Phillies see playoff potential in 'versatile' roster

Phillies see playoff potential in 'versatile' roster

March 29, 2014, 6:00 pm
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Tony Gwynn Jr. (left), Jayson Nix (center) and Cesar Hernandez can all play multiple positions. (USA Today Images)

Ruben Amaro Jr. listened to the question and answered it without the slightest hint of hesitation.

What do you think a realistic goal is for this team?

“Win the National League East,” Amaro stated.

Ryne Sandberg?

“I agree,” the manager said. “That’s the goal and that’s the expectation.”

After a spring besieged by drama, injuries and a myriad of question marks (see story), the Phillies announced their 25-man roster on Saturday as the team sets its sights on Arlington, Texas, for opening day (see story).

It’s a unit built on “versatility” and “flexibility.” So much that those words were used 18 times when Amaro and Sandberg discussed the makeup of the 2014 club.

The Phillies are no longer the Phillies of old — packed with youth, power and punch.

“In the past, we’ve had guys who were playing 160 games all the time,” Amaro said. “We don’t have that club anymore.”

Instead, these Phils have a whole new look.

“I’m trying to give Ryne the best pieces for him to win baseball games,” Amaro said. “Our team is different. We have guys that we have to give rest and we have to take some days off, we have to try to give ourselves and Ryne as much flexibility as we can as far as the roster is concerned, so that we can catch the baseball and trust some of the guys.”

Many of those guys bring that aforementioned “versatility” and “flexibility.”

Tony Gwynn Jr., a non-roster invitee, shined in camp and won a roster spot by showing speed and ability to play across the entire outfield.

“Well, our outfield defense wasn’t very good last year. That was something that was pretty important,” Amaro said. “Gwynn can play all three outfield positions and he’s a plus defender at all three.”

In the infield, more of that “versatility” and “flexibility.” Cesar Hernandez continues to play multiple positions, including infield and outfield, and Jayson Nix has done the same for the past six years (see story).

“We create a lot of versatility with this group. Nix can play many positions, Cesar is learning some other positions but he has the ability to play a variety of positions, you can even throw in the outfield from time to time in an emergency,” Amaro said. “So we put ourselves in position to have as much flexibility, give Ryne as much flexibility — he likes to mix up the lineup, he likes to be able to do some things.

“When [Freddy Galvis] comes back (MRSA), he’s going to be a part of this team and he’s going to add even more versatility to us, and so, then we’ll have to make tough decisions as far as how we go with our roster. But really for me, in this day and age … you just can’t count on eight players to go out there and play 160 games — it’s just not going to happen.”

So the Phillies loaded up with plenty jacks of all trades. They did so in the bullpen, as well.

Non-roster invitees Mario Hollands and Jeff Manship did enough on the mound in camp to prove they add value to the Phils’ bullpen.

“I think Mario, Manship and some other guys give us some flexibility as far as multiple-innings guys, something that I think is a bit of premium,” Amaro said. “To make sure you have guys that have some versatility and the ability to throw multiple innings, and both of those guys, and even [B.J. Rosenberg] and at times [Justin De Fratus] and others can provide that for us.”

As of now, Sandberg seems just as pleased with Amaro’s construction.

“The options that I would have and the other options with the extra guys on the bench on how they would fit into a lineup on an off-day situation for a veteran player,” Sandberg said about the bench decisions. “Those guys fit in very nicely with a possible leadoff hitter with Gwynn. Whether I want to go with Nix, a right-handed bat at third base for a game. Hernandez, [John Mayberry Jr.], there’s options there as far as how they fit into a lineup. And just the balance, the right to left, I like that.”

Of course, all is well before a season actually begins. There’s a reason a 25-man roster is selected the way it is — because team officials liked it.

That doesn’t mean it will work.

The Phils felt good entering spring training, but things “pop up all the time,” like Amaro said. Cole Hamels suffered a setback and Jimmy Rollins made headlines for the wrong reasons, while the offense hit .226 in Florida (worst in the NL) and the team went 9-17-3 (worst in the NL).

“When the bell rings, when the lights are major-league lights, and [there’s] the hitting background, those guys are ready to turn on the switch now,” Amaro said. “Can they all do it? I don’t know. But I expect them to play better baseball and swing the bats better. Do I worry about it? Of course I do, I think I live my life worrying.

“But at the same time, these guys have a track record, we’ve just got to get them on track and take our time with them — have them go play major-league baseball games, and see how it goes.”