I thought, "Man, I can't write a 2009 Phillies season preview yet. They're still looking for a right-handed bench bat, along with two spots in the bullpen!"
And then I thought, "That's it?!" I can't tell you the last time the Philadelphia Phillies had that much figured out going into Opening Day. Being World Fucking Champions must do that to you.
Seriously, though, the rotation is set. The batting order is set. Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett and Chris Coste have secured seats on the bench; Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre are locks in the 'pen. Barring a setback to Cole Hamels or an unexpected injury elsewhere, the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies are almost good to go.
A fair question would be - has the team improved? I'd answer "no", but then again, I wouldn't regard that as a bad thing. Some could say that their play in September and October of last year was catching lightning in a bottle, but I'd argue it was their true talent finally emerging for the first time. Granted, you can't sit back and bank on that, but given the shape that Ryan Howard and Brett Myers showed up to camp in, the quickness in which Chase Utley and Pedro Feliz recovered from injuries and the overall competitiveness of Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins, this team deserves a chance to prove that they are more than just a one-year wonder.
In all honesty, it seems like the mindset of the entire organization has changed. Not only did new general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. defuse a potentially difficult, almost team-wide arbitration situation with simple, smooth negotiations, but the releases of Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins, owed about $15 million between them, showed that this organization has nothing on their mind from winning. Cutting loose two overpaid dead weights (although Jenkins can still play, his salary will not remotely justify his performance) would have been unthinkable several years ago, but, as was mentioned on the spectacular Phillies blog Beerleaguer earlier today, the Phillies appear to have finally learned the meaning of the term "sunk cost". Jenkins wasn't going to play enough, and Eaton wasn't going to play at all. Why waste time and money on them when, instead, you can waste only money? It's smart thinking, from an organization not previously known for such.
Amaro also showed a nose for the Gillick-esque small deal that won us a World Fucking Championship in the first place when he acquired John Mayberry Jr. and Jack Taschner. Even if they turn out to be nothing more than a future right-handed bench bat and a 50-game left-handed stopgap until JC Romero returns, that's still a great deal more value than what we gave up to acquire them.
The only thing that threatens to derail the team, besides the obvious spectre of injuries, is Amaro's penchant for veterans. Raul Ibanez and Jamie Moyer, both at an advanced age, were given contracts that are considerably more generous than those of their peers. As a man with Jamie Moyer cards, pennants and photographs plastered all over his desk at work, I can't say I disagree with the decision to lock him up. And it should be noted that Ibanez appears to be the model teammate, a hard-worker with a passion for physical fitness and consistency, with the resume to prove it. However, at the end of each of their contracts, it's very likely that we'll be paying for extremely diminished returns, and Amaro should be scolded for overplaying his hand a bit too early.
Of course, if they win again this year, it's safe to say that no one will give a crap. It would be the first repeat since the 1998-2000 Yankees, the first NL repeat since the 1975-1975 Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. It would be almost unprecedented in modern baseball, and it would elevate players like Hamels, Rollins, Utley and Howard to unparalleled levels of belovedness in this city.
And it's doable. A lot needs to go right again, but this is a core of players at their peak, players who have the enviable combination of long-term security and rookie-esque desire. Minimum eight-peat? That might be a bit much, but for the Phillies fan, newly optimistic or still entrenched in the comfort of Negadelphia, anything short of at least a third straight NL East title will be an absolute disappointment.
Plus, what other team has such a bad-ass shortstop: