It's one day until the opener, and the Phils have already sealed their fate as also-rans this season. The devil's in the details: the Phils' final decisions of spring dealt with two young players And in both case the made the wrong decision.
The lesser of the two decisions was to move Brett Myers to the number two spot in the rotation, instead of number four (with Randy Wolf at number two). Myers had a 5.52 ERA last year, 21% worse than the park-adjusted league average. He also owns a 7.66 ERA in 22.1 innings this spring, the second highest in the mediocre at best rotation. He is just 24 and won 14 games two years ago (albeit with a 4.43 ERA), but that's not enough to outweigh his recent history.
However, manager Charlie Manuel, Ed Wade's lackey, according to the Philadelphia Daily News, wanted to show Myers "that he had confidence in him after his struggles the past season and a half." Said Manuel:
"I kind of like it that way [Myers second]- even before we had Padilla get hurt. It kind of gives the rotation more balance."
Yeah, it sucks from top to bottom.
OK, maybe with an aging team like the Phils, perhaps it is best to give your young players a boost, which brings me to Exhibit B, Marlon Byrd. Byrd was supposed to be the Phils' starting center fielder and potential leadoff hitter even after they signed aging Kenny Lofton ostensibly as a backup playoff and spot starter.
Byrd has had an up-and-down career in Philadelphia. After the Phils jettisoned offensively challenged Doug Glanville and awarded the starting spot to Byrd, a 25-year-old rookie, he slumped in the first half but finished strong to register .303 batting average and an OPS 9% better than park-adjusted average.
Last year, Byrd along with most of the Phillies' offense struggled early, but Byrd was singled out as the scapegoat. First, the superannuated Doug Glanville was brought back and somehow made the team on the last cut as the sixth outfielder. On April 18, Glanville won an extra-inning game for the Phils with a walk-off homer, and that was the beginning of the end for Byrd. Larry Bowa yo-yoed Byrd up and down and in and out of the lineup. And after he continued to slumpsurprise!was optioned to the minors by the end of June. After an undistinguished month in Triple-A, Byrd was reinstated as the Phils starting center fielder, and he finished up the year like the shock therapy patient that he had become.
This year with Bowa gone, he was supposed to have a new lease on life. He batted .390 this spring, third on the team behind Jim Thome and Placido Palanco with 10 RBI in just 41 at-bats. He missed some time with injuries but returned to go 2-for-5 with a homer in his first game. So he must have solidified his position in the lineup and quelled the Phillies' fears especially with the forgiving Manuel the manager, right?
"I think we need to see him hit in Triple A," said Manuel. So Byrd returns to the minors to prove himself and the execrable, hardly-ever-has-been Jose Offerman makes the team.
This year the Phils go with four outfielders, including Lofton, who was out for most of the spring . Last year they went with six. Last year, the Phils trade the most credible choice to play center (Ricky Ledee) and then inserted Byrd as the starting center fielder after he did nothing to prove himself in the minors. This year, he loses his job completely after proving himself in the spring. It's all more shock treatment to insure that the fragile Byrd will never fulfill whatever potential he has. And the end result is Jose Awful-man?!?
This is all just par for the course for the Phils. And this season will be more stultifying mediocrity in Philadelphia.
By the way from an historic standpoint, the Phils haven't developed a successful major-league center fielder since Richie Ashburn, unless you can't Bobby "White Lightning" Dernier. In the last 30 years, the Phils have had three center fielders that enjoyed long tenures, Garry Maddux, Lenny Dykstra, and Glanville, all of whom broke in with other organizations. Dykstra had the best season of the three, in 1993, but was often injured. Maddox had the best career with the Phils of any center fielder since Ashburn, but became an offensive liability over the second half of his Phils' career. Glanville had one good year, 1999, but was horrible at the plate for four of his six seasons, usually while amassing 600 at-bats. And that's the best of the crop.
It appears that the Marlon Byrd era will end like the Ricky Otero, Wendall Magee, Midre Cummings eras all ended, poorly.
By the way, here are all the men to play at least 25 games for the Phils in center over the last 30 years. It's a proud history: