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howard ryan injured Sizing Up The Phillies’ Challenging Future

By: Bill Campbell

Not only did the Phillies’ scintillating season end miserably, but the future could be full of problems as well. General Manager Ruben Amaro has some difficult decisions awaiting his attention, including the serious injury and upcoming surgery facing Ryan Howard.

The main problem, however, is that the Phillies as presently constituted will become, if not baseball’s oldest team, certainly among the oldest and will need replacements in several areas.

Additionally, they have approximately $107 million invested in just 9 players for next season. And that means that the present roster will require many changes to fill out the rest of the 25-man squad.

Decisions must be made on the futures of Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge, among others. Plus there’s Cole Hamels, who won’t require a change in scenery but is due for a new and hefty, long-term extension.

Many players, in addition to those already mentioned, such as Ryan Madson, Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez do not have guarantees for 2012 and will require decisions.

In addition to what happens with Howard, the status of Rollins is meaningful. He will be 33 next month, has been a durable player, but lately he’s had some physical problems. Both he and Howard spent some time on the disabled list over the last 2 seasons. What will his future look like?

One of the more disquieting baseball scenes of the season occurred last Friday with the St. Louis Cardinals celebrating their great triumph while 30 feet to the right Ryan Howard was writhing in pain on the ground.

Howard has been, through most of his career, one of baseball’s most dependable players. But he has played for most of the last month with foot and ankle problems and probably could have used some time off.

With clinching the division title a priority, Charlie Manuel might have been reluctant to rest him. Howard has been the team’s biggest power source and in making the Phillies’ last out in the series ruptured his Achilles tendon. He will have surgery as soon as the swelling goes down and his recuperation may last well into spring training.

His left ankle has been beaten up for some time and may possibly have just given away. There are many Ryan Howard critics out there but if the Phillies are forced to play an extended time without him, his value may be fully recognized and appreciated. However, his batting problems do always seem to appear in the post-season – or at least it seems that way. He’ll begin his $125 million contract next season. It will run for 5 years. And this is a difficult way to start.

Amaro has to decide about Placido Polanco too. He’s 36 years old, has played through an assortment of injuries and presently is recuperating from a sports hernia which has handicapped him this season. He went 2 for 19 against the Cardinals and 8 for 53 in 3 playoff series. He’s due over $6 million next season.

Brad Lidge is due $1.5 million in a buy-out.

And, confining the subject to pitching, the status of the highly vaunted pitching staff could change. Halladay, Lee and Hamels will be here. But the status of Roy Oswalt is up for grabs. He has a $16 million mutual option for 2012, but he’s 34 years old with a history of back problems.

Specifically about the playoff loss to the Cardinals: you could play these games and this series over and over but what happened to the Phillies wasn’t predicted for one reason: they were supposed to have the best pitching staff ever. One good enough, or so we thought, to win any short series. But the team that won 102 games, it stumbled to the finals including an 8-game losing streak. And it wound up tired and gasping for breath.

There are 2 mathematical facts that should be mentioned here: the overall Phillies’ payroll is around $180 million, close to the luxury tax threshold that the team would prefer to stay below. It is one of the highest payrolls in the history of the game. The problem remains that it has $107 million in just 9 players which, as mentioned earlier, makes the restructuring of the staff quite difficult.

Besides the financial business, there is one quite obvious reason why the Phils don’t score in their run up to the “World Series or Bust” goal too frequently. Even in the 2008 season when they went all the way, they have compiled post-season team batting averages of .231, .227, .212, .216 and .226 regardless of who was on the pitching staff. Maybe pitching isn’t the name of the game after all. One sure thing in baseball and most other sports: the team that scores more than the other team always wins. Even if the final score is an aggravating 1-0.

All those summer-long headlines about the Phillies really got to the Eagles. All the talk radio chatter, the headlines, the TV stuff was about baseball and the Phillies, their 102 victories and all those consecutive sell-outs.

The Eagles just thought they had to do something. So they went shopping just to remind people that they were still in town. Andy Reid was headed into his 13th year and he wanted it to be one to remember. So he started spending some of Jeffrey Lurie’s money. In came Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young (as a back-up quarterback, no less).

But even bigger moves were made in the coaching ranks. Reid really created headlines by changing the coaching staff. He named offensive line coach Juan Castillo the defensive coordinator. That move in itself was bound to create a headline plus a question mark like, “Has anyone ever done that?”

That will show these headline writers and talk show hosts and pundits that the Eagles still occupy the biggest spot in this town despite all those sell-outs and victories.

It’s been hard on the Eagles, putting up with all this winning baseball business. They wondered, won’t autumn ever come? Will it ever be football time? Will the lock-out ever end? The Eagles had to do something, anything, to make some moves. And indeed they did. Never dreaming that the alleged “dream team” could possibly turn into a nightmare.

They had a chance for brief glory if only in passing on the first weekend of October despite all the excitement of the long summer, the “World Series or bust” hysteria and promise. But the Phillies busted. They not only could not get to the World Series, they couldn’t even win their first round playoff.

And the Eagles had their shot at temporary redemption on Sunday October 9th. They were in Buffalo. The Phillies had just suffered an excruciating 1-0 loss to the Cardinals only hours before. And the Eagles had a chance to bring at least a smile to a stunned and downcast array of fans. If the Birds could only beat the Bills in Buffalo, lift some sagging spirits, have a laugh or two, produce some solace over the weekend. They had a chance. But they stubbed their toes and turned the ball over and over and played again the feature role in another “giveaway game”.

At least they had a shot to create their own headline. They just blew it.

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