If you look around the internet, you'll find that most fans aren't too impressed with GM Pat Gillick's move to acquire pitching for the second half of the season. "I have a sick feeling that Cardenas will prove to be another Ryne Sandberg. One of several HOFs that the Phillies dealt off for less than reasonable return," said one poster. On Ashburn's, the official message board of Philly Baseball News, one poster described the deal this way: "Giving up two of your top 4 prospects is not good for a guy whose ERA is 5.0, in a pitchers ballpark. Dumb trade."
So, first of all, can Joe Blanton help the Phillies rotation? Yes. That is as long as he replaces Adam Eaton in the rotation and the Phillies don't do something stupid like moving Kyle Kendrick to the minors to fit Blanton into his spot. Eaton has been a drain on the Phillies and his good starts are far too few to make him anything near an option to help the Phillies down the stretch. If nothing else, Blanton at least gives the Phillies a replacement for Eaton who will eat up some innings. In his 20 starts this season, Blanton has pitched six or more innings in 16 of those games and went 5.2 innings in two of the other starts. Plus, the Phillies average nearly a run more per game than Oakland, giving Blanton a better chance to stick around deep into games. In fact, the A's offense seemed to go dormant when Blanton was on the mound, placing him in the bottom ten pitchers in the American League in run support. Blanton has thrown some pretty decent numbers on the board against National League teams, going 7-5 with a 4.09 ERA in 15 games. The most impressive numbers came against the Mets, who he has faced twice in his career and has thrown 15 shutout innings against. In his 15 interleague games, Blanton has averaged just over six innings per start. Pitching in Citizens Bank Park, one major concern is always home runs and Blanton figures pretty well in that category, allowing just one home run over every 11 innings that he pitches. When you compare Blanton's numbers to those of Eaton, it's easy to see that the Phillies upgraded their rotation in this deal.
"I feel like one of my bigger strengths is that I'm a guy who goes out and grabs the ball every start," said Blanton on a conference call after the trade. "I'm a guy that wants to stay out there as long as they'll let me go. I definitely like to feel that I build as the season goes."
If Adrian Cardenas truly does turn into Ryne Sandberg, then Blanton would have to turn into Ferguson Jenkins - yes, we had to bring up that name - to make this deal worthwhile. As he continues to progress, Cardenas will creep closer and closer to the top of the rankings of the best prospects not just in one organization, but in all of baseball; yes, he figures to be that good. For their part though, the Phillies were dealing somewhat from a position of strength when they put Cardenas into the equation, because Chase Utley is signed through 2013 and the Phillies also have Brad Harman - who is a solid second base prospect, although not as highly regarded as Cardenas - at Double-A Reading. Outman has the potential to be at least a middle-of-the-rotation starter and possibly higher, should he develop well in the next season or two. The Phillies put him in the bullpen earlier this season and he was starting to excel as a reliever, but word is that Oakland will put him back in the rotation, which is likely a smart move. As for Spencer, he appears to be somewhat of a throw-in on the deal and while he has a lot of potential, he was starting to slide down the Phillies list of prospects as the season wore on and nobody is too concerned that the Phillies included him as part of the package.
So, did the Phillies overpay for Blanton? One big selling point on Blanton is that he's under the Phillies control through the 2010 season, so they aren't just getting a rental, it's more like a rent-to-own option since there's plenty of time to sign him long-term should the Phillies decide to go that route. At $3.7 million, Blanton isn't exactly cheap and he's arbitration eligible, so there's no telling what could happen to his salary in the next two off-seasons. When you compare this deal with recent deals made by Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs to acquire pitching, it appears that the Phillies gave up pretty much. The Brewers gave up Matt LaPorta and pitchers Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson along with a player to be named later for CC Sabathia. While LaPorta is a better prospect than Cardenas, Bryson isn't as strong as Outman and Jackson and Spencer are somewhat of a wash. Depending on who the player to be named later is, the Phillies certainly didn't get the value that the Brewers did in the Sabathia deal, although he could turn out to be a rental since he's eligible for free agency after this season. As for Oakland's deal that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs, Chicago gave up right-hander Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton, infielder Eric Patterson and catcher Josh Donaldson to get Harden, who is signed through next season. Gallagher is a highly regarded prospect and ranks favorably with Cardenas, although pitching is always at a premium. Murton is a fourth outfielder type player, while Patterson and Donaldson are good prospects, but not outstanding, although some scouts believe Donaldson could be a sleeper part of this deal for Oakland. It's worth pointing out that the deal with Chicago also cost the A's reliever Chad Gaudin and it should also be noted that Harden has struggled through injury problems in his career, while Blanton has not. Still, it's likely going to turn out that the Phillies gave up more quality in their deal for Blanton than either the Cubs or Brewers did for pitchers who could be considered superior to Blanton. Certainly, Sabathia is a better addition than Blanton, but if he exits via free agency, the Brewers farm system took a substantial hit.
Let's bottom line this thing...
The Phillies gave up a lot, but "hello", you have to give up something to get something and the Phillies needed another starter who can give them innings and the Phillies acknowledge that they had to give up a lot. "Looking to the future, anytime we're moving guys that we view as good potential big-leaguers, you like to have someone coming back that you feel is going to be part of things and help us accomplish what we want to accomplish over the next couple years," said assistant GM Mike Arbuckle. The good news is that they dealt from a position of strength, giving up a second baseman who was likely to have a hard time breaking through the Chase Utley blockade and a young pitcher, which is also a position that the Phillies have some strength in through the minor league system. This is likely Jamie Moyer's final season in the majors and Carlos Carrasco, J.A. Happ and Antonio Bastardo, just to name a few are all knocking on the door to the majors. If you start next season with Eaton and Moyer out of the rotation and you have Blanton and one of the young guys to plug in, you've kept your rotation strong and made it much younger. By the way, with Happ coming along and Cole Hamels already in the rotation, would the Phillies have looked to add a third left-hander to the rotation? Not likely, which is one reason why shipping out Outman makes some sense.
The Phillies gave up a little too much in this deal, but the truth is that now was the right time to move and prices are only going to go up as the trade deadline approaches. After all, if the Mets had gotten Blanton, we'd all be screaming about how we could have offered a better package than they did and why didn't we move on the deal? Now, the Mets are somewhat behind the eight ball and don't have much left in the farm system to make an impact trade, because they shipped out a lot of talent to get Johan Santana. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, we've gotten a pretty good pitcher and still have plenty more bullets in the barrel to pursue other players at the deadline. "We're still going to continue to look," he said. "As we've said all along, we're looking to continue to improve the club in whatever ways we can do it, as long as it makes sense. Our view is that it has to be something that improves us. We're not going to make moves just to make moves," noted Arbuckle.