CD's Connect The Dots... From Ace To Headcase

Senior Writer
Posted Jun 16, 2008


It is widely assumed that with meticulous planning, careful study and textbook preparation the best laid plans will work, regardless of the circumstances. Such was the thought process of the Philadelphia Phillies when they set out to remake Brett Myers, erstwhile relief closer,into a top starter on the staff. Rather, Myers has plunged headlong from...staff ace to major headcase.

During a season when things have gone remarkably well for a Phillie team in search of its first World Series berth in 15 years, such has not been the case in regards to 27 year old right-hander Brett Myers, he of the bulldog attitude and oft times stubborn ways. In fact, a strong sentiment is forming within PhillieLand that it may be in everyone's best interests to consider trading Myers at the July 31 deadline for another starting pitcher who may not be quite as talented but is guaranteed to offer more stability for a team that epitomizes the word.

This much has become clear during the first 70 games of the season. The Phillies starting pitching staff, though surprisingly solid over the course of the year, still suffers from a huge drop off from dazzling lefty Cole Hamels to the next level of starters 3-5, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton. To say that Myers role in this dilemma is not a huge one is to deny the very ways in which the Phillie brain trust went out of their way to insure that he would fill this role successfully in 2008.

Of course, any discussion of Myers and his role as a successful starting pitcher must begin with the assertion that it was merely one year ago that he transformed himself from semi-successful starting pitcher to extremely successful bullpen closer on a team that came out of nowhere to win the National Eastern title last fall. In fact, many believe that herein lies the problem and has all along. No matter how much Myers talks about working hard to get back to the form that saw him win 50 games as a starting pitcher between the years 2003-2006, he still thinks of himself as a closer at heart and cannot shake this belief system no matter how hard he tries.

The Phils, to their credit, have done everything possible to change this mentality but so far without positive results. During the early stages of the off-season, when everyone in PhillieLand was clamoring for the team's resident GM, Pat Gillick, to make a move for a solid starting pitcher, he instead went the circuitous route of instead bringing in longtime bullpen ace Brad Lidge from Houston. When this deal was announced, Gillick went almost overboard in proclaiming that, indeed, he had acquired the BEST starting pitcher on the market by moving Myers back into the rotation while allowing Lidge to assume the righties role in the bullpen.

Admittedly this move came with several risks, not the least of which was the way that Lidge had almost completely self-destructed since the mid October evening in 2005 when he served up a game winning playoff home run to Albert Pujols in a game that ultimately proved completely inconsequential to the Astros' ultimate World Series berth. Still, the home run left lingering doubts in the relievers psyche and many believed that the occasionally harsh treatment given to Phillie players from a fan base of hardened loyalists might eventually wear on the cerebral Lidge.

Of less importance at the time seemed the attitude of Myers to the trade and his impending move back into the rotation. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that he was unhappy about leaving the "edge of the cliff" mentality of a bullpen closer for the more mundane day to day preparations made by a starting pitcher who hurls only once every fifth day. It is no mere coincidence that Brett Myers was a top notch wrestler in high school and that raw, tough attitude was exactly what made him such a successful reliever last season.

Clearly he enjoyed the pressure of day to day competition and the knowledge that he could be thrust into the action at merely a moments notice, with little time to prepare, think or train for the experience. Instead, he would have to rethink the entire process and reinvent himself again into a starting pitcher, with all the nuisances and preparations that are necessary to insure success.

To say that he has not been successful in this transformation to date would be a mild understatement despite all that the Phillies have tried to do to help him along the way. They even went to the extraordinary lengths of naming him as the opening day starting pitcher, when almost everyone in baseball knew that the honor should fall to Cole Hamels, both for logical and perceptive reasons. Instead they hoped that naming Myers the opening day starting pitcher would allow him to think of himself in those terms, and in effect, give the team not just one, but instead two top of the rotation starting hurlers.

So far, Hamels has more than held up his end of the bargain, and to a lesser degree, all of the remaining starters, Moyer, Kendrick and Eaton have performed as well as could be expected. The bullpen, led by the rejuvenated Brad Lidge, has been a complete revelation and the offense, despite the season long struggles of slugger Ryan Howard, has for the most part performed like one of the very best hitting juggernauts in Philadelphia history.

Only Brett Myers has been left behind at the train station and if the old saying that "its gets late early" in a baseball pennant race is held as valid, then the team and the struggling righty must come to grips quickly with what is to be done to insure that his inability to win doesn't keep the team from fulfilling its true promise.

Frankly, the choices at the moment appear limited. With the startling performance of Lidge in the closer role [18-18 in save appearances] and the solid setup work done by such underlings like veterans Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and Rudy Seanez, it would seem a move back to the bullpen at this time is out of the question. Of course, even if a move back to the pen were seriously being considered, this would beg the question as to just who the Phils would move into the rotation to replace the opening day starter.

