It was a hot June, summer of 1776, when Franklin and his brave yet wary group
of soon to be Founding Fathers were meeting in Philadelphia under the cover of
secrecy. To say that the meetings were going well would be a gross misstatement
of the facts. Rather, the rancor and disagreement amongst the delegates was so
thick that few thought an eventual agreement could ever take place.
Almost in a forlorn state of mind, Franklin whimsically glanced at a chair in the front of the meeting hall and noticed the interesting design on the top of the chair. The design clearly showed a sun, half perched over the side of a mountain. What was unclear was whether the sun was rising or setting. Not unlike the meetings that were taking place, Franklin openly mused.
Alas, the dissenters eventually dissolved their differences, and when the Declaration of Independence was being signed by all those present, Philadelphia's very own adopted son commented that he at last could state with conviction that indeed it was a rising, and not setting sun. The implications were clear for all to see...out of chaos had come agreement and out of agreement had come eventual success.
It does not take a giant leap of faith to compare the current state of the reigning World Champion Philadelphia Phillies to the past struggles of our Founding Fathers. Oh, certainly the ramifications are not comparable and baseball is still and always will be merely sport and not livelihood. But Franklin's question is well worth repeating when discussing the eventual 2009 fate of the Phightins, especially given their current tailspin. Is the team representing a rising or setting sun?
Truth be told, it is never a good time to answer difficult questions when emotions are running highest and a 1-8 homestand will certainly bring on an emotional response. Not just the losses, pray tell, but the almost depressing way in which the team floundered. Poor situational hitting. A bullpen that could not hold on to leads. A defense that seemed inattentive at best and flat out mediocre at worst. Poor base running. Coaching gaffes. Of this and more are 1-8 homestands comprised.
Add to these insults the injuries...Raul Ibanez, Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, Brad Lidge, Brett Myers. All very important cogs in a 2009 Philadelphia club that has legitimate aspirations of duplicating the unlikely success of last year. Granted, all but Myers should be back soon but nevertheless, all worrisome signs of a team that may not be witnessing a rising, but instead, a setting sun.
Certainly the team still possesses impressive talent, strong confidence, and a resilient spirit that should allow them to withstand the immediate distress and continue on as serious National League pennant contenders. But reality dictates that the rose-colored glasses of May be replaced by the more serious minded spectacles of June in order to get a clearer picture of just what July and beyond hold in store.
With that in mind, lets take off our rose-colored glasses and put on the spectacles of reality and see just what needs to be done in order to insure that the Summer of Anticipation does not eventually become the Summer of Discontent. The spectacles of reality quickly reveal what appears to be a four horse race, with not only the New York Mets in hot pursuit, but a sprightly and spirited band of Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves not far in the rear view mirror.
Reality spectacles also reveal a worrisome trend, one that many in the Philadelphia braintrust seem loathe to admit. To wit, teams with four left-handed starting pitchers almost never - repeat, never - win a championship. Balance is the key and four is at least one and probably, two too many. Lefties are a valuable resource and no one is insinuating that we can no longer consider Jamie Moyer, J.A. Happ or Antonio Bastardo as rotation regulars. In fact, the team might do well to keep either Happ or Bastardo in the rotation and pray that Moyer continues to drink of what appears to be the steadily dwindling waters from the Fountain of Youth.
Make no mistake, the loss of veteran righty Brett Myers for the year with a hip injury, has caused much more consternation within the clubhouse than is being publicly acknowledged. Of course Myers could be a difficult teammate and was almost always one step removed from a meltdown, but he supplied the team with a dedicated right-handed workhorse hurler, no small feat in a world of injured hurlers that would easily form a Who's Who List of Solid Starting Pitchers. Myers was always available to pitch and often pitched extremely well.
For all his troubles, the team does not make the 2007 playoffs or win the 2008 World Series without the steady advances of Myers and it should be noted that they were done both as a starting and closing hurler. Not easily replaceable. Yet the team must find a veteran right-handed starting pitcher, one capable of taking the number two slot in the rotation, snuggly between the lefty advances of Hamels and the righty stances of Joe Blanton. Clearly, Moyer is ready, willing but no longer able to take on this role and it will be no surprise if his continual struggles eventually lead to a move to the bullpen.
