Viva La 2008

Viva la 2008: Part I – Small offseason moves make big impression

e6ed04e61d7b42b6aa3821eda7a8bc65.jpgThis begins a 12-part monthly retrospect of the world championship 2008 season, whose 10th anniversary is marked this year.

With the entirety of Philadelphia looking to the Eagles to deliver a championship and the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory, it may be easy to forget right now that this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Phillies’ World Series win over the Rays. Ten years since the Phils ended a 28-year title drought for the city. Ten years since Brad Lidge got Eric Hinske swinging to complete his perfect season. Ten years since Harry Kalas finally got to call the last out of a Phillies championship in what would prove to be his last full season. What a year it was.

Looking back on the Phillies’ 2008 season, as with any championship year, there were a great many defining moments throughout the season that would come to be etched in franchise history. While the team had its core of players already set going into the season, however, the front office still ultimately needed to make some moves during the offseason to make up for their NLDS loss in 2007.

The first big move came just days after the Phillies were swept by the Rockies, as Charlie Manuel was given a two-year extension that kept him on through 2009. Even without the benefit of hindsight, this was a smart move seeing as how Chuck had just led the team to its first NL East title since 1993. Making sure that the man who would go on to be the winningest manager in team history was an essential move, especially since it’s nearly impossible to picture anyone else leading that team in winning it all the following year.

Tinkering with the ‘pen

While the Phillies wouldn’t make any big moves that completely lit up the hot stove at the time, the trades and free agent signings that Pat Gillick made were calculated and specifically meant to not completely shake up a winning team. None of the moves made during that offseason proved to be quite as important as the acquisition of Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett from the Houston Astros for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo.

After recording 42 saves in 2005 and being a part of the Astros’ World Series appearance that year, Lidge had fallen from grace afterwards, recording a 4.37 ERA in his last two years in Houston and blowing 14 saves in that time. Nobody could’ve possibly known at the time, but the new closer would end up being arguably the most important part of the Phils’ title run, going 41 for 41 in save opportunities during the regular season, with another perfect seven in the playoffs. Let’s not forget Bruntlett as well, who scored the winning runs in both games 3 and 5 of the World Series (and the unassisted triple play in 2009 didn’t hurt his favorability either). Though Bourn would go on to become one of baseball’s top speedsters and defenders for a time with both Houston and Atlanta, it’s safe to say that the Phils probably could’ve given up twice as much and still end up coming out on top.

Getting Lidge wasn’t the only move the Phillies made to sure up their bullpen, as they re-signed lefty specialist J.C. Romero to a two-year deal just days after making the trade. The Phils were impressed by how much Romero, who came over in mid-2007, held the relief corps together, and thus rightly wanted him back. Not only did he put together a strong full season, with a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings pitched, he became the first pitcher from Puerto Rico to win two games in the same World Series when October rolled around. In addition to Romero, Chad Durbin was also brought in on a one-year deal in December. Though he competed for a starting rotation spot in spring training, he would ultimately become one of the team’s most reliable relievers, throwing 87.2 innings across 71 games with a 2.87 ERA to boot.

Role players

On the offensive side, the Phillies reached a deal with outfielder Geoff Jenkins for two years on the same day they signed Durbin. After spending 10 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and climbing to fourth place on their all-time home run list, Jenkins latched on with the Phils to shore up their outfield depth. While his numbers were never more than decent during the regular season, he proved himself in the last game of the World Series when he led off the bottom of the sixth of the split Game 5 with a double, ultimately coming around to score. Setting the tone of Game 5 after it was suspended due to rain two days earlier was crucial, and the spark that Jenkins ignited in that moment cemented his place in the team’s history.

The biggest bat that the Phillies would end up getting during that offseason was Pedro Feliz, who was signed to a two-year deal in January to be the starting third baseman. Although his offensive production took a bit of a dip compared to his time with the Giants, Feliz was known for stout defense at third, and would end up delivering perhaps the most important hit of the Phils’ season. His RBI single in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the World Series proved to be the game-winning run, thus locking down an insane game.

Looking back at the 2007-2008 offseason really shows that while the Phillies’ core of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Hamels, Ruiz and others was already in place going into the year, the championship run could have gone a lot differently if other moves had been made instead. Without guys like Lidge, Bruntlett, Romero, Durbin, Jenkins and Feliz, it doesn’t seem entirely likely that the Phils would’ve done much better than their early 2007 exit. The front office recognized that it had a championship-caliber nucleus of players, but also had the foresight to make just the right moves to ensure the best results as much as they could. As the team made its way to Clearwater to begin spring training, 2007’s “Team to Beat” looked to take their experience and turn it into something more.

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