• HaroldHecuba: Mike Mussina is EASTERN EUROPEAN, not Italian....

This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.

Ryan HowardClose but not close enough. That’s how it’s gone for the Phillies the last few years. This year the team thinks it finally has the players necessary to win the NL East. Or at least the Wild Card. But then again, that’s what they thought last year, and the year before, and the year before that.

What’s different this year? The Phillies starting rotation is beefed up and, on paper, looks like one of the best in baseball. Late season acquisition Jamie Moyer and midseason call-up Cole Hamels were a big reason the Phils were one of the hottest teams in baseball down the stretch last season. The Phils are hoping Moyer has one, maybe two more seasons left in his arm, while Hamels looks like the real deal. The Phils’ big offseason acquisition was trading for White Sox ace Freddie Garcia. He’s been good everywhere he’s gone and he’s in a contract year. That should add up to 15 wins. Rounding out the staff is Brett Myers, who lost 30 pounds in the offseason, Adam Eaton and John Leiber. It is a formidable bunch, although, if you were paying attention, you probably noticed there’s six of them. The conventional wisdom is that Leiber will be dealt before the start of the season for a bullpen arm. If he stays, Eaton could move to the bullpen.

The Philadelphia bullpen is far less established. Tom Gordon will be back to close, but after that it gets a little murky. There’s Ryan Madson, Antonio Alfonseca, and a bunch of other guys that don’t inspire confidence.

The Phillies haven’t struggled to find offense the last few years and this season should be no different. Their infield is one of the best around, with reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard anchoring a group that includes All-Stars Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Wes Helms will play third base. A former top prospect with the Braves, Helms batted .329 in 240 at-bats with the Marlins last season, belting 10 homers and collecting 47 RBIs in 140 games. He’ll likely improve on those numbers batting behind Pat Burrell and Howard.

Speaking of Burrell, he’s one of the great unknowns entering 2007. The Phillies were very vocal about their desire to trade him in the offseason. In the Phils’ dreams, they envisioned replacing Burrell with Alfonso Soriano. But Soriano was too expensive and Burrell couldn’t be moved. What now? Will Burrell show up to spring training with a chip on his shoulder? Will he cut down on his strikeouts? Will he just phone it in and continue to pick up a contract?

One more thing: the Phillies said that the catcher job would go to Carlos Ruiz this season, after Ruis spent last season backing up Mike Leiberthal and later Chris Coste. But then they signed Rod Barajas away from the Rangers. Will Ruiz be the starter or Barajas? What about Coste? He did hit .328 last season. How do you cut a guy after a season like that?

Before the Phillies went on a tear at the end of last season, fueled by Ryan Howard’s historic August, GM Pat Gillick traded Bobby Abreu and David Bell and told fans that they shouldn’t hold their breath, the team wouldn’t be competative until 2008. After a torrid last month of 2006 and a solid offseason, the Phils are calling themselves the team to beat in 2007.

We’ll find out if they’re right soon enough.

Offseason Grade: B+

Acquisitions: Freddie Garcia, Wes Helms, Adam Eaton, Rod Barajas, Jayson Werth

Losses: Randy Wolf, David Dellucci, Mike Lieberthal, Gavin Floyd, Jeff Conine, Aaron Fultz, Arthur Rhodes

Projected line-up, rotation, and closer

SS Jimmy Rollins – .277/.334/.478, 36 SB

RF Shane Victorino – .287/.386/.414, 46 RBI

2B Chase Utley – .309/.379/.527, 102 RBI

1B Ryan Howard – .313/.425/.659, 58 HR

LF Pat Burrell – .258/.388/.502, 95 RBI

3B Wes Helms – .329/.390/.575

CF Aaron Rowand – .262/.321/.425, 47 RBI

C Carlos Ruiz – .261/.316/.435, 10 RBI

RHP Freddy Garcia – 17-9, 4.53

LHP Cole Hamels – 9-8, 4.08

RHP Brett Myers – 12-7, 3.91

LHP Jamie Moyer – 11-14, 4.30

RHP Jon Lieber – 9-11, 4.93

CL Tom Gordon – 34 SV, 3.34 ERA

- Hot Offseason Action Index -

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