Injury To Wolf Hurts On Many Levels

There is still no definite word on whether Randy Wolf will need to undergo Tommy John surgery which would cost him both this season and next. The Phillies do know that he's not going to be back anytime soon and that his exit leaves a huge hole in the starting rotation.

The most obvious issue surrounding the injury to Randy Wolf is the loss of a key member of the starting rotation. How will the Phillies fill that hole both now and potentially in the future if Wolf will in fact miss all of next season?

For now, Robinson Tejeda gets his second major league start Friday night in Oakland. Tejeda is a capable young pitcher, who appears ready to pitch in the majors. Still, he's no Randy Wolf. Down the road, who knows? But for now, he's not a Wolf in sheep's clothing. Tejeda may be more tolerable in the rotation if all of the other cylinders were clicking. However, Vicente Padilla and his 3-6, 6.23 ERA are already a weak link in the Phillies starting rotation chain. Unless Tejeda somehow becomes a quick rookie phenom, the Phillies basically have two holes to fill.

Gavin Floyd would have been an easy fix, until he started struggling during an early season visit with the Phillies and has seen those issues continue during his stay at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. If Floyd suddenly turns around and can show that it's a sustained rejuvenation, he can't be counted on to fill any holes. Neither can anyone else at Scranton, in terms of starting pitching. Clay Condrey has been good at times, posting a 4-5, 4.54 mark for the Red Barons. Mike Bacsik has also been good - at times - and has a slightly better mark of 3-4, 4.32.  Beyond those possibilities, there isn't much to consider at AAA.

Perhaps by late in the season, Keith Bucktrot will have moved along to AAA and shown that he's healthy and returned to form. He could potentially be a September boost to the Phillies if they are still in need of pitching help. For now though, Bucktrot has a long way to go and made his first AA start of the season just the other night. By the way, it didn't go well, so there are signs that Bucktrot is going to need more work.

Trades? Names like Barry Zito, Mark Redman and Kip Wells are all being bounced around. So is the name Eric Milton. There are a number of teams that may be willing trading partners, especially if the Phillies will talk about including the likes of Floyd or Ryan Howard. Whether or not they'll go that far is hard to say, but they will have to at least consider it if they truly intend on sticking around the playoff race for any length of time. The Phillies will face Zito when they play in Oakland this weekend. Needless to say, he'll be an interesting one to watch and you can rest assured that the Phillies and their decision makers will be watching as well.

Getting past how the Phillies can fill in Randy Wolf's spot in the rotation, there are other issues.

Wolf is due to make $9.0 million next season. Because of the high price of insuring player contracts these days, Wolf's deal was uninsured. That means that the Phillies will have to pay the full nine-mill to finish out the final year of Wolf's contract. Ouch! When you consider that Wolf accounts for almost ten-percent of the Phillies payroll, that's a big hit to swallow. How do you help cover up a blow like that? Well, potentially re-signing Ugueth Urbina to be your closer at a lower price than you would have to pay Billy Wagner is one option. Dumping a contract like that of Mike Lieberthal ($7.5 million) even if you have to pay a chunk of it, could save you a few bucks. Considering the resurgence of Pat Burrell, you might find somebody willing to take on his contract, if you decide to send him elsewhere to save a few bucks. Odds are though that the Urbina for Wagner move would be the most likely and possibly the least hurtful of the potential moves. Lieberthal wouldn't necessarily hurt too much, but it may also not be too likely.

Another factor pertains to Wolf's contract. As mentioned, 2006 is the final year of his contract and he's then eligible for free agency. The Phillies would have to decide how to play that one. Of course, a lot would depend on how his rehab would be going and how his future looks. Potentially, Wolf could be signed to a relatively cheap one or two year deal that would allow the Phillies to see just how well recovered he is. Since Wolf will collect a lot of money for doing nothing next season and he'll be viewed as damaged goods, the odds are that he won't get a big free agent deal if he were to go that way. He may opt for a small one year deal with the Phillies rather than shopping himself around. If the Phillies were smart, they would try to get a one year deal with an option for a second season. Generally, pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery - if indeed Wolf has to have TJS - need a full season to get back to form. In other words, we may not see the real Randy Wolf until 2008, unless he recovers quicker than hoped.

To say the least, the injury to Wolf is a blow to the Phillies. Their once rich minor league system doesn't have the arms to fill the hole adequately. Cost concerns could come into play and even if the Phillies look past that, there's the issue of whether or not they want to give up any young prospects to fill Wolf's shoes.

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