Gillick went on record recently as acknowledging for the first time that none of the team's supposed prized pitching prospects was even remotely ready for major league action. Indeed, a careful study of the systems young hurlers reveals a major step backward for all but a few of the organizations top young arms.

Lanky lefty J.A. Happ has probably been the most successful of the group, but at 4-5 on an admittedly poor Lehigh Valley IronPigs team, he hardly qualifies as an end-all-be-all candidate for a club with visions of World Series triumphs dancing in their heads. His 3.95 ERA is not bad and he did lead the entire Triple-A in strikeouts for a brief time before settling back to a still impressive 87 KO's in 82 innings of work. Still, for Happ to truly help a team that already has two lefty starting pitchers, he would have to come up with the expectation of becoming somewhat dominant and not just passable. At least for the time being, Gillick and Company think this is unlikely to happen.

Travis Blackley, another lefty, recently returned to action after some injury woes but his 2-3 record and 5.07 ERA suggest he is more question mark than exclamation point at this time. The Phils haven't given up on him just yet, but as with the case of Happ, adding another lefty to the starting rotation requires someone who is likely to benefit from the inclusion to Hamels and Moyer and not detract from it.

At Double-A Reading, the place where most baseball scouts though the real class of the Phillie pitching staff lie, the news has been mostly unspectacular to date. The teams top prospect, righty Carlos Carrasco, continues to suffer from growing pains, as evidenced by his 4-5 record and 3.71 ERA. One positive note for the slim righty has been his 79 strikeouts in 80 innings of work. This suggests a hurler who has the talent but not yet the necessary experience to get the job done at the major league level. Currently, he is not even up for discussion among the teams braintrust when they meet to talk about possible alternatives to Myers.

One pitcher who was thought to be merely a phone call away at the beginning of the season has all but disappeared from the radar screen recently, and mostly due to his own lack of preparation. Andrew Carpenter, who so dazzled the baseball world in the spring with a sterling relief outing against the New York Yankees is currently back at Clearwater, Florida and training with the organizations most rudimentary pharm prospects. Simply put, in the best of times Carpenter tends to have issues with his weight, and unless he carefully monitors himself, finds himself struggling to maintain a weight that will allow him to pitch effectively.

Clearly this did not happen in Reading and a promising career has been stalled, if not completely derailed, by a youngster's inattention to staying in shape. The club hopes that a month or so in the hot confines of Florida will help get the still talented hurler in shape for at least a chance at a strong August month at Reading.

Finally, the Reading lefty duo of Josh Outman and Fabio Castro are no longer considered candidates for the starting rotation in Philadelphia since they have both been moved to the bullpen. Outman might still find his way to PhillieLand should the team be unable to acquire a southpaw reliever anytime soon, but Castro, who only recently returned to the starting rotation in Reading, looks to be a long shot at best to help the major league team anytime this year.

Of course, this road to mediocrity eventually leads us back to Brett Myers and what to do with the talented but temperamental righty? Currently the thought process is to allow him to try and work out his inconsistencies with the hope that he will eventually find his form and the team won't be forced to empty its farm system in order to acquire a starting pitcher from another club. Suffice it say, this process could succeed, though the current results are anything but definitive to this point.

Recently, he has been the epitome of inconsistency, moving from a tremendous one-hit performance [albeit in defeat] against the Cincinnati Reds to an abysmal 3 home runs allowed outing against the Florida Marlins. He has gone from a sterling 8 inning, 11 strikeout domination of the Marlins to a game-to-game performance which has seen him lose 7 of his last 8 decisions. This is not something the Phils are prepared to live with for the next 90 games, nor should they.

Assuming the adage "what you see is what you get" applies in this case, what will the Phillies likely do between now and the trading deadline of July 31? They might patiently wait and see what injured righty Kris Benson has left during his rehabilitation process but at present he is still throwing at 86-89 MPH and this is unlikely to provide for a consistent starting pitcher at the major league level.

They could gamble that there is a team out there who values Myers as a bullpen closer and move him for a starting pitcher. A quick glance reveals no such team but perhaps the Cleveland Indians or Detroit Tigers might be interested in Myers should they eventually get off the deck and return to the AL Central Division race. The name C.C. Sabathia has surfaced repeatedly in trade rumors, but they mostly involve the New York Yankees and it seems unlikely that Sabathia will ever wear the pinstripes of Phillie red.

Or they could merely hang onto Myers and still attempt to bring in another top starting pitcher at the deadline. One name that continues to swirl around any talk of the Phillies and possible trade talk involves talented by controversial lefty, Erik Bedard of Seattle. The Phightins' have long coveted the skilled southpaw and he would seem the nearly perfect candidate to fulfill the teams need for another starting hurler. The price would likely be very high, though, as the Mariners had to give up a king's ransom in baseball talent to acquire Bedard from the Baltimore Orioles and appear unlikely to settle for anything less than top talent in return even at this point in their lost season.

