MLB.com Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki participated in a live web chat with fans on Wednesday. During the chat, he answered questions about the health of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the chances of the club re-signing Cole Hamels and he gave his prediction on how the National League East will shake out.
Todd Zolecki: Hi, folks. I'm sitting here in the press box in Clearwater, Fla., where it's sunny and 71 degrees. We'll begin the chat shortly.
Phillies14Fan_in_IL: Is the divot in the wall from Ryan Howard's foul ball still in the press box? And still framed?
Todd Zolecki: Yes, it is. For those unaware, Ryan Howard ripped a foul ball through an open press box window a couple springs ago. Here's a link to get a look.
philsrock11: Also, with Howard's latest setback, will the timetable of his return be delayed significantly?
Todd Zolecki: It's hard to say. The Phillies have said best-case scenario, he's back sometime in May. You've got to think that will be pushed back, quite possibly into June. The good news is that the Achilles seems to be healing properly. Unfortunately, the infection set him back.
philsrock11: Should the Phillies be worried about the health of [Jim] Thome, or should we expect decent production from him this season? He's looked pretty healthy so far this spring.
Todd Zolecki: Thome's health will always be a concern. He's 41, and he has a history of back problems. That's why it will be interesting to see if he can handle playing first base. The Phillies hope he gets around 200 at-bats.
Phillies14Fan_in_IL: Has Rich Dubee formed his music group yet?
Todd Zolecki: Because of copyright law, Rich Dubee's Dubee Brothers has yet to get off the ground. It's a shame. We could use a good polka band.
chuckman51: Todd, what should we make of Chase Utley at this point? Are there any veterans in the entire league sitting out at the start of Spring Training because they don't want to rush? Something's up.
Todd Zolecki: That's a great question, and one worth watching closely. Utley is basically taking batting practice, and that's about it. The Phillies said he might not play for another week. They say he's OK, but until he gets into a game, there will be questions.
tdub47: What are the chances the Phils' Opening Day lineup features [John] Mayberry at first and [Dominic] Brown in left?
Todd Zolecki: Doubtful, in my opinion. I really believe the Phllies want Brown to start in Triple-A, learn to play left field and produce offensively. Thome might be the Opening Day first baseman with a lefty on the mound, assuming Thome can handle it.
cole_train: Todd, read your post about Cole Hamels and negotiations yesterday. It seems something big has to happen to get Cole-type money, so what is more likely to occur to do that: Trading a player who ties up big money, or the Phillies raising their spending ceiling?
Todd Zolecki: I don't see them making a trade, because they just signed the big-money guys that would provide relief: [Roy] Halladay, [Cliff] Lee, [Jonathan] Papelbon and [Jimmy] Rollins. Trading a guy like Blanton has no impact on Hamels' future. If they want to keep Hamels, [Shane] Victorino and [Hunter] Pence they would have to raise their ceiling. Or get club-friendly deals. I don't see that happening with all three.
In my opinion, signing Hamels is going to be difficult. If I'm his agent, I want $120 million. I want Cliff Lee money. If the Phillies pay that, can they still afford Pence and Victorino? If they lose both of them, they better hope Brown produces to replace one of them.
Phillies14Fan_in_IL: Dubee Brothers ... polka band ... would their big stadium-rocking anthem be, "Polka it outta the park"? I'm sure it would be a hit [pun intended].
Todd Zolecki: I'm not sure what it would be. The only polka song I like is "Roll Out the Barrel," which is a seventh-inning tradition in Milwaukee.
sixto666: So how hurt is Utley? I have trouble thinking he is not.
Todd Zolecki: I asked Ruben Amaro Jr. earlier this week if Utley is healthy. He said, "He seems fine." Like I mentioned, the Phillies said this was part of the plan, but the fact remains until he's on the field, there will be questions. And rightfully so.
krickeys: What is your predicted order of finish for the NL East?
Todd Zolecki: I'm going Phillies, Braves, Nationals, Marlins and Mets. The Phillies still have the best team in the division. The best rotation, no doubt. The lineup also led the league in scoring from July 1 through the end of the season.
csl6852: Just what is the real situation with Howard? Sounded like he still has open wound on his ankle. Is it realistic to see him back in May, fit and ready to play?
Todd Zolecki: The real situation is he has an infection in his left Achilles, which has set him back. But the Achilles itself appears to be healing nicely. But no doubt, he has had a setback.
RoyStory: Is CC Sabathia the best comparison for Hamels? Contract of seven years, $140 million-150 million?
Todd Zolecki: That is possible, depending on how badly somebody wants him. I've seen six years, $120 million thrown out there. That makes a lot of sense. Either way, I just don't see Hamels signing for less than $100 million.
RoyStory: Which is more likely: Rollins moving to third base, or taking Freddy Galvis out of the shortstop position?
Todd Zolecki: I don't see Jimmy moving anywhere. And why would you? He's a better defensive shortstop than Galvis. Amaro said over the winter Galvis right now is a decent big league shortstop. Rollins is above that.
08phillies80: What is your view of the new playoff system? What is your sense from the players?
Todd Zolecki: I like adding an additional team and a one-game playoff. It makes winning the division more important. It creates more drama. The players seem to like it, too. But I'm not sure about the top two teams starting on the road this postseason. Could be an issue.
krickeys: If you had to call it right now, does the 2013 rotation include Hamels?
