At the start of spring training last season, Chase Utley said: "Age is a number — it depends on how you treat your body and how you take care of it."
After finishing 2013 with the organization’s fewest wins (73) since 2000, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is now leaning on these mid-30 Phils for another run.
As many pleaded for added youth, Amaro went out and signed 36-year-old Marlon Byrd and re-signed 34-year-old Carlos Ruiz.
With that, here’s an early projection of the Phillies’ starting lineup with ages of each player entering opening day:
1. Ben Revere - 25
2. Jimmy Rollins - 35
3. Chase Utley - 35
4. Ryan Howard - 34
5. Marlon Byrd - 36
6. Domonic Brown - 26
7. Carlos Ruiz - 35
8. Cody Asche - 23
That’s a lineup with an average age of 31. The Phils finished last season as the majors' third-oldest team, and so far this offseason, they're not getting any younger.
"Yes, they’re older," Amaro said on Thursday of the Phillies’ core. "But they’re also very good when they’re playing."
Some players do become better with age. Torii Hunter, 38, hit over .300 the past two seasons for the first time in his 16-year career. In 2008, David Ortiz totaled his fewest games, home runs and RBIs since 2002. The next season, he hit .238. But from 2011-13, Ortiz hit .311 to go along with 82 home runs, 259 RBIs and a World Championship to his name.
In fact, the defending world champion Red Sox are older than the Phillies as of today.
Yes, only a few examples, but it’s not terribly outlandish to think the Phils’ nucleus can be productive and, with some help, transform the club back into a contender.
Yet, it is risky. And Amaro knows that. In September, he admitted: "I always feel under the gun. I put myself under the gun.
"I’m the GM of the club, so I fully expect to take heat. I’m the one who is making the decisions on player personnel. I’m accountable for the things that have happened. I have not had a very good year; our team did not have a very good year.
"We win as a team and lose as a team, but the fact of the matter is I should take a lot of heat. I need to be better, and our guys need to be better. We need to evaluate better, we need to make better decisions," (see story).
So is age truly just a number? The 2014 Phillies have a chance to affirm that.
When Amaro re-signed Jimmy Rollins in December of 2011, the longtime shortstop was asked if he thought he’d be in red pinstripes for the rest of his career.
Rollins said he didn’t know.
"This organization isn’t going to stop for me, and it shouldn’t," he said. "It has to keep going forward.
"You can’t play forever."
Like Utley said, age is a number. But it can also be a harsh reality.