Should Gillick inquire about Bedard, and it seems almost inconceivable that he won't, he will likely hear the names of Carrasco, catcher Lou Marson, outfielders Greg Golson and Michael Taylor and infielders Adrian Cardenas and Jason Donald mentioned almost immediately. In fact, the Mariners will probably ask for no less than four of these players, with the assumption that they would eventually settle for three of them, and one lesser like Happ, Castro or young righty Edgar Garcia. This seems far too high a price to pay for Bedard, a pitcher who is likely to become a free agent after the '09 season and command top dollar for his retention.

Bedard is also a very private person and might not be comfortable in the media happy atmosphere that currently surrounds Philadelphia Phillie baseball. Still, the thought of Hamels and Bedard, with a possibly rejuvenated Brett Myers in any three game series is enough to at least give pause to the thought of relinquishing some of the organizations more prized lights for the opportunity to vie once again for only the teams second World Series title. It has been mentioned before, but is worth repeating that the window of opportunity for this club will close at some point in the near future, though not likely before the year 2011.

Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins is nearly 30 years of age and already showing signs of wear and tear. The team may or may not choose to resign slugging left fielder Pat Burrell and relief standout Brad Lidge, and the ever present future salary demands of young stars like Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels loom as a dark shadow that continually dims the bright lights that continually filter onto the current Phillie organization.

Should the club find the Mariner demands for Bedard too excessive, there is still an impressive list of pitching candidates primed to be moved this July to the highest bidder available. Besides Sabathia and Bedard, other names quietly making the rounds amongst major league teams include such luminaries as Greg Maddux of San Diego, A.J. Burnett of Toronto, Ben Sheets of Milwaukee, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang of Cincinnati, Livan Hernandez of Minnesota, Zack Greinke of Kansas City and perhaps even Ian Snell of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a very impressive group of hurlers, though each comes with their very own laundry list of potential pratfalls and problems.

Maddux might not wish to move East and his agent, Scott Boras, still appears more prone to swallow nails that allow any of his players to sign a contract with the Phillies. Burnett, Sheets, and Sabathia are free agents at year's end, while Arroyo and Harang have been nearly as inconsistent as has been Brett Myers this year. Greinke has had many of the same mental difficulties as Myers and Snell's price tag could well be nearly as high as is Bedard's price.

Still, the consensus among most baseball scouts is that Gillick will at some point definitely pull the trigger on a move for a starting pitcher and lefty reliever in hopes that he can end his Hall of Fame career [he is retiring at years end] with a bang in the form of a pennant winning team. There are even those who feel that the recent June Amateur Draft indicated that the Phils are prepared to empty out their pharm system somewhat in hopes of striking it rich at the trading deadline.

To say that the organization was aggressive in drafting young high school talent would be an understatement of the very first kind. Nowhere in recent memory has the club so heavily recruited young high school talent and then pursued them with such abundant and seemingly realistic vigor. In fact, of the first 10 picks in the draft, the Phils picked no less than 8 youngsters who are either currently in high school or at the community college level. This is a major transformation from the staid and oft times conservative approach to past drafts.

Not only did the team draft such high ceiling high schoolers as shortstop/outfielder Anthony Hewitt, outfielder Zach Collier, left-handed pitcher Anthony Gose and third baseman Johnny Coy, but also selected more than a few "tough signs" in the early rounds, players like right-handed hurlers Colby Shreve and Ryan Weber and outfielder Damarri Saunderson. Indications were that they were aggressively pursuing all of these players with the expectation that most would sign before the August 15 deadline.

This not only would provide a major talent infusion to an organization that is slowly climbing up the prospect ladder, but might just allow for the trading of such current minor league talent as Adrian Cardenas or Carlos Carrasco. Presently, the jury is still out and many of these high school wizards could still turn their backs on the Phillie bonus offers and attend college but it does appear as if the system has quietly gone through a major philosophical change when it comes to spending money on amateur talent.

Only a true skeptic would discount the influence of Pat Gillick and his Rolodex file of baseball scouts in this sea change of philosophies but whatever the reasoning, the change appears tangible and permanent. Stay tuned!

Yet, in the end, none of this matters when it comes to the future success or failure of one Brett Myers, a pitcher that the team so desperately needs to step up and pitch well, and soon! The legendary writer and sage prophet Mark Twain once observed that "all you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure." Unfortunately for both Myers and the Phillies it would appear that currently the Phil righty has too much of the former and too little of the latter.

He would seem to be completely ignorant of the fact that without his top efforts, the team is likely to falter this summer under the continued advances of the Florida Marlins, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves. And even should the team withstand the mediocrity of Myers, they will likely fall prey to the stronger rotations of teams like the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks once they make it to the October playoffs.

And as brash and abrasive as he can often be, it appears that Brett Myers is almost completely a pitcher without confidence at this point, and a hurler without confidence is a pitcher preparing to lose on a steady basis. Until, or unless Myers can at some point become less ignorant of his standing with the team and more confident of his ability to defend said standing, it would seem as if he will continue to be thought of as the pitcher who quickly went from...staff ace to team headcase.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast
 




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