© 2007 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Charlie Manuel leaned back easily in a chair at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Not once did he glance over his shoulder, or give the impression that he was being pursued.
But for the first time in his tenure as Phillies manager, which began with the 2005 season, Manuel and his team are in the catbird seat. His Phils are the defending National League East champions after a 14-year absence from the playoffs. They have the past two NL Most Valuable Players on their roster and a second baseman who could make that a trifecta.
The most recent of those MVPs, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, recently followed up his "We're the team to beat" proclamation by setting 100 wins as the next benchmark. So what's next?
"First of all, I think Jimmy gets excited," Manuel said, with a slight roll of his eyes. "Jimmy definitely wants us to win 100 games, and so do I. That would definitely get
us in the playoffs and get us a chance at a World Series. If we win 100 games, then he backs it up again and that makes me a good manager, too."
Manuel will become a much better manager if he gets what he wants -- more pitching, preferably a starter and a reliever. That's been slow going this offseason, with the few available going for a king's ransom.
The Phillies found a way to the postseason in 2007 despite a 4.73 ERA -- they did it by leading the NL in runs scored. The projected 2007 rotation is Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer and Adam Eaton.
Each brings a question mark. Hamels, the ace, missed a month with left elbow inflammation. Myers returns to the rotation after loving life as a closer, and he also missed two months with a right shoulder strain. Kendrick has made just 20 Major League starts. Moyer is 45 years old. Eaton is nursing a shoulder injury that, while it doesn't require surgery, could affect the right-hander.
The bullpen has four pieces in closer Brad Lidge, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson, but Madson and Gordon also missed significant time in 2007 with shoulder
troubles. Manuel's worry is that the Phillies don't have the organizational depth to overcome an injury, and he's not a patient man.
If they all stay healthy, then he'll be willing to talk about a three-digit win total.
"We feel like we've got to get stronger and improve some of our weaknesses before we're capable of winning 100 games," Manuel said. "We're not even close to that. We talk about every possibility to improve our pitching, and hopefully we can, whether it's in our organization or whether it's by trade or whatever."
It's a good thing for the Phillies the season doesn't start after the Winter Meetings conclude, as some of the groundwork laid in Nashville this week may not bear fruit for a few weeks or months. Philadelphia remains interested in free agents Kris Benson and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as southpaw reliever John Grabow, currently with the Pirates. Movement in those areas isn't expected to be imminent..
Offensively, Manuel is hopeful that Tadahito Iguchi returns to play third base. The skipper is also prepared to move forward without Aaron Rowand, going with Shane Victorino in center field and Jayson Werth in right. Greg Dobbs would then play some outfield and the Phillies would look for a bench player who can play all three outfield spots.
When the games start, there's the always daunting task of fending off the Mets and Braves.
"I look at the Mets right now and say to myself, 'When are they going [make a move]?'" Manuel said. "I know they're going to go out and try to win next year as much as anybody in our league. I feel like they have something up their sleeve.
"I want us to be good enough to get ahead and see if somebody can catch us, because we're always playing to catch somebody. We were fortunate to be in first place when the season was over. For two years, we were chasing. We haven't won a pennant for a long time, but winning a division isn't like winning the World Series."