By now, we all know that the Phillies starting rotation is the strength of the team. Ruben Amaro Jr., has worked his magic over the past couple of seasons to transform his club from a team likely to win a lot of 9-7 games to a team more likely to win a lot of 3-2 games, thanks to the addition of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and the addition, subtraction and then re-addition of Cliff Lee to the rotation. The top four are set, most likely in the order of Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels and for now, there is a much more than strong fifth starter in Joe Blanton to round out the rotation.
Truth is though that Blanton could easily be had for the right price. The first consideration is how much of Blanton's remaining contract another club would be willing to pick up from the Phillies. Blanton is guaranteed $17 million over the next two seasons and the Phillies sure could use that money - or at least a chunk of it - for other pieces to the puzzle. The formula works like this; the more of Blanton's contract that a club is willing to pick up, the lesser the prospects that the Phillies will seek in return and vice versa. For example, the Yankees are prone to throw around a lot of money and might pick up a decent chunk of Blanton's deal, meaning that the Phillies likely wouldn't have the nerve to realistically expect a return of say catcher Jesus Montero or left-hander Manny Banuelos. Instead, they might ask for the likes of catcher Austin Romine or right-hander Adam Warren.
Ironically though, the Yankees have a player or two that would likely be of interest to the Phillies, which would require less of a financial investment for the New Yorkers. Middle infield prospect Eduardo Nunez would be a sweet addition to the Phillies roster. He can play both short and second, two positions where the Phillies are lacking horribly in depth. Jimmy Rollins is in the last year of his contract and if he doesn't return to some form of his former glory, this could be his last season with the Phillies. Chase Utley has suddenly become fragile and is currently missing time with Patella tendonitis, which was first given an optimistic diagnosis of "tired legs." With both Rollins and Utley aging quickly right before our eyes, a glance toward the minor league system doesn't give an appearance of any sure-shot prospects anywhere near major league ready for either middle infield position. For that reason, Nunez would make a great fit for the Phillies. Perhaps a season of shuttling back and forth between the two spots as an understudy for both before we see which of the veterans develops the worse crack and will need the fastest replacement.
The St. Louis Cardinals suffered a rather harsh injury this week when Adam Wainwright found out that his plans for the next year involve Tommy John surgery and a whole lot of rehab. At first, the Cardinals said they would look internally to fill the spot, but have now said they're going to wait a couple of weeks to see how things shake out. Kevin Millwood has to be waiting rather impatiently by his phone for a call to get on a plane for Cardinals training camp, but so far, no call has come. Seems that pitching coach Dave Duncan could do wonders with Millwood, but then again, Duncan could do wonders for Blanton, as well. Pitching under Duncan's tutelage might be a great career move for Blanton, who generally seems to be on the cusp of moving from a dependable pitcher - which is the pitching equivalent of a girl with a great personality - to being much more of a top-notch pitcher. Financially, the Cardinals aren't the Yankees, but they have adequate money to afford a chunk of Blanton's deal and surely, the Phillies could find a couple of players in the Cardinals organization who would fit well either with the 2011 Phillies or in the minor league system.
Heck, there are all of those rumors about a Pujols-Howard swap, why not sweeten it with a few other players and really make it a trade worth talking about.
For their part, the Phillies can take somewhat of a wait-and-see approach. Just as Wainwright went down, there are likely going to be some other pitchers going down during spring training or the early part of the season. Truth is that you never know when or where another opportunity will open up for the Phillies to deal Blanton. Technically, the Phillies don't have to trade Blanton, but the money that they could save in dealing him might come in handy in late July when the club needs to find that needed player to put them over the top.
As for filling Blanton's spot in the rotation, the Phillies could return to Kyle Kendrick or hand the spot to a young starter like Vance Worley. The Phillies are very high on Worley and what a perfect opportunity for a young pitcher to have to work with the likes of the Phour Aces in the Phillies rotation. Plus, there is still enough offense on the Phillies team that Worley would have some support behind him and not have to pitch over his head in order for the Phillies to win a good amount of his starts.
Things are very early right now. Heck, the Phillies haven't even worked their way through all of their starting rotation in Grapefruit League games yet and a lot will happen between now and the end of the month when play begins for real. The Phillies are in the driver's seat where Blanton is concerned, because they are dealing from a position of strength and can well afford to be patient in finding the right deal, if there is even one out there. After all, an offer from the Yankees might well go up quickly if the Red Sox or Rays start to pull away from the Bronx Bombers early in the season. The Yankees have an almost desperate need for pitching and don't think that Junior Steinbrenner is as patient as his daddy was spontaneous. We're only at the point in the roller coaster ride where we know we're on the next train and we can just now see that train coming into the platform. Things are going to get much wilder and much more hectic from here on out.