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February 14, 2014

Fantasy Team Preview

Philadelphia Phillies

by Mike Gianella

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It’s easy and fun to make jokes about how old the Phillies are, but the team’s advanced age curve does have an impact from a fantasy perspective. Nine players on the team’s projected Opening Day roster are 33 years of age or older. Post-peak players aren’t worthless and certainly can provide fantasy value. However, discounts have to be built in for potential injuries and breakdowns, especially in deeper leagues where good replacement level players are harder to find. The Phillies are becoming a Bermuda Triangle in fantasy: a lot of players are worth owning, but the risk factor here is high in many cases.

Projected Lineup

  1. CF Ben Revere
  2. SS Jimmy Rollins
  3. 2B Chase Utley
  4. 1B Ryan Howard
  5. RF Marlon Byrd
  6. LF Domonic Brown
  7. C Carlos Ruiz
  8. 3B Cody Asche
  9. Pitcher

Utley is arguably the best hitter in the Phillies lineup at-bat for at-bat, but he has played 115, 103, 83, and 131 games over the last four years. He’s productive but offers a combination of age and injury risk. Howard has even more questions surrounding his health/long term outlook. A 30-HR, 100-RBI season would be a nice get for fantasy owners, but seems like a stretch at this point.

The Phillies had a pretty quiet offseason, with Byrd the most significant acquisition. It isn’t a good idea to rely on him to duplicate last year, but he is unlikely to completely drop off like he did in 2012. Rollins and Ruiz continue the theme of older players who can’t be counted on to do bounce back/do what they have done in the past. Revere is a potential stolen base king, but even in a steals depressed context, it’s difficult to carry a player who is so one-dimensional.

Projected Bench

The best options for deep league players are Mayberry and Ruf, depending on what happens with Howard against left-handed pitching. Ruf had the better numbers last year but is the rare player who unifies sabermetric and scouting guys in disbelief that the magic can continue. Galvis and Frandsen are both likely to get time in the infield for aging veterans Rollins and Utley but are worth little in fantasy.

Given the advanced age of the roster, there are a host of veteran retreads that will likely grace the roster at some point this year, including Ronny Cedeno, Reid Brignac, and Tony Gwynn Jr. But the most intriguing minor leaguer by far is prospect Maikel Franco. He has a ton of upside, and Asche is not any kind of significant impediment. A fast start at Triple-A could see Franco in the majors as early as June.

Projected Rotation

The Phillies signing of Burnett gives them a deeper rotation than they had a week ago, although Hamels’ recent injury might spell trouble for the Phils. If it isn’t a serious injury, the top three is pretty decent. Lee is one of the better pitchers in the league, while Hamels’ struggles were somewhat overblown. The park shift will hurt Burnett, but he misses enough bats that it won’t matter as much as some think.

Kendrick is marginal even in NL-only and he might be the best of this troika. Gonzalez could fall anywhere between a number three and a bullpen arm. In a keeper league where you need to gamble, he’s a fun play but otherwise avoid.

Projected Closer Candidates

There are significant concerns about Papelbon’s declining strikeout rate and declining velocity, but as long as he’s healthy and doesn’t completely immolate he’s the guy in Philly. His days as a first tier option are probably over.

Bastardo accepted a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball last year, but as is the case with most PED suspensions, it’s difficult to know what kind of impact PEDs were having on his performance. Lincoln has always oozed potential but is now 29 years old and hasn’t had much of an impact. Papelbon’s safe because of the big contract but the lack of a strong option behind him also helps his case.

Positional Battle to Watch

Third Base: Cody Asche vs. Maikel Franco
As noted above, this is a battle that is unlikely to take place in spring training but could heat up during the summer. Asche will open the season as the starter at third base but many feel it’s just a matter of time before Franco takes over. In non-keeper leagues, this is the kind of situation you simply want to avoid unless you’re in an NL-only and can get Asche on the cheap. In dynasty leagues, Franco is most definitely the guy you want.

Player to Target: A.J. Burnett
Because he joined the Phillies, Burnett immediately became the target of cheap age jokes. That’s good news for your fantasy team, since he’ll come at a bargain price. As noted above, the park shift doesn’t help but he is still pitching in the National League and those strikeouts are very valuable.

Player to Avoid: Ryan Howard
Maybe there’s a comeback lurking in the big guy, but at such a deep position why gamble on a 34-year-old who hasn’t played a full season since 2011? It’s certainly possible that Howard bounces back, but the possibility isn’t the same as a certainty. Howard is a risky fantasy gamble.

Deep Sleeper: Bobby Abreu
Yes, that Bobby Abreu. No, I didn’t hit my head and wake up thinking that the year is 1997, Bill Clinton is the President, and Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping is the greatest musical invention known to man since the drum circle. Abreu was terrific in winter ball and there’s the possibility that he’s not done yet. Like every deep sleeper profiled in this space, there’s a good chance nothing comes of this, but if Abreu has even a little gas left in the tank, Ruf and Mayberry aren’t obstacles of significant note. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a rejuvenated Abreu break camp with the club and amass 200-250 plate appearances. He could be more than just an old name and only needs an injury to get a shot to start. He’s a neat little reserve list stash in non-carryover NL-only.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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