Fixing the Phillies: Part One (Starting Pitching)

Posted: September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

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It is amazing how far the Philadelphia Phillies have fallen. Just two Septembers ago this weekend, the Phillies were eclipsing 100 victories en route to fifth straight NL East title. The pitching staff was dominant, fueled by the fervor of veteran superstars like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Those days are long forgotten. As the Phillies conclude their dismal 2013 campaign this weekend, we look ahead at the daunting task that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has ahead of him this winter.

Heading into 2013, the Phillies’ rotation was slightly top-heavy. Lee and fellow southpaw Cole Hamels were expected to continue the dominance they experienced in 2012. Meanwhile, right-hander Roy Halladay was coming off the worst season of his Phillies career. Hope was high that “Doc” could rebound from his disappointing 11-8, 4.49 line. That prayer was never answered; as Halladay, who missed most of the season with injury, delivered a dismal 4-5, 6.82 line in what may be his final season in red pinstripes.

Coming in behind the trio formerly called the three aces were Kyle Kendrick and Jon Lannan. The former experienced a renaissance of sorts in the first half of the campaign. Prior to July’s All-Star break, Kendrick was exhilarating. The right-hander went 8-6 with a 3.68 ERA before the mid-summer classic. Afterwards, Kendrick reverted back to his old ways, finishing 2-7 with a 6.91 ERA in the second half of the season. Lannan, meanwhile, struggled with injuries and inconsistency. The southpaw was never able to regain the poise and precision that made him the Nationals’ opening-day starter two seasons in a row.

During the campaign, the Phillies saw many youngsters make their debut at Citizens Bank Park. Right-handers Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin got their professional careers underway. Pettibone, who was a pleasant surprise during the first half of the season, should get an opportunity to break spring training as a member of the rotation next year. Martin, who was phenomenal with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, saw his role transition from young starter to fiery reliever. It is unlikely that Martin will have a shot at a rotation spot to begin 2014.

So where does that leave us as we look ahead to next spring? Lee (14-7, 2.93), Hamels (8-14, 3.60), and Kendrick (10-13, 4.70) are all but guaranteed spots in Ryne Sandberg’s rotation. The latter two are signed to multimillion dollar megadeals, and Ruben Amaro has evaded all possible deals for the veteran Lee. Kendrick, on the other hand, is an interesting topic.

The right-hander has been the baseball personification of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He will put together 6-7 starts of top of the rotation starting pitching. However, he is also almost guaranteed to have 8-9 starts in which his right arm resembles that of a beer leaguer, worn from years of abuse and swollen like the gut of a Washington Redskins fan. Kendrick’s two-year contract with the organization concludes after this season. If Mr. Amaro wants to bring his veteran back he will need to offer arbitration. Kendrick would likely receive a salary of $8 million on a one-year contract for 2014. While this is certainly an acceptable salary for a team with Philadelphia’s payroll, one has to wonder if those assets couldn’t be better spent improving the offense or adding a situational reliever. Still, this writer believes that Kendrick, who can eat innings, is the best option at that salary level. After all, former Phillie Joe Blanton received a two-year, $18 million contract from the Los Angeles Angels last winter.

Assuming that Lee, Hamels, and Kendrick are on the roster and healthy next April, Sandberg will have two spots to fill. I doubt the Phillies will pursue another topline starter, even if Roy Halladay is not retained. Veteran options who may fit the Phillies price range include: Bronson Arroyo, Erik Bedard, Bruce Chen, or Gavin Floyd, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. None of those options are particularly satisfying, and resemble the patchwork stopgaps of the past like Lannan and Oswalt. The top starters available like Matt Garza, Josh Johnson, and Tim Lincecum will have high price tags especially considering their inconsistencies of late.

In-house options that Amaro could turn to include: Pettibone, Martin, Adam Morgan, Tyler Cloyd, and David Buchanan. Pettibone has to be considered a favorite for one of those spots. Martin is likely to continue his transition into a reliever. Cloyd, who experienced a dismal campaign in both Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, is unlikely to get another shot. Meanwhile, Morgan and Buchanan have showed plenty of promise at the AAA level, but will likely be brought along slowly. Jesse Biddle, who came into the campaign with much fanfare, is likely to start 2014 in the Lehigh Valley after experiencing an up-and-down 2013 with Reading.

With Pettibone likely joining the aforementioned trio at the top, Amaro will need to find at least one quality arm this off-season. Yes, international free agent Miguel Alfredo González has an abundance of potential. However, he will undoubtedly need some seasoning to begin his professional career and is unlikely to begin 2014 in the Philadelphia rotation. The earliest I would expect to see González would be in late May after he has had an opportunity to face minor-league hitting.

So, Ruben Amaro, the time is now for you to act. Gone are the second and third chances. As 2014 approaches so too does the ultimatum levied upon you. Yes, the Phillies have missed the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006. But, they are not rebuilding. A team with that large of payroll and an abundance of talent should under no circumstances need to rebuild. Instead, it is time for an Amaro retooling. With one or two starters acquired either via free agency or trade, the Phillies could once again return to contention next season.

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