Certainly, here was a group of starting pitchers that could withstand the advances of the New York Mets, slay the dragons from the Atlanta Braves and lay waste to any possible hindrances thrown their way by teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres or Los Angeles Dodgers.
In fact, the staff was so deep that it appeared a mere formality to move the veteran Jon Lieber in a trade for either a relief pitcher or a young power hitting outfielder. The names of talent like relievers Akinori Otsuka and Braden Looper as well as outfielders like Alex Rios or Chris Duncan were mentioned almost as an afterthought.
Yes, teams would literally be lining up to bid on the sixth starting pitcher on a Phillie staff that only had room for five. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to October. The list began to take a free fall, as is wont to happen when the list is composed of starting pitchers. First, the teams priciest off-season acquisition, Freddy Garcia, came down with a sore arm in the spring and was disabled to open the campaign.
The disabling of Garcia opened up an eventual spot of Lieber in the rotation, though Manager Charlie Manuel seemed loath to acknowledge this for about a month. Then, the teams relief closer, Tom Gordon, proved that the whispers were about to become a scream as he finally acknowledged that his formerly trusty right arm was as badly damaged as many had surmised.
Just when Gordon appeared headed for the disabled list, opening day starter, Brett Myers, bravely nominated himself for bullpen duty and for awhile he appeared a John Smoltz clone with one dominating save after the next. Then on a balmy evening in Florida, Myers clutched his right arm, a clutch that continues to have ramifications even today.
Although Garcia attempted to come back and pitch it was obvious to one and all that he was not right and eventually he joined both Gordon and Myers on a disabled list that is quickly becoming a Who's Who of Formerly Famous Phillie Pitchers.
The feeling here is that while both Gordon and Myers will soon resurface in the Phillie bullpen, Garcia has thrown his last pitch in anger as a Philadelphia Phillie. Try as he might to avoid surgery, labrum tears and frayed rotator cuffs rarely heal completely on their own, and it is my opinion that if he weren't headed for off-season free agency Freddy Garcia would already be having shoulder surgery.
So, with Garcia gone and Myers in the bullpen, the Phils have lately found their formerly six man strong starting pitching staff reduced to four. Oh, they have recalled young Kyle Kendrick from Reading of the Double-A Eastern League and his two game totals have proven exemplary to this point.
Yet, the feeling remains that Kendrick's inexperience may eventually catch up with his natural exuberance and energy at being promoted to the major leagues and when this happens the Phils will once again be staring at a situation they thought unimaginable in the spring...a club one starting pitcher short of the playoffs.
With this in mind, and with the acknowledged compliment to a Phillie organization that continues to find players within the system who quickly and easily move up to the major leagues and plug the hole in the dike when needed, it still appears the club will attempt to deal for a starting pitcher before July 31.
Of course, it takes two to tango at a dance and equally it takes two to deal in baseball. Regardless of how much a team may desire to bring in a player of their acquired taste, the opposing trading partner must eventually be agreeable to the trade. It must be in their interests as well as the Phils to do a deal that truly makes sense for both parties.
Let's take a not so cursory walk around the big league rosters and see if we can possibly step inside the mindset of Phillie General Manager Pat Gillick and what he may pursue over the following six weeks. The walk becomes somewhat easier by the very teams we can quickly eliminate.
Certainly, teams in contention will not be in any mood to trade away a talented starting pitcher when they will probably be in the market to acquire one, much like the Phils would like. This allows us to eliminate National League teams like the Mets and Braves, Brewers and Cubs, Cards and Marlins, and Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Each, in their own way, feels that a playoff berth is still within the realm of possibility and, indeed, in the rumbling, bumbling National League, such is the case.
On the American League side of the fence, forget the Red Sox and Yankees, Indians and Tigers, Twins and Angels, Athletics and Mariners. All have plus .500 records and dare not disappoint their fans with the folly of a mid-season dumping of player salaries. Special mention should also go to the Toronto Blue Jays, who are probably not headed to any playoff berth this season but recently suffered the loss of starting pitcher A.J. Burnett again. They will be in no position to move a starting pitcher.
