The Philadelphia Phillies opened their 2011 Spring Training camp yesterday with a press conference that featured all five members of their starting rotation: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

It’s not asked as often as it was when Lee was first acquired this offseason, but looking at all five pitchers yesterday, including poor, only average Blanton, you can’t help but wonder if this isn’t the greatest rotation that’s ever been assembled.  The scene felt like it was something out of a movie, perhaps destined to be replayed in a future Ken Burns addition to his baseball documentary.

Even Hamels, likely considered the third or fourth best pitcher in Philadelphia, is already surrounded by Cy Young speculation before a single ball has been thrown this Spring.  And it’s not even unfounded.  As Ken Rosenthal points out, Hamels had an incredible second half to last year, and “at 27, he is the only Phillies starter entering his prime.”

In August of last year, Hamels faced 161 batters and only 39 of them were able to get on base.  He struck out 12 batters for every walk he gave up and threw 424 of his 613 pitches for strikes.

Halladay, Lee and Oswalt need no introduction.  Despite their Cy Young Awards and many accomplishments over the years, they remain shy of the spotlight.

Halladay is polite but always headed off to his next workout. According to folks at the complex, the guy arrives at 4:50 a.m., and his predawn runs are like Bigfoot sightings: Few actually get to see them, but the legend grows each time somebody sees a hulking figure dashing along a warning track. Oswalt is smart and direct and caustic and is more interested in lumbering or hanging out in a deer blind than in answering questions that require introspection. Lee is a minimalist, having found success in adhering to a workout and pitching routine, and he really isn’t that interested in talking legacy; you’d have a better chance of getting Terrell Owens to never talk about himself than of getting Lee to talk about his place in baseball history.

Consider their WAR totals over the last three years:

Roy Halladay: 21.5
Cliff Lee: 20.9
Roy Oswalt: 11.2

And compare them to the top three starters for the Atlanta Braves during their prime from 1996 – 1998:

Greg Maddux: 23.7
John Smoltz: 20.6
Tom Glavine: 13.9

The Braves come out slightly ahead, but it’s impressively close.

That of course leaves us with Blanton, who, at times, looked awkward fielding questions about his status with the club, something that’s been in doubt ever since Lee was acquired and the Phillies have looked to cut payroll.

As far as expectations going somewhere else, it’s kind of what I said earlier. Sometimes you can’t really think about that. All I’m worried about is going out and trying to win another World Series with Philadelphia. I can’t worry about the other part. That is the business part. That is what the people upstairs are for, and they handle that. I love it here. Hope I stay here.

Sometimes that’s the nature of the business and things like that happen that are out of your control. Like with Cliff, I’m sure he didn’t want to leave or he wouldn’t have come back, but it’s out of his hands and there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

As much as we may overlook Blanton on this team, if you want to talk comparisons with the best rotation of all time, it’s likely the best fifth starter in baseball that puts the Phillies over the top.

And The Rest

Carlos Marmol signed a three year contract worth $20 million with the Chicago Cubs.  I might question this, but it’s not like the Cubs have a history of agreeing to terrible, terrible contracts.

Getting locked up in Camden Yards, while a nightmare for Brian Roberts, was a dream come true for these fans.

Next time you’re arguing over the merits of counting RBIs, consider that Jeff Francoeur collected more than 100 one year.

Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra adds some insight into the upcoming Barry Bonds trial.

No more Cap’n Crunch for C.C. Sabathia.

Jeffrey Loria claims that the current Florida Marlins are a playoff team.  Yep, and he’s beloved in Montreal.

Oliver Perez would like a crack at starting.  Why not?  Obviously relieving isn’t his forte.

Brian Wilson keeps the ball from the last out of the World Series in a candy jar.

Joe Posnanski looks at “interesting” Gold Glove winners.

Finally, The Buck Showalter Showalter takes [Getting Blanked] in stride.