Despite an "oasis in the middle of the desert" three-game sweep of
the New York Mets recently, there still remains in the upper management swells
at Citizen Bank Park the feeling that the Phillies cannot repeat as NL East
champions without reinforcements in the pitching rotation, specifically starting
pitchers. Names like veterans Pedro Martinez and Paul Byrd have been flying
around like bees to a beehive and even more concerning are reports of a major
push to bring in via trade someone like Brad Penny or Chien-Ming Wang.
These reports are not without merit since the team has sent some of its top
scouts to watch Martinez throw in the Dominican Republic and have been floating
the Byrd discussions around for several weeks now. Rumors of an impending Brad
Penny for young minor league infielder Jason Donald have never been denied and
it has recently come to light that the Phightins are "all over Brad
Penny" right now. Conversely, the Chien-Ming Wang talks with the New York
Yankees will now be put on hold pending an MRI into the continuing shoulder
miseries that have befuddled and bedeviled Wang throughout the season.
Even so, it does appear that Amaro is feeling enormous pressure to bring in
another arm or two before the July 31 trading deadline and could well feel the
need to sacrifice long-term promise for short-term gain. This would be a grave
mistake and eventually come back to haunt the rookie general manager precisely
at a time when he seems finally to be achieving his "sea legs" on the
After far too many seasons of negligence and poor drafting, the Phillie farm
system at long last appears ready to provide the parent club with a bumper crop
of top prospects for years to come. Names like catcher Lou Marson, infielder
Jason Donald, outfielders Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown and hurlers Andrew Carpenter, Carlos Carrasco, Yohan Flande, Vance Worley, Joe Savery, Kyle Drabek
and Michael Stutes have all reached the upper levels of the minor leagues and
could begin calling Citizens Bank Park their home before the end of the 2010
season. And make no mistake, these are the names that are being requested by
other teams whenever trade discussions take place.
Certainly Amaro and Company are walking a slippery slope right now, especially
with the Florida Marlins armed and dangerous and the Mets and Atlanta Braves on
the periphery but hardly out of sight. The team understands the proverbial
"window of opportunity" that now presents itself given the still young
veteran status of players like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels and does not want to disregard the aspirations of these
talented homegrown players. Likewise, players like Raul Ibanez and Jamie Moyer
are now in the twilight of their illustrious careers and are unlikely to care
about any long-term goals that the Phils may have.
Fair enough and all good reasons to display due diligence in any ongoing trade
discussions or possible free agent signings. This is certainly not a call for
full retreat nor is it a call of "two arms, two arms" but rather a
time to examine the cost versus benefits of a hasty trade for someone like Penny
or Bronson Arroyo. Simply put, there is a precedence for this type of move
within the organization and Amaro was very much part of the discussion when said
precedence too place.
Recently retired Phillie GM Pat Gillick will soon grace the inner sanctum of the
baseball Hall of Fame and his 2008 World Championship with the Philadelphia
Phillies will only punctuate the obvious...this was an incredibly effective
baseball executive who won wherever he roamed...in Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle
and Philadelphia. And, on whole, his choice of talent to form a 25 man roster
has always proven if not genius, then basically above reproach, especially when
viewed from the end result. Even a few of his more controversial moves, the
trading of star right fielder and long-time Phillie favorite Bobby Abreu in 2006
and the signing of Adam Eaton in 2007 could be viewed through the prism of
cost/benefit and forgiven if not defended.
Not so however when it came to perhaps his worst deal while navigating the
Goodship Philadelphia...the acquisition of veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia
from the Chicago White Sox for young hurlers Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. At
the time the deal looked very defensible and many Phillie fans thought Garcia
would be the missing part to a team engine that always sputtered out right near
the finish line. In fact, there are some strange similarities to the pursuit of
Garcia and the current flirtation with the likes of Penny or Wang. At the time,
Gillick was feeling tremendous pressure to get the Phillies that one final
veteran pitcher who might push them over the top and Garcia, a proven winner in
Chicago, seemed a most likely candidate.
Instead, the deal proved to be disastrous from a long-term point of view as
Garcia won only one game while a member of the Phillies in 2007 while Floyd won
17 games last year with the White Sox and Gonzalez seems ready to become a
mainstay in the young Oakland starting rotation. In fact a case could be made
that had Gillick not made this trade the Phillies would be in little need of
reinforcements on the starter front since both Floyd and Gonzalez would be
manning those spots.
Fairness demands a closer look at the situation and in defense of Amaro, he must
do everything possible to insure that he provides the Phillies with every means
at his disposal to assist the team in their goal of repeating as NL East
champions. He will be forgiven if the team fails to win the World Series again,
and will even receive a pass should the team not repeat as National League
champions. The playoffs are always a mine field to navigate successfully and a
combination of luck, skill and good timing are necessary. Not so the Eastern
Division. Over the course of 162 games the best team will almost inevitably win
the marathon and right now the Phils look to have the best horse in the race. A
top of the rotation starting pitcher might merely punctuate that fact and Amaro
must be diligent in this approach.
Still, talk of "panic mode" rarely instills confidence in the masses
and might also give opposing teams a stronger hand to play when dealing with
Amaro. Whereas he might have insisted on moving no more than a second tier
prospect for Brad Penny previously, a nervous Amaro might acquiesce to the
demands of the Boston Red Sox and deal the more talented Jason Donald instead.
Assuredly, Penny might provide the Phils with a short-term gain in the deal but
in the long-term, he is unlikely to become anything more than a
"rent-a-player" whereas Jason Donald shows promise of becoming an
everyday infielder, either at shortstop or third base.
It should be noted that both Jimmy Rollins and Pedro Feliz are on the far side
of 30 years old right now and might soon be looking for more rest if not a
complete replacement. Donald would seem to be a very good possibility for just
such a role. At worst, Jason Donald will someday become a skilled and dependable
utility infielder with some pop in the bat, something that the team does not
have currently. Clearly it would seem the Phils will be better served to just
say no to such a deal, regardless of the present success that Brad Penny appears
to be having in Boston.
The same should be said for such veteran retreads as Pedro Martinez and Paul
Byrd, although given the choice Byrd would appear to be a better fit for the
Phils. Make no mistake, Pedro Martinez is a future Hall of Famer in waiting but
seems to be precisely what Philadelphia does not need right now, a starting
pitcher completely incapable of making it out of the sixth inning. Simply put,
Martinez will tear up a bullpen almost as quickly as an ineffective starting
pitcher and the team has no need for that right now. A quick glance of the
current Phillie rotation reveals a Cole Hamels who is struggling badly, a 46
year old Jamie Moyer, a skilled but still largely untested youngster in J.A. Happ and two hurlers who can rarely promise pitching deep into any particular
game that they hurl, Joe Blanton and Rodrigo Lopez.
With this in mind, the last thing the club needs in yet another five inning
starting pitcher in Pedro Martinez. A deeper study of Paul Byrd reveals someone
very much of the same ilk, albeit possibly a tad stronger in form. Byrd was a
regular member of the Boston rotation last season and performed reasonably well
to the tune of 11 wins. Yet Boston made no secret of the fact that they had no
desire to bring Byrd back into the nest and for his own part, Paul Byrd seemed
quite reluctant to participate in the free agent interview and resume process.
He talked of staying home and possibly returning at some nebulous "later
date." This hardly seems the type of pitcher a team desires while in the
heat of a stifling dog days of August pennant race.
The same can be said for the likes of typical suspects like Bronson Arroyo,
Aaron Harang or Gil Meche. In the end the question becomes, is the going up
worth the coming down, and if the answer lies in the sacrifice of a talented
young prospect, the answer appears "no." Not when the team seems to
finally have at its very disposal so many interesting and skilled pitchers
already in hand. To wit, Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Carpenter, Kyle Kendrick, Joe
Savery and even very young Kyle Drabek. Let's examine these candidates further
and see if a case can be made that in-house pitchers offer just as much
potential reward as free agent or trade acquisition hurlers.
Of course the most recognizable name of the list is Kyle Kendrick and he does
come with the highest "reward versus risk" resume. The rewards are
obvious, as a starting pitcher who has won 21 games over the past two division
winning campaigns in Philadelphia and a starting pitcher who seems to finally be
finding his form at the Triple-A level after earlier frustrations. In his last
start, he hurled eight innings of shutout ball in a 2-0 victory and by most
accounts has learned to spot his fastball while improving his change-up and
using his natural sinker effectively. Kendrick would seem at least as likely a
candidate for Philadelphia success as would Martinez or Byrd and has the added
incentive of returning to form with the very team that he has known all of his
professional life, and in a clubhouse that he knows well and is quite
comfortable in. It should also be noted that Kyle Kendrick is not yet even 25
years of age and is even younger than Hamels or Happ.
Andrew Carpenter came to spring training in 2008 as a 17 game winning
"wunderkind" the previous year and dazzled the team during the spring.
He then proceeded to get terribly out of shape and lose the very focus that had
allowed him to succeed in the first place. Predictably, he struggled at Reading
in Double-A last year [a 6-8 record] and was downgraded this spring to a second
tier prospect. Through hard work and diligence he has upgraded that status to
the tune of a current 7-1 record at Lehigh Valley in Triple-A and even found
time to win his only major league start in Washington earlier this year in an
Carpenter relies more on finesse than power but has learned to command his 90-91
MPH fastball with an effective change of speeds. He recently turned 24 years of
age and is considered a future middle of the rotation starting pitcher at the
major league level. It would not be a major surprise to see him attain the same
type of immediate success that Kendrick had back in 2007 when he was given an
emergency recall and proceeded to fashion a 10-4 record.
If Carpenter is finesse, then 22 year old Carlos Carrasco represents power to
the first degree. Long regarded as the top pitching prospect in the
Phillie organization, Carrasco seems finally to be harnessing the talent that
has scouts calling him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher. His
modus operandi always seems to include struggling early whenever he is promoted
from one league to the next and then finally take off like a shooting star. Then
seems to once again have been precisely the case in 2009 for young Carrasco.
After a very disconcerting 0-6 start to his Triple-A season, Carrasco has since
then fashioned a 5-1 record with a very impressive 88-27 strikeout to walk ratio
in 92 innings of work.
The Phillies have always been very careful with the 6'3" , 190 pound
Carrasco and might be unwilling to risk damage to his still fragile psyche by
bringing him up in the heat of a pennant race. Carpenter or Kendrick seem much
more likely to be chosen at this point but if the stylish Venezuelan continues
to shine at the Triple-A level the team might have no choice but to give CC the
opportunity to take his place behind Hamels at the top of the Phillie rotation.
No further proof of the Phils ability to use the amateur draft effectively is
needed than to study the cases of hurlers Kyle Drabek and Joe Savery, two Texans
who could not be more dissimilar, but with amazingly similar results. Drabek, a
2006 top draft pick out of high school, is a power pitcher who throws from the
right side. He is the son of former Pittsburgh Pirate great Doug Drabek and
needed an arm injury to teach him patience, hard work and the ability to curb a
notoriously hot temper. He seems to have learned his lessons well to the tune of
a 9-1 record this year in Single and Double-A while having a walk/strikeout
ratio of 36/109 in 109 innings toiled.
Drabek is a very polished right-hander who is familiar and comfortable with
major league clubhouses after growing up as the son of a very successful Pirate
great. He is unlikely to be in awe of the major leagues once he sets foot on big
league soil, but something has given the Phils pause when considering the
possibility of having a youngster leapfrog all the way from Single-A baseball to
the major leagues in one year. Drabek could soon do this, although it still
seems he is no more than fourth or fifth on the current pecking order, behind
Kendrick, Carpenter, Carrasco and Savery.
