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“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.” – Thomas Fuller (attributed)

After a 2014 season during which it sometimes seemed like the Phillies were floundering without any kind of cohesive plan, interim CEO Pat Gillick laid out a blueprint for contention in 2017, at the earliest. While ownership transparency is refreshing if you are a fan, a full tear down is challenging from a fantasy perspective, particularly at the early stages. The Phillies haven’t shipped anyone out of town yet, and it is impossible to predict when this will happen. Even if the current roster composition holds, the fantasy landscape looks thin. Only eight Phillies were worth owning in standard mixed leagues last year. Even in NL-only formats, the picture wasn’t particularly rosy. There are some opportunities to be had, but most of them come in the form of undervalued veterans, not rookies with upside and the ability to burst on the scene as potential game changers.

Investing in this roster is doubly difficult. In addition to concerns about post-peak decline, additional risk is built in due to the possibility that a player could be shipped out of town and into a lesser role on another team. When applicable, the risk that each player brings due to a trade and a diminished role will be incorporated into his capsule.

[A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.]

[Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.)

Studs

Cole Hamels – SP
Hamels has been overshadowed throughout most of his career by likely future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay and complete game automaton Cliff Lee, but Hamels has been a consistent fantasy ace in his own right throughout a good portion of his career. Hamels’s injury issues last year turned out to be minor, and he barely missed cracking the Top 10 in NL-only despite missing a few early starts. The only knock on Hamels is the poor wins potential due to his current team, but wins are variable, and aces on bad teams can still sneak 13-14 wins. Hamels should be a top-10 NL-only guy and a top-15 mixed guy yet again in 2015, with the potential to do more.

Ben Revere – OF
Revere’s lack of power might not quite make him seem like a “stud,” but his nearly automatic .300 batting average and 40-plus-steal potential the past two years have put him near the top of the earnings curve despite the lack of dingers. Revere’s noodle arm in the outfield make him a bit of a trade/playing time risk, but he offers enough across the board that he should manage to hold on to his job for at least another year and continue doing what he has done for his fantasy owners for the past two seasons.

Duds

Domonic Brown – OF
The temptation to believe that Brown will turn it around and put together a strong campaign is great, but Brown is already 27 years old and outside of a ridiculous two-month stretch in 2013 during which he hit 18 home runs, he hasn’t done anything to warrant a roster spot in standard mixed formats. Some will point to his slight improvement in the second half last year, but Brown is still an underwhelming fantasy commodity. The Phillies have nothing to lose by sticking him out there for another full season and seeing if he can produce, but it is likely at this point that he is never going to live up to the lofty expectations some had after his debut.

Ryan Howard – 1B
Howard drove in enough runs and swatted enough home runs to provide some fantasy value, even in standard mixed formats. However, Howard’s real-life value is what is at issue. Some believe it would be best if the Phillies moved on, even if they cannot find a trade partner and have to cut Howard outright. The risk that Howard could get cut and not find a deal with another team is what puts him in the dud category. Howard has enough oomph left in his bat to be a fantasy asset assuming he plays, but because he isn’t a real life asset, he could wind up on the outside looking in.

What You See Is What You Get

Marlon Byrd – OF
While Byrd’s power output last year looked identical to his late career, 2013 breakout, there were a few indicators that could be warning signs that a decline is coming. His ISO dropped somewhat while his batting average plummeted 27 points. Byrd was still a nice power source for his fantasy owners, but at his advanced age, a rapid decline wouldn’t be a shock to anyone. A more moderate falloff is the predictable outcome, but if Byrd can hit 18-20 home runs with a .260 batting average or so, he will still provide fantasy value in most formats.

Jonathan PapelbonRP
The fastball velocity continues to drop, but Papelbon has managed to maintain his status as a top echelon fantasy closer. The drop in strikeouts hurts his value, but as long as Paps continues to mix his pitches and have success with his slider along with the heater, he will probably be fine for another season. He is a trade risk, but with a partial no-trade clause and a $13M vesting option that kicks in for 2016 after 48 games finished, Papelbon might not be as movable as some might think.

Jimmy Rollins – SS
A poor 2013 made many wonder if Rollins was about to rapidly fall off of an age-related cliff, but he bounced back in 2014 with a season that resembled his 2011 and 2012. The batting average has never been good, but given the league’s eroding offensive context, Rollins wasn’t as much of a drag in the category as you might suspect. The likelihood of his speed holding in his age-36 season seems low, but Rollins is not just a fast base runner but a smart one as well. A discount has to be built in because of his age, but there is no reason to believe Rollins can’t continue performing at this level for another year or two.

Carlos Ruiz – C
Ruiz was the 14th-best catcher last year: not in mixed leagues, but in NL-only. He misses the duds list only because expectations at this point should be very low. The significant contract means that Ruiz will play if he’s healthy, but all he can be counted on for at this point are the slow and steady drip of runs and RBI from a difficult position to fill. Even in two-catcher mixed leagues, Ruiz is a borderline option.

Chase Utley – 2B
Utley’s end of the season numbers look pretty solid, but at lot of that was fueled by a ridiculously good 347/404/569 slash line through his first 36 games. Utley could only manage a pedestrian 245/318/355 from that point forward. He was completely healthy for the first time in years, but one has to wonder if the daily grind had an impact on his final numbers. Utley was still a top-10 mixed-league second baseman last year, and is reaching the point of his career at which he could be a slight bargain if people assume he’s going to fall off in 2015.

X-Factors

Cliff Lee – SP
Take one step forward if you know what Lee is going to do in 2015. Not so fast, every single person who took a step forward. Lee’s health is an open question at the moment, and there is no way of knowing if he is worth even a nominal investment in fantasy. The Phillies are hoping he pitches well enough so they can shop him, but as with many of the expensive players on the team, there is an onerous option year and a partial no trade clause to contend with before any moves can be made.

Miguel Gonzalez — RP/SP
Opinions are split on whether or not Gonzalez can salvage a future as a starting pitcher in the majors or if he is destined to pitch out of the pen. The high-end velocity was eye-popping in his tiny sample size for the Phillies, but he wouldn’t sit that high as a starting pitcher. Some believe the Phillies are committed to starting him in 2015, and given the team’s short term outlook they have little to lose by giving Gonzalez 150 innings and seeing what happens. We won’t know until spring training what the master plan is, and Gonzalez is only worth an NL-only flier at the moment. He is the Capital X of X Factors.

Sleeper

Ken Giles – RP
Giles is Papelbon’s caddy as long as Papelbon is effective and pitching for the Phillies, but assuming a trade or a sudden bout of Papelbon ineffectiveness, Giles is first in line to close. The fastball that can hit triple-digits is what puts the asses in the seats, but Giles isn’t just a one-pitch pitcher. Giles could overtake Paps even without a trade, but given Papelbon’s vesting option, it would have to be a legitimate performance slippage, not just a flimsy excuse for flip-flopping the two. Giles will have value in deeper mixed and NL-only formats even if he doesn’t close. He could be the National League’s answer to Wade Davis in 2015 minus the wins.

NL-Only

Cody Asche – 3B
Asche was a capable third baseman for the Phillies, but he is in a difficult position due to the presence of Maikel Franco. The Phillies are publicly saying that the job is Asche’s to lose in Spring Training, but this is a glass is half full way of saying that Franco could take the job from Asche. Even if the Phillies cut ties with Howard, it is way too early to simply push Franco to first and give up on his defensive potential at the hot corner. If Asche starts, he is fine as a low end, deeper mixed league corner, but a prolonged slump puts him at playing time risk. It is unlikely he is part of the next championship-caliber Phillies team.

David Buchanan – SP
As a living, breathing narrative, Buchanan is a great story: a pitcher who everyone thought had a minor-league ceiling worked hard to improve his game and make the major leagues as a viable starter. His stuff doesn’t pass the dreaded eye test, but he keeps the ball on the ground and manages to limit the damage. Buchanan is the kind of pitcher who could completely fail or could put up a 3.60 ERA or so if everything breaks right. Put down a nominal $2-3 bid in only and hope for the latter.

Jerome Williams – SP
After an awful run in the American League for the Astros and Rangers, the Phillies picked up Williams and watched as he put up an improbably good run of starts right out of the gate. This didn’t last, and Williams slowly faded down the stretch. Like Buchanan, Williams doesn’t have a dominant out pitch, but unlike Buchanan has enough experience that he is willing to pitch to his spots and try to get hitters to make weak contact when needed. This doesn’t always work, but Williams could survive on the back end of the Phillies rotation. I wouldn’t bid more than $2-3, but Williams could provide sneaky value in NL-only if he continues to keep hitters off balance. He could also be the 2014 version of Travis Wood, see the clock strike midnight, and provide negative value.

Prospects for 2015

Maikel Franco – 3B
Franco is the most likely rookie in the Phillies system to make an impact in 2015. The presence of Asche makes it likely that Franco starts at Lehigh Valley, but Franco’s bat will likely force the issue at some point. One caveat is that he struggled a little bit at the beginning of 2014 in Triple-A; it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the same thing happened upon his promotion to the majors. Franco’s bat should play at third base, and even if he “only” has 20-homer potential, that plays in any fantasy format.

Kelly Dugan – OF
With the exception of Franco, most of the Phillies higher ceiling prospects are currently plying their trade in the lower minors and won’t be up in 2015. Dugan fits this model quite well. The obstacles in front of him are as sturdy as Styrofoam cones—particularly if Byrd is traded—so there is a good chance that Dugan sees some time roaming the Phillies outfield in 2015. His ceiling is blah from a fantasy perspective, and 12-15 home runs with a .280 batting average might be generous. He’s worth tracking in NL-only and that is about it; I wouldn’t even burn a reserve spot in a deeper mixed, non-dynasty.

Jesse Biddle – SP
Biddle suffered one of the most bizarre 2014 injuries in any sport when he was hit on the head with hail in late May and suffered a concussion. While Biddle initially seemed to make a quick recovery and was on the hill days later, the Phillies shut him down after five disastrous starts. Take out the 24 earned runs in 22 innings in those five outings, and Biddle’s 2.98 ERA and 1.258 WHIP look a lot better. Biddle still might have a long way to go to get back to form, but given the Phillies thin rotation, he could get the call in 2015 if turns out the concussion was a significant culprit in Biddle’s struggles last year. The concussion has been surprisingly underreported, so Biddle is an odd sort of sleeper if people in your leagues aren’t aware of the hail incident.

Aaron Nola – SP
Nola is a polished pitcher, and some think he could make the Phillies at some point in 2015. However, given that he has all of 55 1/3 professional innings under his belt (24 in the high minors), the Phillies have no imperative to rush him. Nola still needs some work on his off speed pitches, and it would be better for him to do this work in the high minors than on the major league stage. I would bet against him coming up this year, though some would disagree with this assessment and believe he could be up this summer. His ceiling at the moment is as a #3 starter, but that seems generous given the current skill set.

Severino Gonzalez – SP
Gonzalez doesn’t have the ceiling that Biddle or Nola do, but with a full season at Double-A under his belt will could be the first pitcher to get the call in 2015 if the Phillies need a fill-in. Gonzalez is NL-only material; his ceiling is as a mid-tier starter, but he might not be able to do more than be a swingman/future relief arm due to his lack of either overpowering fastball velocity or the kind of repeatability on his secondary pitches that can make up for the former.