This was not likely what Ryne Sandberg thought he was signing up for when he agreed to manage the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sandberg managed the Phillies to a near-.500 mark (20-22) over the final 42 games of the 2013 season, and was then signed to a three-year deal with an option for 2017. Good for him, right? Finally realizing his dream to be a big-league manager after toiling for several years in the Cubs farm system and being passed over twice for the manager's spot with the Cubs.
Well, nope. The Phillies are in a spiral that happens to many contending teams. They came out of a low point in the early 2000s, posted mid-80s winning totals for four years then broke through with a division title in 2007, followed by four more playoff berths which included a World Series win in 2008. Their players got older and injured and GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. couldn't patch up the sinking ship and there's reason to believe that some of his wacky ideas got the Phillies declining in the first place, including this bizarre interview in which he didn't appear to understand the difference between at-bats and plate appearances (go listen -- he really didn't).
Oh, yes. The 2015 Phillies. Well, they'll have the aging Chase Utley at second base again (if he's even ready; his ankle issues will will keep him out of the Phillies' spring opener, the expensive decline years of Ryan Howard at first base, another aging star (Carlos Ruiz) catching... you're getting the idea here, right?
Ben Revere steals lots of bases -- when he can get on base, that is (OBP .325 last year), and he did hit two home runs for the Phillies after failing to hit one in over 1,000 PA with the Twins. Interestingly, neither one was an inside-the-park job. The rest of the Phillies' offense is reclamation projects, never-weres or maybes like Darin Ruf. The Phillies would also like the 2013 version of Domonic Brown back instead of the much-worse 2014 model.
The Phillies do, of course, have two outstanding starting pitchers in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. I'd give pretty good odds that neither one of those men will be in a Phillies uniform after July 31. That leaves the following pitchers as Philly's rotation, based on their current depth chart: Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, David Buchanan, Chad Billingsley and Miguel Gonzalez (unfortunately for the Phillies, that's not this guy, instead it's this guy, a 2013 signee out of Cuba).
Philly's bullpen is pretty good, even if they do wind up trading Jonathan Papelbon, something they tried real hard to do all offseason but failed. Ken Giles, who can touch 100 on the radar gun, will set up Papelbon and could close if Papelbon is dealt... but will he have enough opportunities? The Phillies scored just five more runs than the Cubs did last year and seem headed downward. The two teams had identical records of 73-89 in 2014 and it's like two people passing on escalators, one going up, the other going down.
The Phillies could be the worst team in the National League this year. Hey, Ryno -- you wanted to manage. Careful what you wish for. This mess isn't his fault and I doubt he'll be fired, although a bad year could show RAJ the door.