CHERRY HILL — Rob Thomson has two more months before he has to write it all down, make a copy for himself and then deliver the Phillies’ first pitch of the season to the Texas umpire.

He has more than two months and six innings before he has to reveal his preferred plan for a bullpen with deep capabilities.

He has more than two months and a week to choose a fifth starter.

He has more than nine months to see if it all worked.

He has time. He has options. And on a paltry two-year contract to manage the Phillies — one year and a buyout option, essentially — he has a mandate: Take a quarter of a billion dollars in talent and try not to do any damage. He did a good job last season replacing an under-motivated Joe Girardi, pushing the Phillies to the playoffs and then the World Series, but the front office will expect more after an offseason that saw him become a superstar, a strong fourth-place starter and rebuilt bullpen.

come on he says

“I’m thrilled,” Thomson said. “When you add a shortstop, a starting pitcher and two quality relievers — one righty, one lefty — you’re upgrading almost every part of your ball. So now we have to go out and prepare and compete and get it done.”

Thomson will soon be camping in Clearwater and will have time to figure out how it will work. But the night he graciously accepted the team of the year award from the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association, he looked like a traveler struggling to decipher a clumsy road map.

Leadoff hitter? He is not sure.

A fifth starter? Not sure.

Designated hitter? Not sure.

Closer, set-up guy, seventh inning guy, long reliever, sixth starter, wipe the bum? Check back later when the bases are full and no one is there.

Because it always happens, and because athletes are more fragile than ever, the odds are that the Phillies will arrive in Texas for the opener on March 30 without anyone claiming they have a faulty scaphoid (a muscle identified by scientists at about in 2014 and exists only in professional athletes), anything written on paper in January must be accompanied by a disclaimer. Still, Thomson says he jotted down a few ideas, keeping up to 15 potential batting orders in his imagination.

This is what he means … and must ultimately conclude:

* Leadoff hitter: Oddly enough, Thomson was equipped with the ideal combination of hitting, speed and power in Tre Turner, but hedges (a bit) using him at the top of the order.

“You can put him in any part of the lineup you want — one to four — and he’s going to produce,” Thomson said. “But just his on-base skills are something we really didn’t have last year, and he’s definitely a big threat.”

Turner appears likely to see the first pitch of the season, but Thomson admits Kyle Schwarber also likes the spot and led the National League in home runs. Using anyone but Turner at the top, however, with Schwarber benefiting from a promotion, would be the worst example of mismanagement since pulling a well-rested Zach Wheeler out of a World Series elimination game after throwing 97 mph.

* Designated hitter: This would lead to Bryce Harper recovering from Tommy John surgery before the All-Star Game. If Harper can play right, Schwarber and Nick Castellanos can take turns playing left and as DH. Until then? Thomson sounds comfortable with Darrick Hall as the left-handed designated lineman, with the right-handed situation based on committee. But any chance he has an opportunity to use someone other than Rhys Hoskins at first base (JT Realmuth at least once a week), he should, and then make Hoskins the right-handed DH.

* Fifth starter: Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez and Tyjuan Walker are ready, one through four. While it’s likely just a stream-of-consciousness issue, Thomson listed — in order — Bailey Folter and Christopher Sanchez, followed by rookies Andrew Painter and Griff McGary as options at the fifth spot. But the Phillies are an expensive contender, not a rebuilding contractor, so the starters will have to earn time in spring training.

* Bullpen: The third annual rerun of Dave Dombrowski’s bullpen provided depth. This is good news for the Phillies. The bad news is that it will be Thomson — the one with the too-quick thumb — dangerously close to the corner of the bullpen. Baseball is quietly moving away from standard bullpen roles to the idea of ​​using relievers in specific situations that fit their skill set. But Dombrowski didn’t sign Craig Kimbrel and Gregory Soto because he was convinced Serantani Dominguez was getting closer to Jim Constanti. So, expect Dominguez to be in tight spots early with Jose Alvarado, leaving the lefty Soto and the righty Kimbrel for the night shift.

There will be trades, call-ups, injuries and surprises until October, and Thomson will be paid to manage them all. This time he will succeed. Why not?

As for January, the decisions don’t have to be as difficult as he’s starting to make them out to be.

Contact Jack McCaffery at

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