We can’t have it both ways.
Ryne Sandberg basically got run out of town for his erratic ways of dealing with the daily lineup (and the players in general, but that’s another story). Players were jerked around the lineup over and over as Sandberg tried to create some – any? – offense while he dealt with an aging roster that hindered whatever it was he thought he could do to turn around the Phillies.
We didn’t like it. “How can a player get comfortable?” we chirped. “How do you stimulate offense when you come to the ballpark not having an idea of where you’re batting?” we whined. “Why does it seem like this organization outright refuses to formulate a plan in any way?” we complained. “Why is Ruben Amaro Jr. still employed by this team?” we wondered.
(OK, that last one has nothing to do with Sandberg. #stillbitter)
So when you look at the Phillies’ lineup and pitching rotation this spring and realize you already know what it’s going to look like come April 3 in Cincinnati, it makes the whole Spring Training thing a little … pointless? Is that the word? Probably not. Boring? Eh. Uneventful? That’s probably best.
Battles? What battles?
There are no position battles – we know who Pete Mackanin has penciled in at every spot on the field and we have at least a decent idea of where those players will bat. There are a fight or two for bench positions, but on the PHL-TPA flight, no fan turns to his buddy next to him and asks, “So who do you think is in for that last bench spot, Hector Gomez or Brock Stassi?”
There are no starting pitcher battles. Any battle that could have ensued promptly ended when the team acquired its latest low-risk, high-reward reclamation project, Clay Buchholz. Now Hellickson-Nola-Velazquez-Buchholz-Eickhoff is carved out in stone. At least until an inevitable injury.
Before the Phillies even started playing spring training games, Mackanin ended what would have been the one high-profile battle that could have been waged when he named Jeanmar Gomez the closer, ending a potential four-player scrum for the spot before it could start.
So even if this whole spring training exercise is a little more pointless boring uneventful than usual, that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily a bad thing. And it doesn’t mean the players in camp are being given a free pass to the major leagues despite lack of effort. With the Phillies in this rebuilding period, every one of those starting players has earned the right with their past performances to prove in 2017 whether they are part of the long-term answer for the Phillies. Spring Training isn’t happening right now for the Phillies. It starts April 3 and runs to early October.
That’s when you’ll see the position battles. Cesar Hernandez will have to prove he deserves second base for the next 10 years instead of hard-charging prospect Scott Kingery. Maikel Franco will have to prove he’s a franchise cornerstone or else could find himself as trade bait to a team that could convince him to shorten his swing. Aaron Nola and Vince Velazquez will have to prove they can stay healthy for a year or possibly give way to one of the gaggle of starters in triple-A Lehigh Valley. Gomez will have to fend off Hector Neris for the closer spot. Cameron Rupp will have to prove he’s more than a backup. Tommy Joseph will have to prove he can consistently hit right-handed pitchers.
Those are important, long-term questions that will shape the future of this franchise, and they’re questions that won’t be answered in March. They’ll be answered in July, in September, and throughout the year when the games mean something and there is a larger sample size to draw data from.
So just because the lineup is set for April, that doesn’t mean it’s the lineup you’ll see in August. The Phillies will be playing a continuous Spring Training in 2017 that will go a long way in shaping how it moves forward for the next 10 years.
Just don’t hold your breath for “Spring Training all season!” to show up as the marketing department’s slogan for the summer of Phillies baseball.