CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The world champion Phillies sure as heck didn't get fat this winter. Check them out:
Howard's a sleeker version of himself, with no less power.
"That's what we need," Phillies manager
The Phillies are showing no signs of complacency, and the new, sleeker version of Howard is Exhibit A. The former MVP, Rookie of the Year and now world champion (a pretty good early trifecta) has been powering the ball all over Florida, with a spring-high nine home runs. He looks primed for yet another huge season, even if he's not quite so huge. That's why he's
"You want to be hungry," Howard said, meaning in a figurative sense.
To get leaner and lighter, he said he eats smaller and earlier. Howard signed a nice $54 million, three-year deal to give him plenty of security, so his new shape isn't about winning a paycheck.
"I know what it's going to be like this year," Howard said. "Teams are going to be coming after us. We're going to be the marked team this year ... If I can score from first on a double, that can change the outcome of a game."
With some championship teams, you can sense the satisfaction. With the Phillies, you sense they're ready to defend their title. "Good, real good," one scout said in assessing the world champions, not at all dissuaded by their 12-17 spring.
The Phillies did what they could this winter to give themselves their best chance, and that means the front office, too. New general manager
The Phillies' outside moves mostly made a lot of sense, too, though the call to sign
Ibanez is an upgrade, but one competing executive opined, "They're going to find Ibanez isn't a great defender, either." But that's nit-picky. This is still an excellent team
Amaro acknowledged that optimally they would have preferred a right-handed hitter in left field, but noted that Ibanez, who's a solid .268 career hitter against left-handers, had too many other things going for him to look elsewhere. Amaro, though, has spent the spring looking to replace left-handed bench players
As things stand, their clubhouse is a winning environment, between dedicated stars such as Howard,
"We're the same. I don't think we're any different," Rollins said.
"If we keep the attitude as last year. I think we're going to be all right," Manuel said. "I think we're ready for it."
In some ways, Rays manager
"We can't expect everything to break as great as it did last year. So we've got to build a new road this year," said Maddon, adding he sees no signs of complacency.
"The only sign I've seen is that guys are really motivated to get back [to the playoffs] again," he said. Though, about 10 days ago, he did notice one drill being run wrong. "I didn't like it," he said. "That might have been part of the culture of the past. But we don't do that anymore."
If Maddon likes his team -- and he does -- the scouts like it almost as much now. "They're real good, too" said a scout who's been following them all spring.
Here are some reasons they won't fall down ...
• Their defense is superb. Maddon said he has stressed defense this spring, suggesting they could play it even better than last year. "If we can repeat our defense last year, and maybe do a little bit better, that can get us back to the playoffs in and of itself," he said.
• They needed a right-handed hitter, and they got Burrell, who should provide needed power (33 home runs last year in Philly).
• They're a lot younger than the Red Sox or Yankees.
• They'll have
• They'll have the great
• According to one scout, there were three great young outfielders training on the East Coast of Florida. That would be
• The Tigers look pretty iffy, but
• One scout on Cardinals new second baseman
• As for third baseman
• I still say the Cardinals will surprise a few folks. So might the Royals.
• While others knock the WBC, Rollins endorses it. "There's nothing I don't like about it," he said. Two of the things he likes best are 1) no alarms, and 2) better ballparks than spring parks.
• No matter what anyone thinks, the WBC isn't going anywhere, anyway. The ratings were "phenomenal" in Japan, according to one MLB official. TV was up 14 percent, attendance up eight percent.
• The Giants like
• The Angels just keep 'em coming.
• The Mets are saying outfield prospect
• The Mets have talked to a few teams about middle relief and outfield help just in case there's anything better out there.
• When I talked to him recently,
• Hitting coach
• The Yankees love their starting pitching. And why not? Everyone but
• Very convenient, isn't it, that the attention-getting
• Plenty of good seats left at the new Yankee Stadium, that is if you happen to have several hundred bucks lying around (who does now?). Funny, as a kid back in the '70s I used to get in for $1.50.
• It's been reported that three teams are showing interest in Sheffield. In addition to the Phillies, apparently one of them is the Reds. It's funny to see that the majority of teams looking at him are in the National League, even though he looks like a DH to most. Perhaps it's because those teams haven't been watching him as closely the past few years.
Speaking of Gary Sheffield's job prospects, one baseball official said, "It just depends how many people are going to want a 40-year-old pain-in-the-ass aging slugger with bad shoulders."