Big League Stew

Spring Swing ’14 — Phillies try to age gracefully with Ryne Sandberg at helm

David Brown
Big League Stew

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(AP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hey, did you hear the one about the Philadelphia Phillies adding another old player to their roster? Well, if you didn't, give it a second, another geezer probably is on the way for manager Ryne Sandberg. He and coach Larry Bowa (pointing the bat in the photo) can reminisce about their time together as players, when it was possible they also played with some of the new "old" blood on the current Phillies roster.

After starting with the Yankees, The Stew continues its Spring Swing tour of the Grapefruit League by visiting general manager Ruben Amaro's old folks' home. Amaro is hoping the Phils aren't just getting older, but also better. They lost 89 games in 2013 after going .500 in 2012. Will the downward trend continue? Not if Phillies legend Bobby Abreu, who literally is coming out of retirement, can help it!

Abreu, who turns 40 next month, reported to camp Sunday and got the 5-cent tour of the team's spring clubhouse at Brighthouse Field by 35-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins. They were teammates back in 2006, just before the Phillies began their run to five straight NL East titles, two World Series appearances and a championship in 2008. Abreu sat out this past season after not getting an offer he liked, but he's back and projected to be a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter.

Abreu's arrival at camp coincides with that of right-hander A.J. Burnett, who just turned 37 after a successful season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Burnett seemed on the verge of retirement — or going back to Pittsburgh — but he's getting at least $23.5 million guaranteed to pitch this season and next (although his contract is somewhat complicated with its options).

This season, Burnett will be throwing to catcher Carlos Ruiz, who just turned 35 and signed a three-year contract extension. In the rotation, with Cole Hamels sore and not ready for opening day, Burnett will follow left-hander Cliff Lee, who turns 36 in August.

After parking his pickup truck at the ballpark, Burnett reintroduced himself to slugger Marlon Byrd, briefly his teammate with the Pirates in '13. Byrd was terrific for the Mets, and for the Bucs in the playoffs. He turns 37 in August.

Jeepers, is there anyone on this roster who isn't 35 or older? (Rollins' double-play partner is 35-year-old Chase Utley, by the way.) Slugger Ryan Howard just turned 34, and he's coming off two seasons in which he played a combined 151 games. He's healthy now, also having dropped 15-20 pounds since the middle of the '13 season. Howard tells CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury that he's ready to go full blast:

The first full-squad workout of spring training is Tuesday. Howard is in camp early and in a good frame of mind. He is upbeat and optimistic.

“I’ve got two legs,” he said with a smile. “Basically I’ve been playing on one leg” the last two seasons.

Howard blew out his left Achilles tendon on the final swing of the 2011 season and missed half of 2012. Last year, he shut down in early July when pain in his left knee became too much to bear. He had season-ending surgery to repair a cartilage injury.

Hamels turned 30 in December, so the only big contributors not susceptible to having to go on the Logan's Run Carousel are slugger Domonic Brown and center fielder Ben Revere. It would have been funny if Amaro had traded Brown during the offseason as had been the rumor.

How will the Phillies do in '14? If healthy (what does Medicare say?) and if everything goes right, they might win 85 games, possibly more. It probably won't be enough to return to first first place in the NL East, not with Washington and Atlanta around. But anything's better than 73-89 again.

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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