From here it appears the team is two starting pitchers short of a full house [a full house constituting 5 starting pitchers] and until or unless they replace the "three of a kind" with a "full house" the team will eventually lose the card game. With this in mind, let's keep those spectacles on and glance into the distance in search of said starting pitchers.
In a best case scenario world, the names of Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt or Roy Halladay would soon become available for a song, one the Phillies would gladly sing. Yet, none of the three seems likely to be singing Philadelphia Freedom anytime soon, for various and sundry reasons. Peavy has made it abundantly clear that he has no stomach for the friendly hitting confines of Citizens Bank Park and would likely veto any trade between the Phils and San Diego Padres. It is also worth noting that he is currently injured and unavailable to pitch anyhow.
Roy Oswalt is seen by most scouts as no longer the dominating righty of seasons past but would still look good in Phillie pinstripes. Two things make an Oswalt to Philadelphia deal unlikely. One is that current Houston Astros General Manager Ed Wade is a former Phillie GM and already contributed mightily to his former employees success with the deal last year that sent relief ace Brad Lidge eastward. He would probably be very uninclined to assist Philadelphia in repeating as NL champs this time around.
Add to that the fact that the Astros owner is a great admirer of Oswalt on a personal level and a deal for the stylish righty seems out of the question. The same with Halladay, widely considered among the two or three best pitchers in the American League. His Toronto Blue Jays still view themselves as on the periphery of playoff status and would seem uninclined to destroy team morale at this point by dealing away their greatest ace in the hole.
No, the Phils will need to look elsewhere if they are to find the two missing pieces to a starting puzzle as yet unfinished. As recently as one week ago Brad Penny of the Boston Red Sox looked a likely candidate. The Sox were prepared to welcome back veteran John Smoltz from the disabled list, and had more than a few minor league hurlers chomping at the bit to get a piece of the major league action. In fact, the Phillies sent veteran scout Jim Fregosi Jr. and several of their front office personnel to watch Penny in action last week and reportedly came back duly impressed.
The talk was of a Penny for Jason Donald deal, one the Phils might have been reluctant to make. Donald, although currently both struggling and injured in Triple-A, is still viewed as a solid major league prospect and one that the Phils are loathe to move. Yet the prospect of adding a Brad Penny to the rotation might have proven too good to resist until a recent injury to Red Sox starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka made all the recent trade talk irrelevant. With Matsuzaka now on the disabled list with a reportedly serious arm injury, it would appear that Brad Penny will not be leaving Beantown anytime soon.
Other candidates and their potential chances of taking up arms with the Phillies any time soon? Lefty Cliff Lee of the Cleveland Indians? It would take a package of hot shot minor leaguers like Michael Taylor, Lou Marson and Carlos Carrasco to make that deal and the Phils will not do that deal. And Lee, although very talented, is yet another southpaw arm for an already overcrowded stable of lefties. Same with Erik Bedard of the Seattle Mariners.
The Cincinnati Reds present two interesting veteran right-handed hurlers, Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. Not coincidentally, both have been rumored in the past to be headed to Philadelphia, though the depth and legitimacy of those rumors were never completely sustantiated. Both are also having decent seasons in Cincinnati. Arroyo, despite a very high ERA, has compiled an 8-5 record in 14 starts and has always been thought highly of by the Philadelphia braintrust.
Aaron Harang is probably the more talented of the two and is having a very good season despite his current 5-7 record. His ERA is under four and he has continually pitched in bad luck this year. His price tag would likely be higher than Arroyo's but the Phils might be inclined to meet the price should the talks ever reach the serious stage.
Right now there are no discussions being held because the Reds view themselves as potential wild card contenders and are reluctant to part with valued parts to their playoff engine. The same can be said of the Colorado Rockies, they of the 17 wins in 18 games streak, and their talented righty Jason Marquis.
