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News » Defending champion Phillies face few questions

Defending champion Phillies face few questions

Defending champion Phillies face few questions
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - It didn't take long after the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series for players to start talking about doing it again.

Their eyes were still stinging from the champagne and their championship T-shirts were drenched from the bubbly when the word "repeat" was first uttered. With their nucleus intact, the Phillies have a legitimate chance to be the first repeat World Series champions since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000.

Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Fla., on Saturday for the start of spring training. For just the second time in the franchise's 127-year history, the Phillies will be defending a World Series title.

"Everybody is going to come after us," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "Everybody knows we have the target on our back. We're ready to defend it."

The Phillies have few questions to answer this spring. No jobs are open among the starting eight, the top four pitchers are set and the bullpen looks solid.

Only two players - left fielder Pat Burrell and reserve outfielder So Taguchi - aren't back from the 25-man postseason roster. Free agent Raul Ibanez signed a $30 million, three-year contract to replace Burrell, who wasn't offered a contract.

Barring injuries, the only positions up for competition are for fifth starter, a left-handed reliever, a backup catcher and a right-handed hitter off the bench. The other interesting question is whether All-Star second baseman Chase Utley will be ready for the opener after offseason hip surgery. Utley has said he'll be fine.

Veteran Chan Ho Park, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and prospect Carlos Carrasco will compete for a spot in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton. Park, a former All-Star with Los Angeles, had success in the bullpen with the Dodgers last year. Kendrick won 21 games for the Phillies over the last two years, but also struggled and was left off the postseason roster. Happ might have the best chance and Carrasco is a longshot.

Another lefty in the bullpen is needed to replace J.C. Romero, who was suspended for the first 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing supplement. Led by perfect closer Brad Lidge (48-for-48 in save chances), the bullpen was a major strength last year. Romero's suspension leaves a hole that could be filled by Happ if he doesn't earn a spot in the rotation, or one of the remaining free agents.

Ronny Paulino will battle with incumbent Chris Coste for the backup job behind catcher Carlos Ruiz. Prospect Lou Marson could challenge for a roster spot, or possibly even the starting job at some point.

Veteran second baseman Marcus Giles, a non-roster player, is among those trying to earn a job on the bench. The Phillies could sign a free agent to fill the role of right-handed pinch-hitter. They've expressed interest in Nomar Garciaparra and Moises Alou.

"Overall, we feel we have a better ballclub," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who was promoted from assistant after Pat Gillick retired.

In an offseason when economic uncertainty forced many teams to be thrifty, the Phillies spent a lot of money. The team's payroll will be over $130 million, up from $98.3 million on opening day last year.

"We're fortunate to be in this position," Amaro said. "If we can't put a World Series champion on the field at this level of payroll, that's my fault. We should be able to contend. We've been given plenty of leeway."

Philadelphia used its money to re-sign players instead of bringing in new ones - except for Ibanez and Park ($2.5 million, one-year deal).

Moyer, the durable 46-year-old left-hander, signed a $13 million, two-year contract. Slugger Ryan Howard got a $54 million, three-year deal, avoiding a potentially contentious arbitration.

Nine other arbitration-eligible players got raises, including Hamels, the World Series and NLCS MVP. The ace left-hander signed a $20.5 million, three-year deal. Reliever Ryan Madson ($12 million, three years) and right fielder Jayson Werth ($10 million, two years) also got multiyear contracts.

"Up and down the lineup, the people we've targeted for long-term deals are the players we believe are the core of our club," Amaro said. "The players will make us smart or dumb; you hope the players perform to their contracts. But at least talent-wise, on paper, we believe we have an outstanding team that's worth keeping together."

Once the Phillies exercise a club option on Jimmy Rollins' contract for 2011, they'll have Rollins, Howard, Hamels, Madson, Ibanez, Utley and Lidge locked in for the next three years. That gives them a chance for multiple championships.

First, they have to repeat.

"I'd like to add to that trophy," manager Charlie Manuel said, looking at the World Series trophy during a media tour. "It would be nice to have a couple sitting beside it."

The Phillies needed another September comeback to overtake the New York Mets and clinch their second straight NL East title last year. Then, they breezed through the postseason with an 11-3 record. The Phillies lost only one game in each series, beating Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay to win it all.

"Not only did we show the city of Philadelphia and our and fans that we can win, we proved it to ourselves," Manuel said. "To compete and be able to do it again is even bigger for our players. We have the kind of players that love to play baseball and we're going to be even more determined and we're going to play even better than last year."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: February 12, 2009

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