If there is a window of opportunity that exists for every successful franchise, the Philadelphia Phillies are trying to keep it propped open for one more season.
Time is running short, and the Phils know it. After this year, the contracts of Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Carlos Ruiz are due to expire. Ryan Howard is an old 32 after his Achilles tendon tear. The left side of the infield also features two 30-plus veterans, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and newly acquired third baseman Michael Young.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has made moves this offseason that emphasize the sense of urgency. He traded with the Rangers for Young, and the 37-year-old will play third base on an everyday basis for the first time in three years. He signed reliever Mike Adams to a two-year contract to shore up a weak eighth-inning situation. He also signed Tigers designated hitter Delmon Young, who has a history of weight and discipline problems, to an incentive-laden contract. Young will take over as the right fielder.
Still, the club's heartbeat will be starting pitching and the trio of aces that the club is paying more than $20 million per year. That starts with Halladay, who had a subpar 2012 thanks in large part to a right lat strain that kept him out for seven weeks. Halladay had diminished velocity the entire season, and he cut back on his workout regimen in the offseason to preserve some energy for the regular season.
Cliff Lee didn't have a standout season with his win-loss record in 2012, going 6-9. However, his 3.16 ERA was among the best in the National League, and his 2.45 ERA after the All-Star break speaks more to the type of year that he had than the wins and losses.
Even so, the pitcher most likely to become the club's ace this year is left-hander Cole Hamels, who is in the first year of a six-year, $144 million contract signed at the trade deadline last season. Hamels won a career-high 17 games in 2012 and posted a 3.09 ERA. Hamels has never started on Opening Day, but that could change on April 1 in Atlanta.
This is a year in which Philadelphia is counting on a lot of things going right, including Halladay regaining his effectiveness and Utley not having a recurrence of the knee problems he experienced the past two spring trainings. If everything falls correctly, the last ride for this Phillies group could be a memorable one. If the team's health fails, getting back to 81-81 could be a chore.