In fact, in one of the ironies of this whole scenario, the Phils recent losses have contributed mightily to the bunching up of the NL races, leading such teams as the Marlins, Braves, Giants, Rockies and Reds to view themselves in a potential playoff light whereas they would otherwise have become sellers by now in an obvious buyers market. It behooves the Phils to right the ship quickly if they hope to acquire said right-handed hurlers for less than market value when the time comes to make a deal.
In fact, there are several interesting names out there, hurlers on bad teams playing bad baseball. In most of these cases, the pitchers are doing poorly also, but this should not keep the Phils from at least pondering the potential upsides to such an acquisition, especially since the upside to these hurlers is so vast. Teams probably willing to deal include the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres. Not coincidentally, each of them has a right-handed hurler worthy of further discussion.
Ian Snell has almost completely worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh but might look good in Phillie pinstripes and at 27 years of age is well worth consideration. He has won 30 games for very bad Pirate teams during the past three campaigns. Brian Bannister of the Kansas City Royals is another name worthy of discussion. He sports a 5-4 record and 3.89 ERA and at 28 years of age could become a mainstay in the Phillie rotation for years to come.
A caveat should be mentioned in regards to any dealings with the Royals. Former Phillies assistant GM Mike Arbuckle holds a strong position of power within the Royals hierarchy and any dealings with Kansas City are unlikely to be held from a position of strength when it comes to Arbuckle as he knows the ins and outs of the Phillie farm system as well as any management type in baseball.
Other names worth mentioning include 6'10" Chris Young of the San Diego Padres, Jon Garland of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians. All come with significant risk but high reward should they revert to previous form. Carmona is a particularly interesting name to discuss. As recently as two seasons ago he was a 19 game winner for a Cleveland team that was one win from the World Series.
Since 2007 Carmona has been beset by personal problems, injuries and poor performance but, at 25 years of age, is certainly capable of regaining his past form. The Indians sent him to the minor leagues on June 6 and might think a change of scenery is best for all concerned. The Phils should at least explore the possibilities of a Carmona deal.
Most baseball insiders believe the Phils will make one and possibly two deals before the July 31 trade deadline. The consensus amongst these scouts is that the team has a lineup that will hit and score well enough to defend their title and that the bullpen will straighten itself out once Lidge returns to form and Ryan Madson regains his setup man duties. In point of fact, the team could use either Bastardo or Moyer out of the bullpen should they bring in another starter or two, further strengthening a potential strong area even more.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the continuing presence of five-tool minor league star Michael Taylor at Reading. He is putting up Ryan Howard like numbers in the minor leagues and it is unlikely, but not inconceivable that at some point the Phils could bring him to Philadelphia and put him in the lineup. A strong middle of the order right-handed bat might be just what the doctor ordered to combat the steady stream of lefties that filter through the Phillie lineup on an almost daily basis, especially with Mssrs. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez firmly planted in the center of the batting order.
Still, talk of Taylor and his potential contributions are talk for another day, not so discussion of a starting rotation that has been bleeding since April. The former great professional basketball coach, Pat Riley, once observed that you must "look for your choices, pick the best one, then go with it." Rookie Phillie GM Ruben Amaro is soon coming to decision making time when he must look at his choices, pick the best one and then go with it.
Soon gone will be the days when he can dream of a Peavy, Halladay or Oswalt in the rotation. Soon gone will be the days when he can patiently wait for Brandon Webb to heal or Bronson Arroyo to become available. Teams like the Mets, Marlins and Braves sense opportunity and are unlikely to allow the Phils to quietly crown themselves NL Eastern champions for a third straight season without a fight. It behooves Amaro to make haste while the team is still in a position to do so.
It is said that the darkest point of night is immediately before daybreak. Words well worth considering when pondering the current state of the Philadelphia Phillies, a team once again embroiled in a June swoon of the most serious kind. Also, worth remembering when viewing the team as Ben Franklin viewed the assembly at Independence Hall during those difficult days in late June of 1776 when he could little tell whether the outcome would ultimately lead to a...rising or setting sun?
Columnists Note: Please email all questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast
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