The deal to bring Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco to the Phillies appears to be a good move by the Phillies to bolster their starting rotation. While Cliff Lee isn't Roy Halladay, he's close enough for what the Phillies needed on their staff and gives them a slightly younger and much cheaper starter, leaving money and prospects to spend on other players if they deem it necessary. Halladay has already turned 32 and Lee turns 31 at the end of August, plus is going to make substantially more ($9 million to $15.75 million) than what Halladay will next season. And, the Phillies didn't have to turn over any of the four prized players - Kyle Drabek, J.A. Happ, Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor - that Toronto wanted in the deal.
Make no mistake, the Phillies did have to turn over some good young players, with Jason Knapp, likely being the one with the highest ceiling. The 18 year old right-hander was a strikeout machine at Lakewood before the Phillies played things extremely cautiously with Knapp and shut him down when he came up with what was basically described as a sore arm. The precautionary MRI showed no damage, but the Phillies weren't about to take a chance on pitching him into an injury and have held him out for the past couple of weeks. All accounts are that Knapp is fine and should be able to move quickly through the Indians system, but rest assured that they'll be checking those medical records with the best of microscopes, considering that Knapp is the centerpiece of the deal as far as Cleveland is concerned.
Carlos Carrasco will likely benefit by a change of scenery. The tools are all there, but he needs a new voice to get in his head and stress the need to concentrate and get him to bear down for every pitch. If the Indians can do that, they've got themselves a young pitcher who can pitch near the top of the rotation and he's still just 22, only eight months older than Drabek.
|The Phillies not only added a starter to their rotation, but may have found the right-handed bat they need to bring off the bench in Ben Francisco.|
(Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
The Phillies also surrendered shortstop Jason Donald and catcher Lou Marson in the deal. Donald, just off the DL, is likely going to be a super-sub type player in the majors. The Phillies have tested him some at both second and third and he should be able to float to any of the three spots that he's played this season at Lehigh Valley. The only question is whether his bat will come alive and if he'll hit enough to be an everyday player. As for Marson, while his bat was dead early in the season, he had come alive over the past couple of months and is hitting .333 since June first. He has also gotten much better at throwing out runners and has always been impressive at handling pitchers, calling games and every other defensive part of the game. Plus, Marson is the only one of the players going to Cleveland that has actually seen the light of day in the majors, spending time with the Phillies both last September and earlier this season while Carlos Ruiz was on the DL. That major league time could prove important, since the next player rumored out of Cleveland is catcher Victor Martinez.
It also shouldn't be forgotten that the Phillies are getting Ben Francisco from Cleveland. Francisco will give them a right-handed bat with some power to bring off the bench, which is something the Phillies have been looking for since spring training. Over his career, Francisco has averaged one home run for every 29.2 at-bats. The 27 year old Francisco is hitting .250 with 10 home runs in 308 at-bats this season for Cleveland. Coming off the bench hasn't exactly been a specialty for Francisco, who is a career .176 (3-for-17) hitter when he's being used as a pinch-hitter and he's only hit .193 (22-for-114) against National League pitching in his career. Just the fact that he's been around the majors though makes him a better option off the bench than John Mayberry Jr. who has been handling that role for the Phillies and is hitting just .189 (10-for-53) with the Phillies. However, when you look at Mayberry's pinch-hitting numbers this season, he's hitting .222 (2-for-9) with a home run, slightly better than his overall numbers in the majors.
Let's bottom line this thing... While Phillies fans don't want to hear about saving money or not having the money to spend on a particular player, the fact that Lee is so much cheaper than Halladay is good news for the Phillies. When you add up what they would have spent on Halladay over this season and next, they're saving about $11 million by going with Lee. That money could be put toward possibly re-signing Pedro Feliz or signing another third baseman for next season, beefing up the bullpen and possibly even help pay for some of the pay increases that will be going to players like Joe Blanton. It would also give them the flexibility to pursue dealing for relief help for this season, if they want to reinforce that back end of the bullpen that has seen Brad Lidge struggle greatly at times.
The fact that they didn't deal any of their "big four" prospects also keeps the Phillies options open if they want to pursue another player either now, next month or during the off-season.
The bottom line is that in one move, Ruben Amaro Jr. improved the starting rotation and found an upgrade as a right-handed hitter to bring off the bench and it didn't cost him any of the prospects that have flirted with that untouchable tag that gets thrown around so much. So, if we assume the Blue Jays would have blinked and accepted Carrasco, Drabek, Donald and Taylor, did the Phillies get a better deal with Cleveland than they would have with Toronto? Yes. The deal with Toronto would have cost them more than the one with Cleveland and they don't need a pitcher better than Lee to round out their rotation. Yes, Halladay is better, but the Phillies still have their core of prospects together, meaning that they have help on the way from the minors in the near future, which they wouldn't have had with the loss of Drabek and Taylor.
So, now what? Well, the big question is this; if Cliff Lee is joining the rotation, who's leaving? It would seem pretty stupid to take potential Rookie of the Year candidate J.A. Happ out of the rotation, even though he did pitch effectively out of the bullpen earlier in the season. Rest assured that Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton aren't candidates to exit, so that leaves Rodrigo Lopez and Jamie Moyer. Being the elder statesman that he is and citing the fact that Moyer believes - and his recent outings prove - that he's fixing some mechanical issues that have plagued him and he likely doesn't deserve to head for the bullpen. And Lopez isn't too far removed from an arm injury and might not be physically suited to pitch in relief, but if he's exposed to waivers, it's very possible that another club would put in a claim and the Phillies would lose him.
One solution is this; Lopez goes on the DL, since after all, he did have a sore arm just before the All-Star Break. After August 1, the Phillies send him on a "rehab" assignment to Lehigh Valley, where he could spend 30 days and then be activated after the rosters expand in September. That would allow the Phillies to both put him on the post-season roster, if needed, and give them a shot at re-signing him as insurance for next season, if he's willing.
It will be interesting to see if the Phillies allow themselves to keep four left-handers - Hamels, Moyer, Happ and Lee - in the starting rotation.
Francisco will join the club and Mayberry will exit back to Lehigh Valley, likely to return after September 1. Mayberry got some time in the majors and didn't put up big numbers, but did at least get his feet wet, which can only help a young player to gain some confidence and learn what it's going to take for him to succeed in the major leagues.
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs really take a hit in this deal though. They lose a starting pitcher, their starting shortstop and their starting catcher. This could be the time for Kyle Drabek to make the jump to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take Carrasco's place in the rotation. They'll have a tough time finding a strong catching candidate to promote, but Paul Hoover can handle the starting job at Lehigh Valley. As for replacing Donald, with Cairo able to play at short and J.J. Furmaniak able to handle second, the Phillies won't have to find much of a replacement to promote from Double-A Reading.
Is another move possible? Absolutely. Again, keep in mind that the Phillies still have a few bucks to spend and they also have a strong group of prospects remaining in the organization. They've talked to Baltimore about closer George Sherrill and could ask San Diego about Heath Bell. There is also the question of Eric Bruntlett and potentially finding a replacement for him. While they're apparently not going to give Miguel Cairo [4-26-.296] at Lehigh Valley a shot at playing in the majors again this season, perhaps they could find a replacement for Bruntlett and his .127 (10-for-79) average. Plus, they still have almost two full days to swing a deal and another month to use waiver deals to get more pieces to the puzzle.