By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—It’s that time of year again. The Phillies have shown up for spring training in Clearwater, Florida. Everyone feels rejuvenated and ready. They’re saying all the right, giddy things, how everyone feels good, how they’re going to collectively walk through a time machine and go back to 2008.
If anyone deserves another chance at a World Series ring in 2013, it’s Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel. The manager with the most victories in Phillies’ history, who’s somehow continued to win with an aged lineup, deserves at least that.
The underlying fear, however, among those around the Phillies and in major league baseball is if the Phils slip, Manuel will be the one that gets the blame.
In eight years, all Manuel has done is win more games than any manager in Phillies’ history, entering 2013 with a 727-569 record, along with guiding the Phils to one World Series, two National League pennants and five-straight National League East division titles.
There’s never been a more successful Phillies manager than Manuel, who’s in the last year of his contract with the Phillies and has openly said he’d like to continue managing the Phils beyond 2013.
That may not happen. In fact, Manuel may not last the rest of this season. The skids are already greased—with apparent successor Ryne Sandberg sitting in the same dugout as Manuel this season. To keep Sandberg, the Phillies elevated him from the manager at triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he’s been the last two seasons, in fear another team would swoop him up (Question to ponder: Why didn’t the Cubs, who Sandberg played his entire Hall of Fame career with, offer Sandberg their job as manager?).
What’s baffling is that Sandberg had only one major league managerial interview—with St. Louis the winter of 2011—to replace the retiring Tony LaRussa. Instead, the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, who guided St. Louis to the 2012 National League championship, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.
The Phillies enter this season with far more questions than they have had the previous six years. Can Roy Halladay recover and be the same Roy Halladay of 2011, rebounding from his worst season as a Phillie and one of the worst in his career? How reliable will the new outfield of Darin Ruf, Ben Revere and Delmon Young work? How will the Phillies deal with the absence of catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will miss the first 25 games this season for violating baseball’s substance-abuse policy? Can an old infield hold up for 162 games? Will Chase Utley be healthy enough to play in 140 games?
Are the Phillies that much farther behind the defending National League East champion Washington Nationals?
General manager Ruben Amaro didn’t really do much to improve the talent gap between the Nats and Phillies. Adding Young doesn’t seem to really help, especially now considering he’ll likely begin Opening Day on the disabled list. He’s been a butcher in the field, has had weight issues and is still recovering from microfracture surgery on his right ankle in November.
The Ruf-Revere-Young outfield produced a total of 21 major league home runs in 2012, with 116 RBI. Compare that to the certainty of last year’s starting Opening Day outfield of Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and John Mayberry, who combined to hit 52 homers and drove in 207 runs in 2011.
Watch for a possible move in early July, if the Phillies have fallen considerably behind the Atlanta Braves and Nationals. The Phillies will have a seven-game homestand featuring those two teams from July 5-11. It could reveal plenty.
Should Manuel be offered one last contract extension before the 2013 season embarks? Yes. Will Manuel last 2013 if there is even a hint of the Phillies tripping? Regrettably, not. Does he deserve more? Definitely.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.