Speaking of Joe Savery, the silky smooth southpaw now sports an 11-1 record at
Reading, though his walk/strikeout ratio is a not so inspiring 41/62 in 92
innings of work. Still, he seems fully recovered from '06 elbow surgery that
made his top draft pick ranking in 2007 such a question mark in all places not
named Philadelphia. The Phillies were quite convinced that Savery would
eventually make a full recovery and they seem to be correct, given his numbers
so far this season. The team probably will not feel inclined to recall Savery
this year, given the fact that in Hamels, Happ and Moyer, along with recently
injured Antonio Bastardo, the team seems well fortified on the southpaw slants
of the mound. More likely is a mid-season promotion to Triple-A and an eventual
major league debut in 2010. Still, if something happens to one of the teams
current left-handers, Savery might just get the call.
The success of both Drabek and Savery is merely the latest examples of a draft
and sign system in place that began with the Gillick Era and has continued under
the guidance of Ruben Amaro. This year's crop of draftees could well become a
bumper crop of top talent should the team succeed in signing most of the high
school talent that they selected in June. Despite relinquishing their first
round draft pick due to the free agent signing of Raul Ibanez, most scouts feel
the Phils did draft top draft pick talent in high school pitchers Brody Colvin
and outfielder Jacob Stewart. The team seems confident in inking at least one of
them and should they succeed they will have in effect signed a first round pick
Other notable selections include high school outfielders Kelly Dugan and Aaron
Altherr [both signed, sealed and delivered] and unsigned talent like fly chaser
Kyrell Hudson, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and catcher Andrew Susac.
Admittedly, it is unlikely that the team will be able to sign all seven of these
top notch high school prospects, but if they can garner five or six of them, it
will have been yet another Grade-A draft for the organization. Stay tuned as the
signing period ends in a little over one month from now, on August 17.
Not since the hey-day period of the late 70s and early 80s has the organization
seen such a deep and talented farm system as is presently constructed. Talent
filters all the way down to the rookie league level and promises continued
success at the major league level provided Amaro does not go the way of former
GM Bill Giles and trade away future big league talent like Ryne Sandburg and
Julio Franco for short-term fixes like Ivan DeJesus and Von Hayes. The blueprint
has been constructed and perfected by Mssrs. Pat Gillick, Mike Arbuckle and
Marti Wolever and need not be revised, but merely copied. No need for the Pedro
Martinez or Brad Penny's of the world, players whose allegiance and loyalties
change from day to day.
Better to continue the process of filtering in young top notch talent from a
system that is just now being recognized for the depth and versatility of its
scouting and coaching abilities. There seems little doubt that unless the Phils
can somehow pry away a Roy Halladay or Jake Peavy then any second tier hurler is
unlikely to perform with any greater skill than is Kendrick, Carpenter, Carrasco
or Drabek. Not to mention Rodrigo Lopez, a former two-time 15 game winner in
Baltimore and just now regaining the pre-injury form that once caused Gillick to
offer Pat Burrell in trade for the 33 year old righty. He seems at least as
likely to win consistently in Philadelphia as would Pedro Martinez, Brad Penny
or Paul Byrd and is already on the roster. Patience is the word right now and it
can only be hoped that Ruben Amaro will continue to recite that mantra.
These are difficult times for the Philadelphia Phillies, the "times that
try men's souls" as Thomas Paine once reminded us. Yet, in that difficulty,
it is also well worth recalling the remedy described by the great Henry Ford who
observed that "nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small
jobs." A Lopez here, a Carpenter there and a touch of Kendrick or Carrasco
down the line might just well be the elixir needed to cure what currently ails
the Philadelphia nine. Certainly, it seems well worth the effort, especially
with another opportunity to garner a starting pitcher during the waiver wire
period which extends until August 31.
These next three weeks are likely to be quixotic ones for a Phillie team that
has closely resembled Don Quixote far too many times already this zany season.
Yet, in the end Quixote emerged triumphant. combining a steady stream of
realistic dreams and goals, a stay the course attitude and the realization that
the journey matters far more than does than the destination. Look within the
system GM Amaro and remember those three prophetic words...just say no!
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast