CD's Connect the Dots... Just Say No

With whispers abounding of a Phillie braintrust in near panic over the teams pitching woes, it might do well for GM Ruben Amaro and Co. to take a glance at the phrase that has been making the rounds for several years when it comes to making shortsighted and poor choices and following the advice to...just say no.

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 job.

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 emergency start.

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 or two.

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 allenariza@earthlink.net and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast


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