* Who plays right field — Really the biggest question the Phillies have heading into Clearwater is how they will replace Jayson Werth. There are no shortages of candidates in house, although none of them seem to have been given the inside track on getting the gig on an everyday basis. You’ll want to keep an eye on the likes of Ben Francisco, Domonic Brown, Ross Gload and John Mayberry and see if anyone emerges during the Grapefruit League season. There is always the chance that the Phillies add a piece during spring training as other teams rosters begin to take shape.
* 5th Starter — It’s an embarrassment of riches for the Phillies with regards to the starting rotation as the top four spots will be held by potential Cy Young candidates Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. As far as the 5th spot, if Joe Blanton isn’t traded, you have to imagine the job is his. However, Blanton makes a lot of money for a 5th starter so you could see him moved (possibly for a right fielder). If he is dealt, then the race for the final rotation slot comes down to Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick quietly won 11 games last season and he has pitched in some big games for the Phillies during the last several seasons, but Worley probably has better “stuff” and a higher ceiling.
* Who leads off — It’s most likely that, if healthy, Jimmy Rollins retains his longtime spot at the top of the Phillies lineup. However the shortstop has struggled through a mediocre 2009 and an injury plagued 2010 and there have been some rumblings about moving him down to the middle of the order. That move would also help to replace some of Jayson’s Werth production that is now in Washington. If Rollins is moved down to 5th or 6th, Shane Victorino would be the most logical candidate to take over as the Phillies catalyst.
* The bullpen — Bullpens are always tricky, as no aspect of a team can have a more volatile change in performance from one year to the next than the pen. However, there’s not a lot of mystery on paper how the relief corps will shake out. Brad Lidge will be back to close, Ryan Madson back to pitch the 8th and the familiar faces of Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero are also expected to fill key roles. Competition could be interesting for the second lefthander in the pen between Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski. Phillies also worked hard to keep righthander David Herndon around last season as a Rule V draftee, so there’s a good chance he could fill the long role left vacant by Chad Durbin.
* The manager – Charlie Manuel’s contract expires at the end of the 2011 season. He hasn’t gotten a contract extension yet. He will. Manuel isn’t going anywhere unless he wants to, and there is no indication of that, so something will work out it’s just a matter of when and for how long.
* Do the stars shine again? – One big reason that the Phillies didn’t make it to their third straight World Series in 2010 was the performance of their big bats in the postseason. In fact, it was a down regular season as well for just about every key Phillie position player – save for Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Rollins all had down years, injuries were one reason but they also didn’t perform at the levels people had become accustomed to when they were healthy. If Utley, Rollins and Howard return to form — combined with this starting rotation it could be an incredibly special year for the Phillies.
- Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio