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With Brad Lidge Set to Open Season on DL, Opportunity Arises for Ryan Madson

Tell me you haven’t heard this one before: Philadelphia Phillies‘ closer Brad Lidge is likely to spend Opening Day and the 14 days thereafter on the Disabled List.

After several offseasons filled with surgeries and rehabilitation for Lidge, he and the Phillies‘ fan base were overly optimistic of a full, healthy season from the once perfect closer.

Though he had the tell tale signs of an arm injury—most notably the lack of velocity on his fastball—Lidge told the media several times over that he was healthy. As it turns out, he’s not.

The injury came as a bit of a surprise Friday morning, as Lidge had just returned to the mound this week after being sidelined with some tendinitis. No one anticipated the news that he had been dealing with some shoulder soreness—something that he had successfully kept hidden away from the spotlight.

For that reason alone, when Lidge and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. addressed the media this morning, neither were happy to be delivering the news.

Each of the men told the media that Lidge was experiencing some discomfort in the back of his shoulder—a danger zone for pitchers—but although an MRI had not been scheduled as of yet, the soreness was expected to be just that—soreness.

The Phils’ closer doesn’t expect to have any structural damage in his shoulder.

Though the injury was kept quiet by Lidge, he did his best to reassure the club that he wasn’t being purposefully deceptive about it:

“I’m a little concerned because I haven’t had shoulder problems in the past. There was always a little pain in the back (of the shoulder), which we thought was biceps tendinitis. I haven’t had shoulder issues before. At least not for a long time.”

Still, Lidge conceded that shoulder soreness is something he has dealt with in the past, and for a guy who’s dealt with a myriad of injuries in his career, that could be a bit of a concern.

However, as long as there isn’t any structural damage in Lidge’s shoulder, which seems to be the case as of now, both Lidge and Amaro don’t expect the closer to miss an extended period of time.

So, when will Lidge return to the Phillies’ bullpen?

“We don’t think it’s going to be a long-term issue, but it could be,” said Amaro in his usual in his short, vague snippet. If Lidge opens the season on the Disabled List, the team could activate him on April 9 at the earliest.

“This is all part of the game,” said the GM. “Nobody wants injuries, but we’ll deal with them.”

So, how exactly will the Phils’ deal with Lidge’s injury? The obvious first question is who takes the mound in the ninth inning. Over the last couple of seasons, when Lidge has missed games, the closer was without a doubt Ryan Madson. Amaro wasn’t so keen on simply handing him the gig on Friday morning.

When asked who was going to be the closer in the short term, Amaro’s response was another simple, vague answer: “Whoever we think is going to be better.”

Obviously, the chances of Madson not being the closer are incredibly slim, but Jose Contreras has pitched well for the Phillies in every role they’ve assigned him, and if the team isn’t keen on changing everyone’s role, Contreas could be the guy.

Of course, Contreras will get his share of consideration for the job because of Madson’s failure in that role in the past. However, the set-up man is sure that he’s ready to become a closer, especially in his walk-year with the Phillies.

According to Madson, a conversation with his agent, Scott Boras, after he kicked a steel chair and broke his toe last season helped him adjust to a late inning role.

“He said, ‘Tell me what your mentality was when you were closing.’ I was like, I thought I was going to be perfect,” said Madson.

“I really thought I was going to be perfect and not blow one save. Well it doesn’t work that way. You’re putting too much emphasis on every pitch. Then when you blow a save, it carries on and little things happen.”

We all know that closing out ball games is as much mental as it is physical, and Madson certainly has the skill to be a closer. If that conversation with Boras really made a difference, which has yet to be seen, the Phillies may not be looking at their set-up man any longer, but their closer of the future.

As Madson prepares to open the season as the Phils’ closer, we’re left wondering just what Brad Lidge has left in the tank.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Why Carrying 11 Pitchers Makes Sense for Battered Team

When Cliff Lee decided to re-join the Philadelphia Phillies in mid-December, the first thought racing through the mind of every Phils’ fan rotated around a star studded rotation that would help the team get the revenge they declared they would seek following a bitter ending to the National League Championship Series.

As the initial shock wore off, some of us baseball scribes posed a more interesting question—How many pitchers are too many for the Phillies?