Still, this leaves an interesting list of eleven teams who might be inclined to offer what the Phils need, a reliable and trusted starting pitcher down the stretch. Those teams appear to be the Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
This list can be narrowed down a bit more by the fact that the D'Rays, under Garry Hunsiker, will be in no mood to assist the Phillies in any way, shape or form. A walk down memory lane reveals that Hunsiker was the alleged front runner for the then vacant Phillie GM position until Gillick seemingly came out of nowhere to take the job. Hunsiker quietly took the Devil Ray job but has probably never forgotten the disappointment at the Phillie snub and is unlikely to set out the welcome mat for Gillick in his time of need. Scratch the D'Rays.
The Texas Rangers will certainly be in a mood to move salary and pitchers but if the names Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood didn't move you before, they are unlikely to move you now. Both are former Phillie starting pitchers who left under less than happy circumstances. Neither wants to come back, and neither is likely to be invited back. More likely would be a deal for either reliever Eric Gagne or Akinori Otsuka should Gillick decide this is the best he can do.
If the Phils do acquire either Gagne or Otsuka this would likely involve moving Brett Myers back to the starting rotation, a move that Myers has said he will not approve. Still, it is not impossible to envision a scenario where Gagne, Otsuka or Chad Cordero of the Nationals was brought to PhillieLand as a relief closer should Gordon and Myers remain on the disabled list.
Speaking of the Nationals, there is no one of interest on their starting staff and the same can probably be said of the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates as well. This narrows the list down to six teams and, truth be told, the names available are not exactly names that will cause Phillie phanatics to order their playoff tickets any time soon.
Yet, if one can capture lightning in a bottle, there is more than a mere nugget of potential gold in this years list of possible gems. Two names that definitely stand out are righty Matt Morris of the San Francisco Giants and left-hander Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox.
Both Morris and Buehrle are solid starting pitchers who are not only having decent seasons with their respective clubs but are likely to be traded before the July 31 trading deadline. Morris sports an outstanding 7-4 record with the Giants and already has logged 95 innings in 14 starts, with 3 complete games to his credit.
He is the type of workhorse pitcher who could well propel the Phils into the playoffs, and at 32 years of age, is battle tested and leadership skilled. He also remains a favorite of Pat Gillick, who pursued him in the free agent market two seasons ago before Morris decided to look West instead of East after so many seasons in the heartland of St. Louis.
Mark Buehrle is a lefty with a no-hitter to his resume this year, and a 4-3 record to his credit up to now. He is an upcoming free agent this winter and the White Sox are resigned to losing him after the season to the free agent market. This makes them inclined to move him while they can and despite rumors of an Aaron Rowand for Mark Buehrle deal, the Phils are not likely to make that trade.
Add to that the stigma of the Garcia deal, one which many Phillie phans still believe was a case of acquiring damaged goods, and the likelihood of a Phillie-White Sox deal appears slim. Watch for Buehrle to probably end up in New York with either the Mets or Yankees.
An interesting case can be made for the acquisition of either Bronson Arroyo of Cincinnati or Wandy Rodriguez of Houston but both come with WARNING signs printly loudly over their names. Arroyo has struggled badly with the Reds this year [2-8 record] and whispers of a bad arm continue to haunt him.
Not so Rodriguez, who the Phils have long been enamored with for some reason. The 5'11" lefty is still only 28 years old and does have a 4-6 record and 4.19 ERA to this point in the season after 13 starts. Still, acquiring Rodriguez would mean adding a third left-handed pitcher to the starting rotation and this is probably not something Gillick is inclined to do.
Two other hurlers who are most assuredly available are righties Kyle Lohse [3-9] of Cincinnati and Steve Trachsel [5-5] of the Baltimore Orioles. Both could probably be had for a song, but alas, this is a tune the Phils are not likely to sing. They have had ample opportunity in the past to sign either of these two righties and quickly passed go without so much as collecting $200. No doubt, that will once again be the case.
This leaves but one hurler left...one that is probably not available and might not wish to pitch in Philadelphia anyhow. Still, if any hurler could possibly A] come to Philadelphia with the potential to be a solid starter, B] is young enough to fit in for years to come and C] is not a highly paid veteran who might upset the balance of power within the Phillie clubhouse, it would be this right-handed pitcher.
Phillie phans who recently witnessed the 17-5 pounding at the hands of the Kansas City Royals may have forgotten that at one point in the game the score stood 6-5 Royals, with the Phils in full speed ahead form. That is until one Zack Greinke entered the fray and completely shut down the Phightins'. He was dominant that day and has the talent to be dominant again.
There are obvious roadblocks to any Greinke to Philadelphia deal. For one thing, Zack Greinke is a mere 23 years of age and the Royals might be less than inclined to move him now. For another, there are rumors that his psyche could not withstand the rigors of a Philadelphia phandom that can be as harsh as it is engaging when it comes to their hometown heroes.
Still, in my opinion, Greinke is exactly the kind of high risk, high reward hurler who might just help turn a Phillie season around, not unlike another youngster, Dick Ruthven, did back in the 1978 season. Much like Greinke, Dick Ruthven was underachieving elsewhere but sill talented enough to turn it around at any moment.
When the Phils acquired Ruthven at the trading deadline his record with the Atlanta Braves was decidedly under .500 but from that point until the end of the season, he parlayed a 13-5 record in PhillieLand to a National League playoff berth for the team. Both Greinke and Ruthven had arm problems in their past, yet both were healthy when the Phils showed interest.
It may well behoove the Phils to at least make a phone call to Kansas City and find out what it might take to acquire the talented but enigmatic Zack Greinke. The Royals have always had a love affair with swift young outfielders and might be inclined to accept Michael Bourn as partial payment for the services of Greinke. Stay tuned.
There is yet one more interesting scenario which could unfold, one that every Phillie phan should be aware of over the next month and a half. Under the Gillick Regime, the team has shown no reluctance to bring up young pitchers from Double-A Reading and immediately place them in the starting rotation.
Last year, both Cole Hamels and Scott Mathieson found themselves smack in the middle of a playoff race in August with the Phils after opening the campaigns in Reading. This is exactly the same story with Kyle Kendrick, currently holding down that prized fifth spot in the Phillie starting rotation, if albeit precariously at the moment.
A few days ago, the Phils promoted their most prized pitching prospect, right-hander Carlos Carrasco, from Clearwater in the Florida State League to Reading. On the surface, this move might mean little other than a well deserving promotion to an outstanding young hurler. Perhaps. More likely is that the Phillie brain trust has determined that they might well be best served by looking to within the system for that elusive fifth starting pitcher.
It could still become Kendrick, if his first two starts against the White Sox and Indians were not mere mirages. Or, it could well be that Carrasco, still only 20 years of age, will become the chosen one should he dominate at Reading as he did at Clearwater this year. He is coming off of a 12-6 record at Lakewood last season and is widely considered the best prospect in the entire organization.
The Phillie Blueprint on this is already in place. Hamels, Mathieson and Kendrick have seen to that. All had success after their promotions and all are expected to become bulwarks of a strong Phillie staff heading into the second half of the early twenty first century. Along with Carlos Carrasco. T
This is a Philadelphia story well worth watching for as the team attempts to once again overcome a dreadful start and thrust themselves back firmly into the National League playoff race. Indeed, there are many stories expected to unfold as Spring bids its latest adieu and Summer quickly says hello.
Along with the renewed vigor of Ryan Howard, the continued brilliance of Chase Utley and the determined stances of Cole Hamels, the Phils attempts to bring in a fifth starting hurler like Carrasco or Greinke make this a team well worth watching right about now...just for starters.
Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to email@example.com and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast