While every Major League Baseball team changes out some of its on-field personnel every off-season, one might expect that the team that led both leagues in wins would remain relatively stable. Not so this winter. The MLB-leading Philadelphia Phillies (102 wins last season), have been very, very busy.
The quick and dirty lists we Phils fans are jotting down - do note the first terms used:
Significant players (2008 - 11) allowed to walk away/jettisoned this winter: Roy Oswalt, the so-called fourth ace, but actually just another bad back; the popular Raul Ibanez (maybe a Yankee, maybe a Tiger now); Brad Lidge (48 for 48 in save opportunities in 2008, the uncrowned MVP in a championship season), and closer Ryan Madson (32 saves, 2.37 ERA, 62 games in '11, 47-30 lifetime).
Significant players added: Jonathan Papelbon, Boston's former closer (31 years old, 219 saves in six of seven years active), very popular former Phillie Jim Thome (42 late this August, 604 clean HR lifetime), and Juan Pierre, signed to a minor league contract (.296 and 554 stolen bases lifetime, 34 years old). If nothing else, Pierre has thus been halted in his compilation of a .310 career average against the Phils, as well as 40 steals, in 98 games. He's not, as one fan here suggested by e-mail, just "another Herb Washington." On the other hand, he could be a terribly over-the-hill Juan Pierre.
Semi-important players added: Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and Scott Posednik (minor league contract). Semi-important player lost: versatile infielder Wilson Valdez, also something of a fan favorite, retiring with a 0.00 ERA as a Phillies pitcher after a particularly memorable win last year in which both teams ran out of pitchers.
The addition of several players above who at least know which hand to put a first baseman's glove on is, of course, a result of Ryan Howard's torn Achilles. Phillies fans are undoubtedly pulling for Thome to have done enough yoga by April to replace Howard consistently. (Don't bet on that. It'll be Wigginton.)
Bottom line question: are the Phillies better, considering (above all) that they still have the best rotation-top trio: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels?
Maybe not. It's not that any singular move is important, say, as at least one blogger has suggested, that Pierre "makes no sense" and is "another obstacle" to playing time for Domonic Brown. (One fan e-mailed me that Brown will never play another game for Philly.) It's that the core in in red pinstripes is another year older, and Howard is hurt; the only significant players under 30 are Hamels and Hunter Pence. Papelbon is obviously the best pick-up and should thrive in a setting like Boston in more ways than some might see.
Right now, however, there are at least these teams that could clobber or outpitch the Fightin' Phils either on the way to the 2012 playoffs, or in the World Series: Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Detroit, the Anaheim Angels of Pujols City, and naturally, the New York Yankees.The author, a Philadelphian, has his doubts, but predicts that the local nine will still win the NL East.