and Rich aren’t calling shots, and a day when Ruben is no longer the GM. But we have eight guys who know what it takes to win a championship in Philadelphia, four (Jose Contreras, Jonathan Papelbon, Juan Pierre, and Scott Podsednik) who have won elsewhere, and 13+ more who are ready to do anything to win it. With the eternal optimism of Spring, I say “Play Ball”.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ryan

    February 21, 2012 at 11:27 am

    I just felt the need to let you know that there was a great deal of nostalgia experienced while reading this article, great read and very well written. Cannot wait for the season!! Hopefully the Phils of 2012 produce that same experience

    • Dave

      February 21, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Seriously, a great article. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am at times nostalgic to a fault.Took me back to the good seasons, and the not-so-good seasons. Can’t have one without the other, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I watch the game cuz I love the game, not just because I think the Phils can win it all (which I think they can do anyways). Already looking forward to the next few months. I don’t want to think farther than that, just enjoy the moment of being a fan of this currently awesome team.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      February 21, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Ryan and Dave – thank you for the kind words! Was a lot of fun writing that and something different for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  2. BART SHART

    February 21, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Good article. Baseball today is a game of constant transition. Sometimes it bothers me and sometimes I embrace it. It is getting like the NBA in that salaries are getting scary and the addition of two solid players in baseball — an outstanding hitter and an outstanding starting pitcher can turn a mediocre team into a champion. There are a lot of serviceabe veterans and utility players that can turn a mediocre squad into killers. Just look at the ’93 Phils. That is why “The Offseason” and the Hot Stove League are such important parts of the game. For baseball nuts like me, the offseason makes baseball an all-year hobby. And that ain’t bad.

  3. betasigmadeltashag

    February 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    I thought this was one of the best writen post in a long time, I still have the 2008 highlights on DVR and watch them a few times a month. I know you can not live in the past, and maybe I do a little too much. And I think if Charlie can embrace the bench and the pen to rest the starting eight during the year I think this team has a depth they have not had in the past. I am ready for baseball and opening day is just around the corner.

  4. branderson925

    February 21, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Haven’t been on in a while with the demise of the Eagles and Flyers/Sixers season in full swing (plus I’ve been studying abroad in Italy since mid January) but I wanted to say nice article. I woulda been pissed if we got rid of Blanton and got Burnett. Burnett is washed up and I loved Blanton since he was on the A’s. Some might remember that the A’s are my second team (I know I know). It will be a sad day when no one remains but hopefully that is after Cole retires at age 40 or something.

    I just thought about how we have three former White Sox from their championship. Kinda strange

  5. The Original Chuck P

    February 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Kind of crazy that only 8 players from that team remain… it seems like yesterday but it was three years ago which means that it’s time to win again.

    This team has been labeled with a different identity and I’m not sure if everyone has fully embraced it, yet. The ’08 squad was a team full of underdogs and scrappers… their identity was largely to never quit. They trotted out Hamels, Myers, Moyer, and Blanton and won… they weren’t expected to be there but they made it work because they never gave up. This team is expected to win. Even though there are only 8 players remaining from that ’08 squad, five of they are every day players. That’s more than half of the starting lineup… those guys are still sort of wired to grind. They have embraced the killer instinct… they put teams away and they don’t relinquish leads in September but the grind hurts them when it matters most. They need to embrace the fact that it’s all about October. Everything they do has to be centered on winning a championship and understanding that they can win with confidence and swagger during the regular season but once the postseason begins, it’s a grind. It’s about who wants it more and the best team on paper rarely wins. They can’t get caught off guard by the team that has momentum… slow starts don’t work in the postseason. Be the first team to score and the last team to celebrate. I want to see this team win a championship so bad – it would be an epic failure if they didn’t win one this year. The bench is stronger, the rotation is great and the bad taste of losing is still fresh on the minds of everyone. It’s time to put the women and children to bed and go looking for dinner.

    • schmenkman

      February 21, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      “They need to embrace the fact that it’s all about October.”
      – Of course it’s only all about October if you actually make it to the postseason. As good as this team is, it’s a little premature to assume that.

      “It’s about who wants it more…”
      – Really? The Phillies didn’t “want it” enough last year? If only they wanted it more, they somehow would have pulled it out, is that it?

      “I want to see this team win a championship so bad – it would be an epic failure if they didn’t win one this year.”
      – I’m with you on the first part, but an epic failure? Seriously? When each round of the postseason is a crapshoot and you have to get through three of them to win it all?

      I assume you know the odds are against them winning it all, no matter how good they are.

      • Brian Sr. of CO

        February 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

        Agreed in reference to “It’s about who wants it more”. Who is playing better (who is hot) will go further. 2008 the Phillies were NOT the better team, but they were HOT! 2009 was a bit of a crap shoot, but the Yankees were definately hot entering the post season. 2010 and 2011 the Phillies were the best team in the NL, but they did not necessarily enter the post season as the hottest. Swept the reds, but met the Giants who entered the post season hot as well. 2011. Some of us saw the Phillies beat the Braves on the last say of the season and though “CRAP”. I knew the Phillies were there better team, but there was no team in baseball who was hotter. Lets hope the Phillies are hot entering the playoffs.

  6. Chuck A.

    February 21, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t choose to look at it as an “epic failure”. Baseball is a sport….entertainment done in one’s spare time. Win or lose, it’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it takes your mind off the problems and pressures of everyday life. Would I love the Phillies to win it all?? Of course. Absolutely. And if they get to postseason again and don’t win the last game of the season I will be as disappointed as the next guy. But I won’t call it an epic failure. I’ll save that for far more important issues.

