Decision Time: Vicente Padilla

It's not a decision that's been on the front burner so far this fall, but whether or not to bring back Vicente Padilla will be one of the tougher decisions that the Phillies will face. Padilla is eligible for arbitration and will likely get a decent raise. With the Phillies scraping up pennies to re-sign Billy Wagner and needing other pieces to the puzzle, Padilla could be a little too pricey. Of course, he could also be one of those puzzle pieces if only he could stay healthy and consistent.

When Vicente Padilla is pitching well, he looks like simply awesome. He keeps the ball down in the zone and keeps hitters off balance by mixing his pitches and changing his location. He seems to have pinpoint control; nothing is above the belt and nothing is down the middle of the plate - except when he decides to blow away a hitter with a blazing fastball. His pitches are inside, outside and unhittable. And perhaps most importantly, he works quickly and efficiently. Then, there's the other Vicente Padilla. The one who lumbers around the mound looking utterly dazed and confused. He loses his composure and control and seemingly has no clue where his next pitch will wind up. He seems unable to put hitters away and is more like a boxer up against the ropes than the one who has his opponent on the ropes and is simply wailing away to unleash more punishment.

First year pitching coach Rich Dubee seemed to have at least mild success in getting through to Padilla this season. Dubee stressed working quickly and did all he could to boost the confidence of his temperamental pitcher. To his credit, Padilla put in a lot of time with Dubee and slowly lowered his ERA throughout the season, but it took threats of a demotion either to the bullpen or AAA to get through to him. The mental part of the game has been the toughest for Padilla to handle and he has to be constantly coddled while on the mound. He needs constant reminders to work quickly and to not let bad calls or fielding errors ruin his effort.

Padilla was simply horrid in his first two starts of the season. The Mets and Braves pinned losses on Padilla and he found himself with an 0-2 record and an 18.00 ERA. He threw five decent innings - two earned runs - against Florida on April 30th, which was somewhat of a moral victory even though it was Padilla's third loss of the season. Two more rough outings and Padilla was 0-4 with a 9.74 ERA on the season. Then, Cincinnati came to town and Padilla delivered six shutout innings. Things started to turn around, only to fall apart again. Before long, the Phillies were looking at alternatives for the rotation and had Gavin Floyd been pitching better at Scranton, it's likely that Padilla would have exited the rotation. Six shutout innings against Pittsburgh sent Padilla into the All-Star Break on a high note and he was impressive after the break, stringing together a streak of 16 shutout innings. Of course, by late August, things had swung back the other way and Padilla scuffled down the stretch, posting a 6.12 ERA in his final six starts. Thanks to the high-powered Phils offense, he went 2-1 in those games, but certainly didn't help his cause any.

Throughout his career, there has been talk of moving Padilla to the bullpen. When he first came over from Arizona in the Curt Schilling trade, Padilla was eyed as a potential closer of the future for the Phillies. Padilla's penchant for getting into trouble early though would seem to negate any thoughts that the Phillies would have of that option at this point.

Padilla made $3.2 million this past season and would likely get at least a small raise in the arbitration process. It's likely that the Phillies could be on the hook for around $4 million if they decide to keep him. Even if they are able to negotiate a deal with him and avoid arbitration, it's not likely that they would be able to get Padilla to sign for anything less than what they paid him this past season. With Randy Wolf out until at least July, the Phillies are already hurting for starting pitching. Robinson Tejeda would seem to have the inside track on Wolf's spot, with Gavin Floyd set to battle with Tejeda in the spring. If Padilla were to be jettisoned, Floyd and Eude Brito would be the likely candidates to replace him in the rotation. That would give the Phillies a much young and inexperienced rotation than they would likely want to have to open the 2006 season. Of course, a deal to acquire a veteran starter is always a possibility.

At this point in his career, Padilla was expected to be much more consistent and to have progressed well past where he is right now. Every season, the Phillies find themselves hoping that Padilla will blossom and put together the kind of season that they've looked for since he came over from Arizona. Even with all the inconsistency and struggles, Padilla is 49-49 with a decent 3.98 ERA as a Phillie. When you look at those numbers, he seems to deserve another season, but the patience has worn thin. The truth is that if he hits the open market, another club will grab him quickly and it's not out of the question that Padilla could come back to haunt the Phillies down the road.

Health has also been a factor in Padilla's career and continues to be. Padilla has had health issues each of the past two seasons and there are long-term concerns about his arm. That could be a factor in whether or not the Phillies decide to give more big money to Padilla or risk letting him go elsewhere. If they feel he's healthy and that the long-term concerns are unfounded, then they may decide to bite the bullet and bring him back for one more season and then decide what to do with him as he possibly enters free agency. Just the fact that he's a year away from free agency could give Padilla the incentive that he needs to work harder at his game and put up the sort of numbers that would be huge for any organization, especially one looking for starting pitching.

It's also likely that the dismissal of Ed Wade could be a factor in Padilla's return. Let's face it, having Padilla pitch well for the Phillies would have made Wade's trade of Curt Schilling a little easier to swallow. After all, Padilla is the only remaining player from that deal in the organization. With Wade gone, the new GM won't have the stigma of that deal hanging over his head when he thinks about what to do with Vicente Padilla.

It's very likely that the Phillies will bite the bullet and at least make an attempt to re-sign Padilla. How those negotiations go could determine whether or not they push the case to arbitration or simply let Padilla go elsewhere. The gamble is how to replace Padilla in the rotation and with Floyd's struggles at AAA and Wolf's injury, bringing back Padilla may simply be a necessity as the Phillies see it. Brito is completely unproven and Tejeda finished the season with injury problems of his own. Right now, the Phillies may not have many choices other than a trade to replace Padilla in the rotation. Figure on the Phillies re-signing Padilla even though it may not be the prudent decision to make. Sometimes though, teams are pushed into making moves simply because it seems like the move they have to make. This is one of those times.

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