The addition of Lee shored up a mediocre bullpen an interesting way. He would now join Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels to form a front four that averaged at least seven innings a start in 2010. Even the fifth starter, Joe Blanton, averaged more than six innings a start last season. In large part thanks to Halladay and Lee, the Phillies’ lead the league in complete games with 14, and the bullpen threw a National League low 421 innings—without Lee.

An incredibly durable rotation helped what was once a mediocre bullpen become much more reliable late in games. Of course, a lot of that had to do with health and performance. Former starter Jose Contreras settled into his seventh inning role nicely, while over the final months of the seasons, set-up man Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge were nearly untouchable.

For that reason alone, heading into the 2011 season, the Phils’ have to feel pretty good about the state of their bullpen, because they certainly feel good about the strength of their starting pitching. The bullpen’s only loss was middle innings guy Chad Durbin, while JC Romero looks to rebound from an injury plagued 2010 season.

It really isn’t a difficult observation to make—the starting rotation, barring injury, is going to log a ton of innings in front of a bullpen that has the potential to be very strong at the back end. With a core of relievers virtually guaranteed roster spots, the need for the “last man out of the bullpen,” or the 12th pitcher on the roster, is growing incredibly slim.

Excluding the five guys that will compose the starting rotation, we know that six more pitchers are virtual locks for the bullpen. Lidge, Madson, Contreras and Romero will all be heading north for Opening Day. Another pair of relievers, Danys Baez and Kyle Kendrick, are near locks to make the club thanks to the guaranteed dollars on their contracts and spring performances that can’t be used as an excuse to leave them behind.

Looking over that group of six though, you have more than just a few good single inning relievers. You also have more than one guy that is capable of logging several innings per outing. Kendrick, who will most likely break camp as the team’s long man thanks to the depth of the starting rotation. Though he may not have been very effective as a starter last season, he did log 180 innings for the Phils’.

The same case can be argued for several other relievers on the roster. Outside of Lidge and Romero, who will be used primarily against left handed hitters, Contreras, Madson and Baez could all throw more than one inning for the Phillies, though, keeping those guys to one inning a piece may be the better option.

In short, the need for yet another reliever is obsolete behind a starting rotation that will probably be sapping innings from the six guys that are almost guaranteed to make the roster. The question now becomes, “What do the Phils’ do with that last spot on the 25-man roster?”

Obviously, it should go to another utility player, giving the Phillies more options both in the field and on the bench.

While I’m the ultimate optimist in regards to the health of Chase Utley‘s knee (which by the way, he tested out with pivot drills on the second base bag today) and will not concede that claims that he won’t play this season are flat out ludicrous, (I know, I know. I can’t help myself.) he will, at the very least, open the season on the 15-day disabled list.

That virtually guarantees a replacement second baseman a job, which in this case, we’ll award to Wilson Valdez.

With that out of the way, we know eight guys will be playing every day for the Phillies: Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Valdez, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Raul Ibanez and Ben Francisco. Love it or hate it, that’s the lineup.

The bench is shaping up as well with just under two weeks of Spring Training left to play. Lefties Brian Schneider and Ross Gload will make the team without question, and with Francisco having played his way into the right field job, John Mayberry Jr. has played his way on to the bench (and has garnered some serious consideration for the starting job from this baseball scribe.)

So where does that leave the bench? Schneider, as he did last season, will serve as Ruiz’s understudy. Back-up catcher—check. While Charlie Manuel has gone on the record stating that Gload can win some playing time in right field, I’m not buying. He’s too valuable a late-inning pinch hitter to start on a regular basis. He’ll play some back-up first base, as well as right field. Primary left handed pinch hitter—check. Mayberry has been impressive this spring. I can’t see him not making the roster, and he upped his versatility by playing some first base as well as the corner outfield positions. Fourth outfielder / first baseman—check.

Not carrying that 12th pitcher gives the Phillies some options to fill out their bench, where the competition has been very heated this spring. While some fans may cringe at his name, I’m under the impression that Luis Castillo is a virtual lock to make this team, and the Phils’ could use him.

While a lot of people believe that Valdez is the better choice at second base to replace Utley, I like to go against the grain. As I argued in this piece earlier in the week, giving Valdez an everyday job takes away from his overall value.