  7. Andrew from Waldorf

    February 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    The highest ranked Phillie offensive player this year in fantasy is Pence at 33rd.

    They have held on to the wrong guys just too long.
    I do get a good laugh coming here.

    How good do you guys think this line up is?
    Ill fill you in.
    Its terrible and been terrible for a long time.

    You have 3 of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball.
    Doesnt matter when you cant score a single run vs top flight pitching.

    Bottom line.
    Barring injuries to the 3 starters Ive mentioned they should still make the playoffs.

    If they luck out and dont face the Cardinals or Giants (or any other team with good starting pitching) In the NL playoffs. Say its Reds and D-backs? They should make the world series.

    Draw the Red Sox or Yankees in the WS and they have a shot.
    Detroit. No shot.

    Anyway there is a punchers chance for 2013.

    Enjoy it because that punchers chance is getting VERY old.
    The same crappy old ineffective line up is penciled in for 2013.
    And Cole Hamels will be bye bye.

    So this is it. Nats run starts in 2013 ( maybe 2012 if Doc got hurt) but Ive been telling you guys for years the Nats are doing it right. while the Phillies have a GM who seems to hoard old feeble guys.

    This is it. Everyone get on board for the last year.
    That means you Lefty!

  8. Andrew from Waldorf

    February 21, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I meant punchers chance in 2012.

    Its Ali at 36 now.
    Sadly the 2013 Phillies are Ali vs Holmes.

    Hope everyone is doing well!

    Season starts soon.

    Im excited and hopeful but realistic that the lineup is a joke.
    BTW dont cry about injuries when you field all old feeble guys (most over paid to boot).

    Bet and Chuck see you in a few weeks when the season starts.
    Miss you guys!

  9. Jay Floyd

    February 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I really dig this piece, Ian. It’s like a reality check down memory lane.

  10. davehist

    February 21, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    It’s strange to think there are only eight left out of forty-one. Some of them obviously just passed on – I don’t think anyone missed Geoff Jenkins or even Eric Bruntlett. There were some like Durbin and Eyre that hurt a little when they left, and of course Jayson Werth rode out of town on a wash of money. I think it really got to me – 2008 is over and done with – when Lidge departed, even though he didn’t want to. But there’s still Utley and Rollins and Howard and Hamels – they’ve been the heart of this team all along, and maybe they’ll be able to get us another Big One.

  11. Lefty

    February 21, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Where have you gone, Pedro Feliz.
    A (Phillies) nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you.

    Good stuff Riccaboni, thanks.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      February 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm

      Pete Happy? It always me that we made clear upgrades in 2010 on a World Series team by adding the second best available 3rd baseman and the consensus best pitcher in baseball and upgraded back-up catcher and bullpen and did not return.

      Thanks again for reading, Lefty. I might try more of these non-advanced stats posts more often!

  12. Brian Sr. of CO

    February 21, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    This is great to see. One of the better articles on here in a while. I would also add several other members of the organization who are no longer with the Phillies from 2008. I would say 36 overall. I would say the 33 from the article, but remember Pat Gillick, Jimy Williams and Harry Kalas. Sure Pat and Williams were not players, but their decisions in the front office and on the bench were instrumental. I honestly don’t think I need to say anything else about Harry the K. Great article! Always good to see a little reminder of the season, and the upgrades on some areas since then. Goes to show the randomness of the post-season overall as well honestly.

  13. Brooks

    February 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Sigh, memories! Thanks Ian, good stuff.
    OCP – I rarely disagree with you my friend but I hardly think that by not taking the grail this year it would be an epic failure. Like Sir Bart said, baseball is always in a state of constant transition, things change, talent moves on, players get older and adjustments need to be made.
    That being said, don’t forget ole’ Cholly – he has pretty much stayed the same since he arrived back in 05. The best of times but the talent pool has changed. Players have come and gone, players have gotten older and Cholly has not changed his approach. Hopefully, the Phils will win the East for the 6th time in a row but it wont be easy. In order for them to advance, this team needs to do things a little differently when the pitching and the overall competition heats up. Playing small ball, moving the runners over, stealing bases – all of which they just about completely abandoned at times last year.
    Change is immanent.

  14. George

    February 21, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Good article. Things do change, but the idea of winning never does.

    Brooks, I think that Charlie Manuel would change more if he had players who could manage that whole “small ball” routine. The core hasn’t changed much, and where the team has changed, the players added pretty much are the same type of all or nothing batters they’ve replaced. One can’t signal a hit and run when the guy at the plate can’t make consistent contact, and you just don’t tell power hitters to bunt because they usually aren’t any good at it. And really, how many bases do you think Howard, Ruiz, or Polanco are going to steal? Even Utley can’t be considered a threat since his knee went south. Manuel manages the team he’s given.

    • Brooks

      February 22, 2012 at 5:38 am

      In my mind George, Jimmy should never be on first base with less than 2 outs. Same with Vic, they are on first its automatic they are on second and that just did not happen last year. Stealing was all but forgotten by those two.
      Howard cannot hit to the left side? Really? Tell me about any kid who made it through the ranks only hitting hard to the right – he can lift those balls out there, increase his average and probably knock in more runs.
      Hit and run, the Phils did have plenty of opportunities to score but if they did not get the dinger, its Oh well….

      • schmenkman

        February 22, 2012 at 5:26 pm

        They don’t rely on the home run to score like they used to.

        We’ve touched on the fact that they were the highest-scoring team in the league after Utley returned.

        That’s despite being only 6th in HRs in that period.

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