Todd Zolecki: Hmmmmm ... that's a tough one. Honestly, I'd say it's a coin flip right now. I thought over the winter it would be easier, but I've changed my feeling on that. It is going to be TOUGH.
RoyStory: Is the only reason why Brown isn't an everyday player in Philly because of his defense right now?
Todd Zolecki: It's a reason, but not the only reason. Mayberry outperformed Brown offensively last season, so he deserved a shot this year. If Brown can improve defensively and continues to make strides offensively, he'll be here at some point.
mthengst1: How do you see the bullpen shaking out?
Todd Zolecki: It depends if the Phillies carry six or seven relievers. I think there are five locks, if everybody is healthy: [Jonathan] Papelbon, [Jose] Contreras, [Antonio] Bastardo, [Chad] Qualls and [Kyle] Kendrick. [Dontrelle] Willis is in camp as a lefty, but he's got to pitch well. [Michael] Stutes, [David] Herndon are strong candidates.
RoyStory: Follow up: You would potentially move Rollins because as he ages, the law of averages has him losing range. Would it be possible that the Phillies move Galvis to second base if they choose to not re-sign Utley after 2013?
Todd Zolecki: I think those things are possible, but that's just speculation at this point. Rollins maybe isn't what he was defensively a few years ago, but he's still a better option than anybody else the Phillies have in camp.
Phillies14Fan_in_IL: Has anyone considered giving Utley some time at first base in Howard's absence? I believe he played a few games there a few seasons ago, and wouldn't that give him less wear and tear on his knees while getting his bat in the lineup?
Todd Zolecki: [Charlie] Manuel has said he could, but with Thome, [Ty] Wigginton, Mayberry and [Laynce] Nix to play first it doesn't make as much sense. Maybe down the road, but not right now.
joshb06: Which young player has impressed through the first couple weeks of camp?
Todd Zolecki The Phillies like what they've seen so far from Jake Diekman and Phillipe Aumont. They won't help the team out of camp, but keep an eye on both of them.
RoyStory: Exactly how healthy is Joe Blanton? He pitched well the other day, but he seemed to pitch his best last season right before he hit the disabled list.
Todd Zolecki: He said he feels very healthy. Time will tell. Everything can change with one pitch, but so far Blanton said he hasn't had any problems. That's good news. They need some stability at the bottom of the rotation.
Phillies14Fan_in_IL: And here I thought your only affinity for Milwaukee was the Polish sausage. Will you be conducting a book-signing tour through the midwest again this year so I can get my copy of "The Rotation" autographed?
Todd Zolecki: Ha, Jim Salisbury and I don't have any plans for a book-signing tour, other than the Philadelphia area. But if you pick up a copy of the book -- "The Rotation," for those who don't know -- we'll be happy to sign it! Thanks for picking up a copy!
RoyStory: Over/under on games started at first base for Thome in 2012? I'd say about 20.
Todd Zolecki: That's exactly the number Manuel has used. He said 20 games. I'd say under, just because I'm not sure his body can handle more than that.
RoyStory: Does Michael Martinez have the inside track on the utility spot, or is it wide open?
Todd Zolecki: He has the inside track, because he can play some shortstop. Kevin Frandsen and Pete Orr are in camp. They can play shortstop in a pinch. But if something long term should happen to Rollins, I think Galvis could get the call.
sean13: How much playing time would you say Ty Wigginton gets after Ryan Howard returns? Considering [Placido] Polanco's health, could we see him at third base a lot during the year?
Todd Zolecki: That's why they traded for him. Not only for his ability to play first base while Howard is out, but third base for Polanco and even second base for Utley.
ootsoots: Dominic Brown ... bust?
Todd Zolecki: I don't think so. The guy still has enormous potential. He just needs to work more in the outfield and get some confidence back.
RoyStory: Do you think with the addition of two teams to the postseason that the Trade Deadline should be pushed back? To say about August 15?
Todd Zolecki: I don't see that happening. At least not now.
RoyStory: [Justin] De Fratus was supposed to start a throwing program on Monday. Any updates?
Todd Zolecki: He threw the other day, and he said it went well. But he's working into things slowly, so it's too early to say when he could be back on a mound. Even he didn't know.
RoyStory: Is Hunter Pence your Opening Day cleanup hitter?
Todd Zolecki: He might be. Assuming everybody is healthy, it could be Rollins, Victorino, Utley and Pence atop the lineup on Opening Day.
TerryHarmon17: If Willis falls flat and Diekman is lights-out in Florida, can you see any scenario where Willis is cut and Jake goes north?
Todd Zolecki: Willis' contract is not guaranteed, so the Phillies can cut him. But it might be a lot to ask of Diekman, who's never pitched above Double-A. A little more seasoning couldn't hurt.
RoyStory: I didn't understand the signing of Qualls. What did the Phillies see in him that didn't make them think he was just a product of pitching in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco for the majority of 2011?
Todd Zolecki: They like his durability, but his home-road splits last season were troubling. They felt they needed another veteran arm.
Todd Zolecki: OK, guys. Thanks for all the questions. I've got to get down on the field for batting practice. Hopefully we'll get a chance to do this again. Take care!
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.