The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps
open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.
PHILADELPHIA -- In the case of the Phillies' outfield, the more things were expected to change, the more they stayed the same.
Pat Burrell was expected to be headed to San Francisco or Anaheim, made expendable because of free-agent Alfonso Soriano's anticipated arrival. Aaron Rowand was supposed to be gone, too, returning to his beloved White Sox for Freddy Garcia, allowing Shane Victorino to take over in center field. Finally, Kevin Mench or Geoff Jenkins were to arrive from Milwaukee (for Jon Lieber) to patrol right field, completing an overhauled defensive alignment.
None of the above happened, and the pot on the Hot Stove turned out simply to be hot water. Instead, the Phillies enter 2007 with a left-to-right alignment of Burrell, Rowand and Victorino.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just not what many observers expected. The Phils did make some changes. David Dellucci was expected to leave and signed with
Cleveland, and the organization added Jayson Werth and Karim Garcia to the outfield mix.
Burrell arguably represents the most surprising of the returnees. The beleaguered outfielder was shopped all winter, but stayed put when teams balked at his high salary ($27 million) over the next two seasons.
Numbers of particular concern to team executives were Burrell's .222 average with runners in scoring position in 2006 -- nearly 100 points lower than 2005's productive .313 -- and his high propensity for taking called third strikes. A particularly poor September added to the sour taste.
When pursuits of Soriano and Gary Sheffield came up empty, the Phillies again turned to Burrell as the projected No. 5 hitter and protection for National League MVP Ryan
Howard, at least against left-handers.
"He really didn't have a bad year last year," general manager Pat Gillick said. "If you look at his home runs and RBIs, he had a pretty good year."
Burrell will have to do better to prevent pitchers from avoiding Howard, as it became too easy to intentionally walk Howard, especially down the stretch, and deal with Burrell or Jeff Conine.
Against right-handed starters, manager Charlie Manuel is considering hitting Howard third ahead of Chase Utley.
"I think Pat is going to surprise a lot of people with a good year," Victorino said. "A lot of people are negative about him right now, but I think he's going to have a big year for us."
Victorino confidently hopes for similar success for himself, as he transitions from fourth outfielder to starting right fielder. More playing time wore him down as he played more games than he had before. To help his body endure a similarly grueling season in 2007, Victorino increased his offseason workouts, putting on about 15 pounds of upper body strength.
"I've trained a little bit harder," Victorino said. "I feel like I can play a lot of games, and I think my body will hold up, barring any injuries like running into walls like Rowand or running into Rowand. If I do that, I think I'll lose that battle."
A center fielder most of his career, Victorino shifts to right, where his speed and strong arm will be put to excellent use. He and Rowand will have to communicate to
avoid any collisions. Rowand met his demise first on the then-unpadded center-field wall at Citizens Bank Park (broken nose), and later when he collided with second baseman Utley (broken left ankle).
The latter cost Rowand the rest of the season, though he said in December that he's fully recovered and ready for Spring Training.
Barring a collision, the positives of having two natural center fielders in the outfield is the ability to cover more ground. With Victorino an improvement over Bobby Abreu, Rowand can potentially shade more toward left-center and cover some areas that have given Burrell problems. The left fielder lost some range due to a right foot that was healed
despite surgery the previous offseason.
"With me and [Rowand] out there, we're going to cover a lot of ground," Victorino said. "He can give up some of right [field] and go out and help Pat cover some of his ground
out in left."
Offensively, Victorino's presence in the everyday lineup could also add more speed. He'll work with new first-base coach Davey Lopes on improving his stolen-base prowess, which hinges mostly on confidence.
"I think Davey's going to help me a lot," Victorino said. "The guy's going to be able to turn me into a base-stealer."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.