COMMENTARY | The baseball season upon us, and Philadelphia Phillies fans have every right to complain about the lack of noteworthy offseason moves to improve the team.
Names like Marlon Byrd, Wil Nieves and Ronny Cedeno have entered the organization, a far cry from the days of Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee coming to town.
A city sometimes known as "Negadelphia," because, for some reason, the fans in and around Philadelphia view their teams as a glass completely empty, there are still enough reasons for fans to look forward to the start of the 2014 season:
A fresh face and voice in the manager's office will drastically change the team's dynamic. Charlie Manuel had grown attached to the players who helped him win the World Series in 2008. New manager Ryne Sandberg has little past history invested with this team other than managing a few at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
As cruel as it may sound to Chicago Cubs fans, Sandberg is far too familiar with losing. This is good for the Phillies because Sandberg does not come off like a guy willing to accept going home for the winter without a trophy. With Sandberg's fingers lacking a World Series ring, he will do whatever he can to pick up a win, even at the expense of angering players.
Sandberg will also have Larry Bowa as his bench coach. The two are the perfect combination of sweet and sour, although Sandberg's brief time with the club in 2013 has proven he is capable of being harder on players than Manuel ever was.
A success or not, Phillies fans should be excited. Chip Kelly took over the Philadelphia Eagles for Andy Reid in 2013. Now they are a playoff team with a possible franchise quarterback. There is no reason to doubt Sandberg can find some young gems, too.
Since before many of us could even speak to voice our displeasure, Chris Wheeler has been on the Phillies' broadcast team. As of 2014, Wheeler will be quiet.
Fans have had a love/hate relationship with Wheeler over the years, a lot of it to do with his alleged feud with Harry Kalas. Wheeler has also been criticized for talking down to fans during games and getting too detailed about common knowledge facts.
Also leaving the broadcast booth this season is Gary "Sarge" Matthews. Matthews joined the Phillies' broadcast team in 2007 as a color analyst. He too often faced negative comments; far less than Wheeler because Matthews did have a successful playing career during the 1980s with the team.
Two open spots now, the Phillies have the opportunity to bring in a new voice. They can either try finding a replacement for each or stick with having someone work all 9 innings with Tom McCarthy. Whatever their decision is, this is the first step toward a new era of Phillies baseball -- hopefully away from the current nosedive.
Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will enter the 2014 season as healthy as can be. Howard's Achilles tendon has been a plaguing issue while it has been Utley's degenerative knees keeping him out of action from time to time.
Both are approaching the twilight of their careers if they have not already reached that point. Fans have to hope this offseason has been a relaxing yet productive one for both.
The last time Howard played in more than 100 games was back in 2011, a year where several of his numbers were already on the downtrend. Utley did manage to play in 131 games in 2013, getting back to a closer version of his younger playing days. Utley has, however, become a different player. Instead of 30 home runs a season, he has added on a few extra doubles.
Influx of Youngsters
The opening-day roster is nowhere near decided. We can still predict the team to feature several younger less-familiar faces.
Jonathan Pettibone may have the opportunity to join the starting rotation as will Miguel Gonzalez. The bullpen will feature Justin De Fratus, Jake Dekeman and Michael Stutes at least some point this season. These three are at a crossroads in their careers, making it the perfect time to break out as reliable candidates to be called upon late in games.
As far as the position players go, Cody Asche will probably take his spot at third base for the majority of games this season. The bench could have Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Darin Ruf among a few others. Coming off a season-ending injury, Ben Revere will be looking to continue the success he had before fracturing his foot.
While many of these names are not top prospects, they do have the chance to do more than veterans from recent past like Ty Wigginton or Laynce Nix who stuck around like a cereal-box prize, for a limited time only.
With Roy Halladay now retired and basking in the sun and sleeping in for the first time in years, Cole Hamels will have his moment to shine.
From the "Four Aces" down to two, the Phillies are left with duo of Hamels and Cliff Lee. Lee has already spent time as an elite pitcher while Hamels has been walking the line. The 2014 season will be the year fans can look forward to see what Hamels can really do.
Hamels has had his ups and downs with the Phillies, particularly in 2009 and 2013. One tremendously overlooked fact about Hamels is he never misses too much time.
The biggest problem Hamels had in 2013, aside from poor run support, was the number of hits he allowed. A 3.60 ERA with 205 hits allowed, both were his second worst in seasons where he pitched more than 150 innings.
There is very little reason to believe Hamels will not bounce back in 2014. He has a World Series MVP on his resume, he is only one win away from 100 for his career, and he has pitched 200 innings every season since 2010.
Hamels is a workhorse and a gamer. He may finish with a lower than deserving win total in 2014, but when he takes mound, he will keep the Phillies in the game.
Statistics from Baseball-Reference
Tim Boyle is a lifelong and loyal Philadelphia sports follower who enjoys writing about his favorite teams and discovering unique statistical facts.
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