Age. It is the cruel, heartless, relentless stalker that never stops hunting and never ceases to pursue.
There is no escaping the ravages of age, especially in baseball.
Sure, performance enhancing drugs are an option, but Major League baseball tends to frown on that sort of thing. At least, they are now.
The Phillies, as much as any team in baseball, are haunted by their age. The core of the team, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Michael Young, Jonathan Papelbon, and Carlos Ruiz, are all on the wrong side of 30 years old, with most of them in their mid-30s.
Papelbon is 32. Howard is 33. Rollins, Utley, Lee and Ruiz are 34. Young and Halladay are 36.
This is not new information. The age of the Phillies’ roster has been a subject of concern for a few years now.
But does the age of the roster necessarily mean they’re going to stink in 2013?
While it is true that performance usually declines as a player gets older and injuries become more prevalent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to happen with the 2013 Phillies.
Although they are a year older, there is reason to hope the team will actually be healthier and better than they were a year ago.
The team has been more hands-on regarding Chase Utley’s knees and the second baseman has also altered his off-season program in an effort to both take care of those knees while at the same time building up strength. All are optimistic he’ll actually be able to play his first game on Opening Day since 2010.
Ryan Howard had a full off-season to engage in his normal routine, hopefully strengthening his Achilles and left foot enough to once again play in 140-150 games and hit 30-35 HRs. He’ll absolutely be healthier than he was at the start of last year.
Michael Young had a terrible year in Texas last year, but in the nine years before that, he was either an All-Star or hit over .300, while admittedly playing a lackluster defensive third base. Still, he’s replacing the walking disabled list Placido Polanco, who simply couldn’t stay on the field the last few years. And on those few occasions when he was able to play, he offered virtually nothing at the plate, although his defense was still solid. Regardless, Young should be an upgrade over Polanco, at least offensively.
Carlos Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season because of a suspension for using Adderall, a substance banned by the league for those not suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. However, Ruiz appears to be in his prime, playing the best baseball of his career, averaging .303/.388/.454 for an OPS of .842 the last three years. Even with the suspension and a slight regression, Ruiz is still a well-above-average Major League catcher.
Cliff Lee, despite what may be written in certain uneducated baseball circles, was extremely good last year at age 34, despite his 6-9 record. His ERA of 3.16 was the third-lowest of his career, and for the fifth straight year, he threw at least 200 innings. He led the league in both K/9 (7.39) and BB/9 (1.2), and pitches with a style and delivery that should be easy on his now-35-year-old arm.
Papelbon has shown no signs of slowing down at age 32, posting a 2.44 ERA while pitching a career-high 70 innings last year.
The big area of concern is Roy Halladay. Last year, at age 35, Halladay was never right. From the start of spring training, the ace right-hander dealt with soreness in his shoulder that lingered into the regular season. After struggling mightily in the first two months of the season, Halladay went to the DL and stayed there for six weeks, finally returning in July. But he was never the same, and posted a 4.49 ERA on the season, by far his worst number since the year 2000.
While reports of Halladay’s progress have been encouraging this off-season, no one will really know if he has been able to recapture any of the speed on his fastball that was lost due to the shoulder issue until Grapefruit League games get underway. It’s possible those 2-3 miles per hour are gone forever, and Halladay will have to figure out a way to be successful without them. At 36, it’s possible the old Halladay may be a distant memory.
Of course, the same could be said for all the players listed above. Perhaps time has caught up with all of them and a major crash is coming. But there are enough reasons to be optimistic that the elder statesmen of this once-championship caliber club have enough left in the tank for one more ride.
Perhaps, with 2013 being the 30th anniversary of the ’83 Wheeze Kids, this group can channel the energy of those old farts, especially when you consider how many of those guys really should have been playing with oxygen tanks out in the field.
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When you look at the age of the ’83 Phils’ roster, and compare it to the roster of the 2013 squad, it’s easy to see that old people can still serve a purpose!
Obviously, Atlanta, Washington, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco are all younger and, arguably, more talented than the Phillies.
But age doesn’t necessarily mean worse. Health is more important than age.
Hopefully, the Phillies are healthier than they’ve been in a couple years.
I stress the word hope.