Aging Phillies try to seize their chance
CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Mentioning the term "window of opportunity" to the Philadelphia Phillies results in a wide range of reactions.
Ryan Howard scoffs at it. Cole Hamels understands it. Ruben Amaro Jr. dismisses it. Roy Halladay accepts it. Charlie Manuel wants to use it as motivation.
The Phillies are no longer the team to beat in the NL East after capturing five straight division titles, two pennants and one World Series title between 2007-11. Injuries to star players and overall inconsistency contributed to an 81-81 finish last year.
With a core of aging players, some of which are entering the final seasons of their contracts, it's natural to wonder if the team's window of winning another world championship is closing.
"You don't want to see it but, you understand the game of baseball is a very small window and you have to do very well for that period of time you have," said Hamels, one of the voices of reason on a veteran roster. "Even though you don't want to hear it, it's more or less the knowledge you have to give it everything you can while you can because it's going to be taken away very fast and you don't want to regret anything.
"I think that's the idea behind what we have to do. We have to perfect everything we can. We have to play as hard as we possibly can because it's going to disappear fast and I don't want it to disappear."
Hamels is one of the guys who doesn't have to worry about his future. The three-time All-Star lefty and 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP signed a $144 million, six-year contract last July.
"That's why I signed here," he said. "I really do firmly believe we have a great team and we can win the World Series and the organization wants to see it and the fans want to see it and that's the ingredients you need to succeed and we have to push the limits."
Howard, the 33-year-old first baseman, also isn't going anywhere. He's owed at least $105 million over the next five years and is coming off a season that started in mid-July after a long recovery from a torn Achilles' tendon. Howard has shown he's healthy this spring and he views it differently than Hamels.
"I don't buy into the old thing," Howard said. "It's all about how young you feel inside and how well you take care of yourself. Everybody in this clubhouse goes out and works their butt off. Everybody goes out in the offseason, they train and we do what we need to do to come back. If people want to call us old, that's fine, but I think going out there this year we're going to show people that we're not old."
Halladay, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, appears on the decline after being a dominant pitcher for almost a decade. The 35-year-old righty is coming off an injury-plagued season and has struggled so far this spring. He's in the final season of his contract and wants to finish his career in Philadelphia, if they'll have him back. He's desperate to win his first World Series ring.
"I think there's always urgency," he said. "I don't think anybody goes into a season and says `Maybe we should win this three years from now.' You want to win it now. I think you have to have that mentality, regardless of your age. Obviously the opportunities become less and less the older you get, but I think the urgency is always the same. You want to win that year, and that's what counts and what matters.
Five-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz and Manuel are also going into their last years of their contract. Manuel has no plans to retire and wants to keep managing. But with Ryne Sandberg, the assumed heir apparent, on staff, he probably has to win to stick around.
"I think we want to win," he said. "It's important for them to show they can win and convince themselves how good they are. People put expectations on us and that's fine but I like it better when players put (high) expectations on themselves. That's even better and we play better baseball day in and day out."
Amaro looks at it pragmatically, like any general manager would.
"My job is to make us a contender every single day and every year and that doesn't end so I don't necessarily believe in windows," Amaro said. "Our job is to try and be a contender every year. We can talk about all the windows we want, but the fact of the matter is we're built to try and win every single year. There may be some times and some eras when we need to do some rebuilding or retooling more than anything else such that we put ourselves in position where we have to do it with different players. We have some very good young players coming up that might be able to help with any transitions that we're talking about, but our goal is to be a contender every year."
That's easy to say. Harder to do.
NOTES: While the Phillies faced Atlanta in Grapefruit League action, Cliff Lee tossed six scoreless innings, striking out nine and allowing four hits in a minor-league game against Pittsburgh. ... Jimmy Rollins was 0 for 1 with a walk in that game. ... RHP Rodrigo Lopez, competing for a roster spot as a long reliever, got roughed up by the Braves. He gave up eight runs and eight hits in two innings.