Five Questions Facing The Phillies

The All-Star Break provides teams the opportunity to address some issues and consider what answers they may come up with in the second-half of the season. Here are five key questions that the Phillies will need to answer.

1. What do we do with the starting rotation?

The Phillies didn't figure to be worrying about Brett Myers spot in the starting rotation. It figured that Myers and Cole Hamels gave them a strong one-two punch at the top of the rotation and that Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick were at least able to hold their own lower in the rotation. They did, however, have concerns about Adam Eaton and those concerns have played out much the way many fans thought that they would. On the upside, there's J.A. Happ, who filled in admirably when Myers was sent to the minors for a refresher course in pitching. In fact, he filled in well enough that the Phillies have to seriously think about fitting him into the rotation somewhere and Eaton's spot would figure to be the most likely spot for him to fill.

Myers had an impressive outing last Friday night, but you have to keep in mind that he was facing Double-A hitters. Confidence wise though, maybe it was a good thing for him and perhaps it will help him to turn things around at higher levels. It's likely that Myers will pitch Friday for Lehigh Valley and if all goes well, he'll be ready to return to the majors. Before the break, Happ was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to stay on something close to a regular schedule and he's scheduled to start for the 'Pigs on Thursday when they play Scranton at Coca-Cola Park. They could put Happ back into the Major League rotation either next Tuesday or Wednesday when the Phillies are in New York for a three-game series. Of course, putting both Myers and Happ into the rotation would mean somebody else would have to exit. So, do they keep either Happ or Myers in the minors or do they find something else to do with Eaton? To send Eaton to Triple-A, he would have to give the same consent that Myers did and there's no guarantee that he would do that. The Phillies could look to trade him, but the market for a 3-8 pitcher with a 5.71 ERA is small and the market for one with nearly $13 million in guaranteed money over this year and next is even smaller. Release him? Eating that chunk of money wouldn't go down easy, but maybe it's the best thing. After all, it might go down easier than paying him all that money and having him hold back the team from winning the division or even getting to the playoffs.

Actually, the Phillies could go with four starters until their July 26 meeting with Atlanta, so the fact that they've only got four starters on their roster right now isn't much of an issue. The fact is though that Happ should be able to do at least what Eaton has done for the Phillies and Myers should be able to return to form once he gets his head on straight, so the rotation should get better if they were to put both in the rotation. Of course, there's always the possibility of a trade, but again, the question of what to do with Adam Eaton is going to be a tough one to answer.

2. What do we do with the bullpen?

Tom Gordon has made his annual pilgrimage to the disabled list and there's no telling how he's going to be in the second-half of the season. Plus, there's only one bona fide left-hander in the bullpen, leaving a bit of a gap. The old Myers to the bullpen plan should be kept in play, since he responded well last season and might make an excellent compliment to Brad Lidge, who the Phillies can thank for losing home field advantage for them if they get to the World Series, but that's another story. Myers and Lidge in the back of the 'pen could be impressive, with either being able to close if someone is a little tired, plus, it would open a spot in the rotation, which we talked about earlier. And if Gordon is able to give anything down the stretch, it's all a plus. If Myers were to again be successful in the bullpen, it could open a wide option of trade opportunities for the Phillies during the off-season since teams are always looking for closers and he would have had some success in late inning relief.

As for a left-hander, it's likely that the Phillies are going to have to pull off a trade. The only minor league option would likely be Stephen Randolph (2-0, 2.22 in 20 games with Lehigh Valley) or possibly Les Walrond (3-7, 3.32 in 14 starts with Lehigh Valley). Both have worked as relievers in the past, although neither has had success in their short Major League opportunities and Walrond has a well expressed desire to remain a starter. After that, there's Josh Outman, who has been adapting to life in the bullpen for Double-A Reading, but isn't really positioned well to make the jump and take over a key spot in the Phillies bullpen. The Reds Jeremy Affeldt (3.91 ERA in 47 games) might be an option and is thought to be available.

3. Which Ryan Howard shows up?

Ryan Howard's average sank as low as .163 this season when he was in the throws of a horrid slump in early May. Coming into July, he was hitting .215 and has raised that to .234 with huge numbers in the early going this month. If Howard were to hit at the pace that he has over the past month, he would finish the season with a 55-157-.234 line. While the average should be higher, there's no arguing with the power numbers or the runs that he would drive in for the Phillies. The question is, will he be the same hitter that he has been over the past month or will he be somewhat less and finish with more pedestrian type numbers? Howard's career numbers seem to point to him staying hot as he is the type of hitter that is generally just as hot as the weather and with the dog days of August not too far away, things should be bright for Mr. Howard.

4. Can Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley return to MVP form?

You certainly can't get on Chase Utley for the numbers that he's put up this season, but you do have to admit that he's fallen off the torrid pace that he was setting early on this season. At one point, it seemed a definite that he would give the Phillies their third straight MVP winner, but now, others have closed the gap and Utley is going to have to reclaim his bragging rights to the MVP heir apparent. Nobody has the right to expect that Utley will hit .352 like he did in April, but we do have the right to expect him to hit more than the .261 (66-for-253) that he's hit since that first month of the season. Utley came into the season as a career .300 hitter in the majors and the Phillies will need those types of numbers from him to help carry the offense more in the second-half. If he and Howard could get hot at the same time, there's no telling how much this offense could do and even Adam Eaton could win ballgames.

As for Rollins, he's coming off a career year that saw him win the NL MVP last season. Again, there's no figuring that he's going to put up those same types of numbers, but his 6-31-.274 line is off of where the Phillies will need him to be, especially since he's the guy that gets the offense going. Rollins and Victorino have combined for 46 stolen bases, which is good, but they're capable of swiping more bases and being better table setters for Utley, Howard and Pat Burrell.

5. Who's the trade bait and who do we get in return?

Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett appear to be the two biggest targets for the Phillies right now. Either would be a nice addition, but the price could be steep for either of them, especially since they're not two of the biggest names on the market and teams are going to get more and more desperate as the trade deadline approaches. Everybody keeps asking for Carlos Carrasco and the Phillies keep saying "no"; will they blink and put him into a deal if they become one of the truly desperate teams? One theory is that Happ's successful, but short, stint in the majors might have been enough of a showcase for teams to consider him instead of Carrasco. After all, if the Phillies would part with Happ, who now looks Major League ready, and another prospect, the end result might actually be more than getting Carrasco. So now, in the poker game that is the MLB, do the Phillies return Happ to the majors and hope he can add on more strong numbers or do they keep him tucked safely at Triple-A Lehigh Valley?

The Phillies will also have to consider names like Lou Marson, Adrian Cardenas and Jason Donald. All three players are close to untouchable, but the Phillies could be convinced to include them in the right deal. Odds are that they'll push names like Jason Jaramillo and Brad Harman as alternatives to the bigger name prospects.



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