Let’s face the music—the Phillies are an older team. While I’m not going to give you the “they are old and decrepit” speech, they are the type of team that can and will have to avoid injuries by giving their starters adequate rest. In that instance, a player with Valdez’s versatility is key. Having played just about every position on the diamond this spring, the Phils’ will find Valdez plenty of playing time, regardless of whether he’s the starting second baseman or not.

In the long run, he makes a much better utility player than Castillo, who believe it or not, could still benefit a lineup. He’s a switch hitter, which would give Manuel options in the lineup, and even in a down year, proved that he can still get on base to a good extent. Basically, this scenario guarantees both Valdez and Castillo spots on the bench.

That leaves one spot on the 25-man roster for a few guys that have played exceptionally well this spring: Delwyn Young, Josh Barfield, Pete Orr and Michael Martinez.

In my personal opinion, Barfield and Orr aren’t likely to make the team, and you won’t catch me crying over that decision. Both of these guys have played well this spring, but they’ve done little outside of it to show that they can be viable options for a Major League club. With both guys having Minor League options, it makes much more sense to stash them at AAA in the event of an injury.

There are benefits to having a guy like Young on your bench. Offensively, he could provide a spark off of the bench. Last season, he was among the league leaders in pinch hits—right in front of Gload—and as a switch hitter, gives Manuel some versatility later in the game. If the team is comfortable with Valdez playing center-field in the event Victorino needs time off, Young could make the team.

Personally, I’d like to see Martinez earn that final spot though. The Phillies have done very well in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years. Well all know the story of Victorino, but even guys like David Herndon have played well in the roles the Phils’ drafted them to fill.

Martinez is an interesting blend of talent. He plays every position in the middle of the field, including center field, and provides an actual defensive option should the Phils’ need to rest both Castillo and Valdez. He’s shown some power and average this spring, and is probably worth keeping around, if for nothing more than keeping him away from the Washington Nationals.

In this scenario, the Phillies essentially have a player for each role they’ll need to fill off of the bench. Along with those listed above, Castillo gives the Phils’ an option at second base, Young gives the Phils’ a threat from both sides of the plate off of the bench and Martinez can play multiple positions with upside. For a team that has suffered multiple injuries at multiple positions, having that sixth man on the bench is a luxury that many teams can’t afford.

At the very least, it beats holding on to a pitcher the team will never use.

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MLB Trade Rumors: What Movable Prospects Have Maximized Their Value This Spring?

Generally, when some of a team’s best prospects are having a good spring, the first thing that comes to your mind isn’t whether or not they’ve improved their trade value—but that’s one of the greatest things about baseball.

After you get past watching your favorite team don their spring uniforms for the first time, and later on in the spring, have a general idea of what the team will look like when it takes the field on Opening Day, some of the spring’s most impressive players will have found new homes with minor league affiliates, the most notable of which are the team’s promising young talents.

Despite tearing the cover off of the ball or throwing scoreless inning after scoreless inning, the team isn’t ready to promote your favorite prospect. Their performances haven’t gone unnoticed, however.

Scouts have been following your team all spring long, watching some of most promising young arms and slick defenders, lights-out relievers and thunderous bats in case your team comes calling later on in the season when a prospect just won’t cut it, and in order to add that timely veteran, you’ll have to part with some promising young talent.

So with that in mind, which prospects’ hot spring start will make them hotter commodities on the trade market in the near future?

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Luis Castillo Now a Free Agent: Should the Philadelphia Phillies Target Him?

There’s been no shortage of drama in Philadelphia Phillies camp, specifically in regards to the health of an aging club. When Brad Lidge and Placido Polanco joined All-Star second baseman Chase Utley on the sidelines this week, the city of Philadelphia went into what some would consider panic mode.

With little middle-infield depth, are the Phils in a bit of a bind?

An interesting possibility arose early Friday morning when another camp riddled with a bit of drama, the New York Mets, finally announced the inevitable—the team had released another former All-Star in second baseman Luis Castillo.

After months of speculation, the two sides finally parted ways, when Castillo, who was scheduled to start for the Mets at second base today, asked for and was granted his release.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins had reportedly preferred other options at second base, anyway.

Now, by granting the second baseman his release, the Mets are on the hook for the remaining $6 million of his salary as long as he is a free agent, and if another team wants to take a chance on Castillo, it’ll cost them just league minimum—around $400,000.

That could be an appealing option for the Phillies, who, as mentioned, are noticeably thin up the middle. The leading candidate to replace Utley at second, should he need to begin the season on the disabled list, is Wilson Valdez, who is also the team’s utility infielder.

There are some within the Phillies organization that believe that by starting Valdez at second base, the team is shooting itself in the foot.

His greatest value is his ability to play all over the diamond and spell some of the Phils’ veterans when it is quickly becoming apparent that they can no longer play every day. Inserting Valdez into the starting lineup would open up a spot on the bench for less versatile players like Josh Barfield or Delwyn Young.

Obviously, adding another second baseman would allow the Phils to maximize Valdez’s value as a utility player, but as always, it isn’t that simple. All three of the players mentioned above are having monstrous springs.

In his second spring with the Phillies, Valdez is tearing the cover off of the ball, leading the team in spring hits. He’s hitting the ball at a .444 clip and has already slugged, if you can call it that, a home run this spring.

In their first springs with the Phils, both Barfield and Young have impressed the right people. The two are battling for the Phillies’ final roster spot and are hitting .407 and .311, respectively, while the latter has belted a home run this spring.

There are concerns about these players, however.

Neither of the final two are starting players and have settled into reserve roles over the last few seasons, and off of the bench, neither provides the versatility that Valdez does off of the bench. In short, Valdez may be too valuable as a utility player to start at second base. In that case, targeting a veteran second baseman may not be such a terrible idea.

In his tenure with the Mets, Castillo has been the picture of inconsistency.

After posting an average of .301 in his first half season with the club, he’s posted averages of .245, .302 and .235 every year since. That said, Castillo has never been much of a hitter, as opposed to a pesky player standing in the batter’s box trying to find a way on base.

The man is the owner of a career .368 on-base percentage—something that the Phils could desperately use in their lineup.

The greatest obstacle in a Phillies-Castillo union may be the fact that the latter hasn’t been considered much of a “clubhouse guy” over the course of his career and has quickly developed into a public-relations nightmare.

Just last season, he was criticized by teammates for not partaking in a trip to a New York area hospital to visit war veterans, though he stated that he didn’t want to be “horrified by the experience.”

With that in mind, however, maybe what Castillo needs is a fresh start. While the Phillies and Mets were once heated rivals, the teams have gone in different directions in recent seasons, and former Mets like Valdez, Nelson Figueroa and Brian Schneider have found asylum with the Phils.

In the long run, the Phillies would be happy with Wilson Valdez as the starting second baseman with one of Josh Barfield or Delwyn Young filling the final bench spot.

However, for a team that is built to win this season, taking a small chance on a veteran, switch-hitting second baseman looking for a fresh start may not be a terrible idea.

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Philadephia Phillies Rookie Domonic Brown Dealt a Bad Hand: What’s Next?

For those of us who we’re hoping for a healthy spring for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., we may be in for a rough month.

Future left handed specialist Antonio Bastardo has been moving slowly and gingerly through the month of March and Chase Utley is nursing patellar tendinitis in his right knee, which was recently treated with a cortisone injection.

The Phillies may have received their biggest blow of the spring on Saturday, however, when rookie right fielder Domonic Brown learned his hand was broken.

It’s been a rough spring for Brown, and at a glance on Saturday, things seemed to be improving. After going 0-for-15 during the first few weeks of spring training, Brown finally broke loose of that goose egg, hitting a solid single up the middle.

Once he got to first base however, it wasn’t hard to tell he was in a good deal of pain.

During the previous at bat, Brown fouled off a pitch by Pittsburgh Pirates‘ starter Paul Maholm and the ball caught him square on his hand. He shook it off, not thinking much of it at the time and stepped back in, finishing the at bat and collecting his first base hit of the spring.

For that reason alone, it was surprising to see Brown out of the game for the next half inning, when John Mayberry Jr. took his place. A few moments later, Brown was seen jogging toward the clubhouse with Phillies head trainer Scott Sheridan right behind him.

After the game, x-rays revealed Brown had a pretty nasty break. He had fractured the hook of the hamate bone in his right hand. Believe it or not, the injury is quite common in sports—especially those that required the hands gripping something, like a baseball bat or a golf club. It is also called the “wrist bone” and is located below the palm and before the arm begins.

Though he’ll likely need surgery, Brown is in good hands—no pun intended.

He’ll fly to Philadelphia to see hand specialist Randall Culp—the same man who corrected Utley’s torn thumb ligament last season. The recovery for the hand surgery is likely going to be four to six weeks, which answers the first “what’s next” question for Brown.

With just 16 at-bats and a base hit to his name this spring, he certainly will not be the Phillies’ right fielder when Opening Day rolls around on April 1.

Charlie Manuel made good on his word when he said Brown would see plenty of playing time and the young outfielder was quite the disappointment.

On the other hand, his main competition, Ben Francisco, has impressed this spring, making his claim to be the permanent right fielder by posting an early slash line of .421/.476/.947, with two home runs.

The way the two have been hitting, it’s hard to imagine Brown was going to beat out Francisco to win the job anyway. His injury just makes the decision that much easier on the likes of Manuel and Ruben Amaro Jr.

When asked about that right field job, Amaro told the media, “Nobody has won our right field job, but Ben has done very, very well for us.”

With Brown out of the picture, things are beginning to fall into place. Unless something unfortunate happens, Francisco will be the everyday right fielder and John Mayberry Jr. or another outfielder will take his place on the bench.

Where does that leave Brown?

“He wasn’t in a rhythm,” Amaro said. To be frank, he hasn’t been in a rhythm for a long while—since his call-up at the end of July last season. Amaro would then go on to lay the groundwork for the outfielder’s future, confirming everyone’s suspicion that Brown would return to AAA once healthy. Where does he go after that?

At first glance, two scenarios are developing for Brown and one depends on the success of Francisco as an everyday player.

As a right-handed hitter, Francisco brings a certain level of balance to the Phillies lineup. If he can play at an acceptable level throughout the season, there is no reason to make him split time with Brown. It doesn’t do either of them any good, developmentally. However, that situation is indeed present.

If Francisco begins to struggle and Brown finds his stride in AAA, the Phillies could make a move to promote Brown and insert him into the everyday lineup, with Francisco returning to his role on the bench. The two could platoon in right field as well, which was the plan before spring training began.

On the other hand, maybe developing Brown for another full season isn’t the worst idea. After the season, the Phillies are going to need another corner outfielder when Raul Ibanez’s contract expires. Of course, this scenario would see Francisco develop into an everyday right fielder, giving the Phillies depth on the corners moving forward.

Francisco, who could play both right and left field, would slide over to claim Ibanez’s spot and Brown would take over the right field job. In a perfect world, the Phillies would have successfully developed two major league-capable corner outfielders in this scenario.

Without having to spend money on the outfield, the team could address other areas of concern, namely shortstop, the bullpen and the starting rotation.

So when we question what’s next for Domonic Brown, the answer is pretty simple. He’ll play for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs for at the very least a couple of months this year, and re-join the Phillies full-time by 2012.

Let’s face the facts for a moment—this is an aging team that will need Brown for some life in the next couple of years.

Now may not be his time, but it’s too soon to write him off.

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MLB Rumors: Jimmy Rollins and 20 Infielders Who Could Leave After 2011

With both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues underway, Spring Training has officially begun. As pitchers fine-tune their command and overall “stuff” and hitters try to refine their swing, the rest of us can only look on in awe, now waiting for the games that actually count in eager anticipation. However, there are a select few who are looking forward.

Heading that group of select few are General Managers who will be looking to upgrade their teams next off-season. It seems ridiculous to think that, but as they send scouts to watch potential free agents, we must realize that is indeed the case.

So, as teams prepare for the long haul of the regular season, general managers and players in contract years alike will look to strut their stuff, hoping to land the big contract.

From power-hitting first basemen to slick fielding shortstops, these players will not be flying under anyone’s radar. If you’re looking to add power to your lineup, look no further.

If you need an anchor in your middle infield to handle sharply hit ground balls, we’ve got what you’re looking for. Of course, who will call your game without a catcher? They’re here too.

So with that in mind, we’ll take a look at Jimmy Rollins and other potential free agents at season’s end. At the end of each slide, I’ll list some teams that could have interest in the player.

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Adam Wainwright Injury: Can Anyone Stop Roy Halladay From Winning the Cy Young?

Earlier today, the baseball world got some difficult news to swallow when the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright was experiencing some serious pain in his right throwing arm, and that more than likely, the 29 year old will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2011 season before it begins. The subject of numerous highlight reels thanks to that nasty curveball, not being able to watch Wainwright throw is a loss to baseball fans everywhere—not just those in St. Louis.

His injury sets the stage for another interesting debate. With the runner up shelved, can anyone stop the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner from re-capturing his title?

Without Wainwright, there is a significant gap between Halladay and the rest of the league. The Cardinals’ ace finished second in last season’s voting, capturing all but four of the second place votes after Halladay took home the award unanimously.

To sum last season up in a nut shell—Halladay was so good that it wasn’t even close, and now with the only other 20 game winner of last season out for the year, we wonder if the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace can cruise to the honor yet again as the anchor of a rotation that resembled an All-Star team.

Halladay, who finished with more than 100 total points in the overall voting than any player, was looking down from a different plateau last season. The rest of the field was a little closer. Wainwright finished with 122 total points, followed by Colorado Rockies’ break-out ace Ubaldo Jimenez (90), Atlanta Braves’ ace Tim Hudson (39), Florida Marlins’ ace Josh Johnson (34) and Halladay’s fellow teammate, Roy Oswalt (nine).

We can only wonder what the rest of the voting would have looked like without Wainwright last season, who posted a record of 20-11 with an ERA of 2.42 with the Cardinals. The wealth of second place votes would have been spread around, but would any other pitcher even come close to Halladay? All we can do now is question each of Halladay’s top threats as Wainwright looks on from the dugout.

For most of the first half of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez seemed like a lock to win the National League Cy Young. Before the All-Star break, he posted an incredible record of 15-1 with an ERA of just 2.20 for the Rockies. We baseball fans believed he would cruise to 20 wins without a problem, but not so fast. He struggled after the All-Star break, posting a record of 4-7 with an ERA of 3.80.

Though I’m in favor of voters showing a bit of leniency for Rockies’ pitchers, who are often thrown under the proverbial bus in Colorado thanks to Coors’ Field, until he shows he can be consistent over the course of an entire season, is he a threat to Halladay’s crown?

As voters begin to take a more SABRmetric approach to the voting process, it’s very unlikely that Tim Hudson captures the award this season either. On the surface, Hudson’s record of 17-9 and ERA of 2.83 seem to place him among baseball’s elite pitchers.

Taking a deeper look, we wonder if he was even deserving of his fourth place finish in 2010. He struck out just 5.47 batters per nine innings while featuring a BABIP of .249—showing that he was incredibly lucky last season. His Fielding Independent Pitching, which is a stat designed to show the overall effectiveness of a pitcher in a form similar to ERA, of 4.09 was more akin to that of a bottom of the rotation arm than the ace he is built up to be. Hudson will be lucky to replicate his 2010 season, let alone win the Cy Young.

What about Halladay’s teammates? Can any of them perform well enough to steal some of their ace’s votes and capture the Cy Young Award? Cliff Lee, who won the award in 2008 in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, has an excellent chance of winning the award. Like Halladay last season, he is transitioning to the National League for his first full season, and following a year where he handled the American League opposition—a feat in and of itself—could benefit greatly from having to face the pitcher as opposed to that pesky DH.

Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels are certainly no slouches either. Oswalt finished sixth in the voting last season while leading the National League in WHIP. He posted a record of 7-1 with the Phillies after coming over from Houston and has fans excited to see what he can do over the course of a full season.

Hamels, on the other hand, has been getting a ton of attention thanks to his newly developed cut fastball. According to pitching coach Rich Dubee, Hamels is in the best shape of his career and now boasts a cutter that is one of best in baseball. In fact, Hamels has improved to the point where FOXsports’ Ken Rosenthal has chosen him as his 2011 NL Cy Young prediction.

While we are losing Wainwright for a season, we must also remember that we are gaining Zack Greinke in his first year in the National League. Greinke, who won the American League Cy Young in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals, was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason, as they threw all of their eggs in one basket hoping for a World Series run. Though he had a bit of a down year in 2010 by his standards, he could easily challenge any pitcher in the game for the Cy Young.

If I had to have my pick at who would be the most likely to challenge Halladay, however, I’d go with either Tim Lincecum or Josh Johnson.

Lincecum, who is just turning 27 this season, already has two NL Cy Youngs under his belt, though they were both captured with Halladay in the American League. Lincecum battled a few injuries last season, and perhaps the league became a bit more familiar with him, but that shouldn’t be a problem moving forward. As long as he brings his control back to earth, he should contend for a Cy Young, especially pitching in a large ballpark. The only worry is that making last season’s historic run will do to him what it did to Hamels in 2008. The price for a World Series ring won by young arms are tired arms the following season.

Josh Johnson, on the other hand, has to be one of the most overlooked players in all of baseball. Though he has his injury concerns, the guy’s “stuff” is just absolutely filthy. Before missing the final month of last season, he posted a record of 11-6 with an ERA of 2.30. He seemed to finally develop into one of the game’s truly “elite” arms, and as long as he remains with the Florida Marlins, who are a dark horse pick around baseball and stays healthy, he could win 20 games and challenge any pitcher in baseball—not just Halladay’s Cy Young.

Of course, there’s the chance that Halladay removes himself from the process as well. As Wainwright’s circumstance shows, injuries can pop up at any time and completely hamper a player. There’s no predicting them and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. So while Halladay is likely to continue to blast through the National League, it’s entirely possible that something terribly wrong can happen. In fact, anything can happen.

With Wainwright out of the picture, is there really any pitcher better than Roy Halladay?

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Philadelphia Phillies Notes: Ruben Amaro "Lee-Ry", Spring Rotation Set & More

With all of the hype and expectations surrounding this Philadelphia Phillies team, we can’t say we didn’t expect this insane media coverage. That being said, it seems like anything that the Phillies’ rotation (insert catchy nickname) does is newsworthy.

Before their grand introduction press conference last week, it was reported that the group gathered around a table for breakfast. Yes, that made the tabloids.

So, of course, when word hit the media that new “ace” Cliff Lee was “injured,” the media sounded off in a frenzy and had Phillies fans scared half to death.

Personally, the first I heard of any such injury was when Ryan Lawerence of the Delco Times reported that Lee’s first bullpen session was cut short. That’s probably what sparked this whole powder keg.

However, there does seem to be some validity behind it. According to multiple sources, including Lee and Ruben Amaro Jr., Lee had felt some discomfort in what he called his left “armpit” while throwing at home in Arkansas, and called Phillies trainer Scott Sheridan to be on the safe side. Sheridan had Lee fly into Philadelphia to have an MRI, which revealed a minor strain under his left arm. Yes, people. I said minor strain.

The Phillies shut down Lee for about “eight days,” according to Amaro, and he resumed his workouts right on time with the rest of the Phillies staff. So why was his first bullpen session ended early?

According to Amaro, “We may be cautious, but he’s right on schedule now. It’s pretty much a non-issue for us.”

So there you go, folks. Cliff Lee’s mysterious armpit “injury” is a “non-issue.” Surely, this won’t be the last of the ridiculous media hype this spring. Expect to hear anything and everything about the Phillies rotation this spring, and be cautious in picking out the factual information.

There was productive news today, however, as pitching coach Rich Dubee was kind enough to enlighten us on his starting rotation throughout Spring Training.

As is usually the case, a young starting pitcher will make the first start of the spring in the Phillies’ now-traditional game against the Florida State Seminoles. That pitcher will be prospect Drew Naylor.

The Grapefruit League, which officially begins on Saturday for the Phillies, will feature some more prominent names. Opening the spring against the New York Yankees will be the Phillies’ fourth starter, Cole Hamels, whom according to Dubee, “could have pitched a (regular season) game” before he threw his last bullpen. Also scheduled to log innings on Saturday are Vance Worlrey, Ryan Feierabend, Mike Zagurski and new waiver-claim Brian Schlitter.

The Phillies will square off with the Yankees again on Sunday, when Joe Blanton is scheduled to take the mound. The Phillies will throw a ton of good relievers behind him, including prospects Justin DeFratus and Michael Schwimer, and the back end of the big league bullpen—JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, who’s having a healthy spring for the first time in a long time.

Next Monday will feature a very interesting matchup. Though he got the jitters of facing his old team out of his system last season, Roy Halladay will square off with the Toronto Blue Jays at their spring home in Dunedin, Fla.

A couple of other interesting names to watch on that day are JC Ramirez (part of the Lee trade) and Scott Mathieson, who are recovering from injuries. Also scheduled to throw next Monday are prospects Juan Perez and Michael Stutes.

The last set-up that Dubee announced was for next Tuesday, as Cliff Lee makes his much anticipated Spring debut against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater, Fla.

Zagurski is scheduled to throw again next Tuesday, as the Phillies hope he can become a reliable left-handed option. Kyle Kendrick and Danys Baez will also  begin their battles to win jobs in the major league bullpen, and a couple of wily veterans will be looking to surprise people this spring, as Eddie Bonine and Dan Meyer throw.

Though nothing has been announced for next Wednesday yet, it’s more than fair to assume that Roy Oswalt will make his first spring appearance in a Phillies uniform against the Baltimore Orioles.

In case there was any speculation otherwise, this rotation lines up Halladay to get the nod on Opening Day, and unless something changes, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton will round out the rotation.

In other news, as I reported last Thursday, the Phillies designated right-handed pitcher Drew Carpenter for assignment to make room for waiver claim Brian Schlitter.

As it turns out, Carpenter has cleared waivers and will re-join big league camp on Tuesday. However, pitching coach Rich Dubee told the media today that Carpenter’s days as a starting pitcher are over. Starting tomorrow, he will become a full-time reliever.

According to Dubee, the staff now believes that Carpenter’s greatest problem was getting through a lineup more than once. By reverting him back to a simple repertoire of fastball, cut-fastball and splitter, they hope to develop him into a strong right-handed reliever.

Seems like a stretch, but he clearly wasn’t going to make the show as a starter again.

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MLB Predictions: K-Rod and the 15 Biggest "Wild Cards" of 2011

Heading into the 2011 MLB season, we all know about the players who are going to be their good old, productive selves. Roy Halladay is going to anchor a star-studed rotation, Albert Pujols is going to continue to hit bombs as a St. Louis Cardinal, at least for one more season, and Joey Votto will continue to show us why his 2010 National League MVP Award was no fluke—and those are just a few of the MLB’s consistent greats.

However, a baseball team is composed of 25 players, and they can’t all be All-Stars.

A lot of times, it’s a team’s role players that make them great. I think you needn’t look any further than the 2010 San Francisco Giants club, who won the World Series by riding the likes of rookie starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner and August waiver-claim, Cody Ross.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to call those types of players “wild cards.” Of course, I couldn’t go any further without establishing some sort of precedent. What exactly is a “wild card” player. In this article, a wild card player will be the type of guy that, in order of his respective team to have success, absolutely must have a good season.

Without this player, a hole is created on the team’s roster that, over the course of a 162 game season, will become a cause for concern. What are the criteria for being labeled a “wild card?” Basically, there are none. All players were eligible, and I only used a few, basic evaluators.

For example, players in similar situations were considered, but those with contenders were held to a higher regard. A majority of the players on this list are coming off of down or injured seasons, and teams that are relying heavily on said players are pushed further up the list.

So, without any further ado, here are the 15 biggest “wild cards” heading into the 2011 season.

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Philadelphia Phillies: Five Things To Ponder As Spring Training Rounds The Bend

Maybe it’s just me, but this off-season has seemed incredibly long. From the moment that Cliff Lee’s deal with the Philadelphia Phillies became official on December 15, 2010, to Phillies’ fans, the wait for Spring Training never felt longer. The days seemed like weeks and the weeks, like months. Now that pitchers and catchers are reporting in just two days, the feeling is almost too good to be true.

With that in mind, however, not everything can be roses, even for a team that has a legitimate staff of four aces. Even the Phillies have numerous questions surrounding their arrival in Clearwater, Florida, and though some of them have been given the “dead horse” treatment, the following story lines are certainly worth keeping an eye on throughout Spring Training.

Take a look at the top five Spring Training questions the Phillies’ will look to resolve and/or answer before re-packing that bus with equipment and heading north to Philadelphia in a little more than a month.

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