— Q. The Phillies seem extremely passive this off-season, given their woeful playoff performances the last three seasons. Are they in denial about their poor hitting?
— Bob Silin, Horsham, Pa.
A. The Phillies finished seventh in the National League in runs scored last season, but that is a bit misleading, as they were only 22 runs short of the second-place finisher, Cincinnati. So only the Cardinals, who scored 49 more runs, were significantly more productive than the Phillies in 2011 — and as you may have heard, they don't have Albert Pujols any more.
The problem the Phillies have had is keeping their top veterans — all now in their 30s — in the lineup. Jimmy Rollins (19 games), Placido Polanco (40 games) and Chase Utley (59 games) missed extensive time last season, and now they'll have to do without Ryan Howard for a couple of months as he recovers from left Achilles surgery.
It will be up to the platoon of Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome to fill in at first base for Howard, and for John Mayberry Jr. and/or Domonic Brown to settle in as a productive left fielder and replace Raul Ibanez. I like the chances of success for the left-field situation much more than at first base, as one of those two young players figures to step up — or at the very least, the two should form a productive platoon.
But you really have to wonder how much Thome can play defensively, since he hasn't played first base regularly since 2005. So there will be pressure on Wigginton until Howard returns. The Phillies also will get a full season from Hunter Pence, and their run production ticked up to 4.47 per game after he was acquired from Houston.
None of this should have much affect on the Phillies' playoff chances — not with their rotation, and the addition of Jonathan Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen. And don't forget there will be an added wildcard spot this season, so it's very likely the Phillies will stretch their consecutive post-season appearances streak to six.
But going deep into October is another question, and they really will need everybody to be healthy and having high-level seasons. If not, you'll see them adding another bat mid-season. After all, as you mention, the Phillies are trending in the wrong direction in the post-season since winning the 2008 World Series: Losing the 2009 World Series, the 2010 NLCS and a 2011 division series.
Q. Hey, Tony, please tell me I'm not crazy. Shouldn't the Giants be going after Manny Ramirez? They need the offense, and clearly, Bay Area fans don't mind when outfield sluggers dabble in PEDs. And they could get him cheap.
— Curtis Hettich, Sacramento
A. Sorry, Curtis, but you're crazy. Manny is finished. He'll turn 40 in May, didn't play after April 8th last season, and his last stretch of high-level hitting came in the first half of the 2009 season with the Dodgers.
His 2010 stretch run with the White Sox was embarrassing — a .261 batting average with one homer, two extra-base hits, two RBI and a .319 slugging percentage in 88 plate appearances. The only thing he did well was draw walks.
It took the Rays only five games and 17 at-bats early last season to realize they made a rare bad decision in signing Ramirez, who retired at that point rather than face a second suspension, and needs to just walk away at this point.
If Ramirez does sign, he won't be eligible to play until he serves a 50-game suspension. And even if he still could produce enough offensively, the last thing you'd want is for him to be playing left field. It's DH or nothing at this point, so the Giants should have no interest whatsoever.
I'll be very surprised if Manny makes any significant contribution to whatever American League team — Oakland? — decides to take a flier on him.
Q. What's in store for Ryan Spilborghs?
— Bill Oliphant, Santa Barbara, Calif.
A. A question from a hometown fan of Spilborghs, who had a nice run with the Rockies before a subpar 2011 season that was interrupted by two trips to the disabled list due to plantar fasciitis.
Spilborghs, 32, has signed a minor-league deal with the Indians, and will compete in spring training for a spot as a backup outfielder. The field is crowded, but a right-handed bat is needed, as the projected starting outfield includes left-handed hitters Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley and Shin-Soo Choo — all of whom missed extensive time in 2011 due to injuries.
In building outfield depth, the Indians also have acquired Aaron Cunningham in a deal with San Diego, and signed free-agents Fred Lewis and Felix Pie to minor-league deals. Shelley Duncan and Chad Huffman are other possibilities for manager Manny Acta.
Spilborghs will have to show he's over the plantar fasciitis that limited him to 98 games, and recapture the form that made him a valuable platoon player from 2006-'10 in Colorado. He also can play all three outfield positions — a needed skill in a fourth outfielder.