The acquisition of Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco from the Indians, in exchange for four minor leaguers, sent waves of transactions rippling through the Phillies organization. Some interesting decisions were made, with some rather difficult choices to be made in the immediate future. The Phillies currently have six starters (for five spots in the rotation) at the major league level. With Pedro Martinez making his second (and, possibly, last?) rehab start in AAA on Friday, a seventh viable starting option is almost ready. Having seven rotational alternatives is the type of depth that most major league clubs would love to have, but with the trade deadline less than a day away, what are the Phillies going to do with this luxury of riches?
Why not go to a six-man rotation?
Would you rather aces Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee combine for 40% of the starts, or 33% of the starts? Would you like the sixth-best starter making 0% of the starts, or 16% of the starts? The starters are accustomed to pitching on every fifth day, so switching to the sixth day, at the point in the season, would be disruptive to their routines. Moving one of the six starters to the 'pen would also make the jettisoning of one of the team's weakest links (Tyler Walker?) possible.
Who will be The Chosen Ones?
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Joe Blanton are the top three. Rodrigo Lopez will, likely, be moved to the bullpen, after making his Thursday start. Pedro Martinez may be kept in AAA for another start, or two, after Friday, as much to get him more innings, as to delay the necessity of the next decision.
Does J.A. Happ, or Jamie Moyer, stay in the rotation, when Martinez is ready to return to MLB? Happ has been the Phillies' best (not including the recently-acquired Lee), and most consistent, starter this season. He also has a .254 BABIP, 83.5 LOB%, and 4.19 FIP, which all point to rough seas ahead for the young southpaw. (I'm still hoping Happ will be dealt before Friday's trade deadline, as Happ's trade value might be at a career high.) Happ started the season in the bullpen, might benefit from a reduced innings workload (166 IP in 2008, 106 IP in 2009) for the rest of the regular season, and his inevitable regression may be less painful in that role.
Jamie Moyer has had a mediocre season, though he has had better results over the past month. He has 256 career wins, no bullpen experience, and $6.5 million owed him in 2010. It doesn't seem likely that he'll be demoted to the bullpen.
Happ will, probably, be the odd man out in the regular season rotation, but Moyer will, likely, be the odd man out on the postseason roster.
(Martinez could also be used in the bullpen, but it seems likely that he will get at least a few starts, before that type of move is made. Martinez and Happ seem to be the frontrunners for the fourth, and last, spot in the postseason rotation.)
The Phillies made two roster moves on Thursday, with many more projected over the next week.
OF John Mayberry was optioned to Lehigh Valley (AAA). OF Ben Francisco was added to the Phillies' roster. Francisco gives the Phillies a right-handed hitting pinch-hitter, with enough speed to be a viable pinch-runner, and enough defensive ability to get some starts in the outfield/be used as a late-inning defensive replacement. Eric Bruntlett should spend less time on the field, as a result.
Mayberry struggled in the reserve outfielder/pinch-hitter role, and will be able to play every day in AAA.
RHP Steven Register was optioned to Lehigh Valley. LHP Cliff Lee was added to the Phillies' roster. Lee will make his first start as a Phillie on Friday, in San Francisco. Register was the weakest member of the bullpen, and had an option available, so this was an easy decision.
What moves are upcoming?
At this point, we can only make educated guesses. Such as:
August 3: LHP J.C. Romero is activated from the 15-day DL. RHP Tyler Walker is designated for assignment.
Walker is the weakest reliever remaining, and already made it through waivers, when he was DFA'd two weeks ago. He'll likely make it through again, and return to Lehigh Valley.
August 6: RHP Clay Condrey is activated from the 15-day DL. RHP Kyle Kendrick is optioned to Lehigh Valley.
The IronPigs will be glad to get Kendrick back in their patchwork rotation, which currently includes reliever Jake Woods and (should-be-AA reliever) Tyson Brummett.
August 6?: RHP Chad Durbin is activated from the 15-day DL, and designated for assignment.
Durbin is eligible to return from the DL on August 6th, but might be kept there awhile longer, so the Phillies can postpone this decision. Durbin has struggled this season, with a 5.19 FIP. Durbin's unwieldy FIP, and his $1.635 million contract, may help him get through waivers, and join Lehigh Valley. (With rosters expanding on Sept. 1, teams may be unlikely to claim Durbin, when a cheaper (and more effective?) alternative could be available in the minors.)
August 10?: RHP Pedro Martinez is promoted from Lehigh Valley. Rodrigo Lopez is designated for assignment. J.A. Happ joins the bullpen.
The Phillies might trade Lopez, or Happ, before this point. An injury (Shane Victorino?) may open a roster spot. Jamie Moyer could retire/be turned into a coach, but those options seem highly unlikely. But, as it stands right now, Lopez will, probably, get the boot, when Martinez is ready. Lopez is only making 650K, and seems to be a good bet to be picked up by another club.
How does Eric Bruntlett survive all these moves? The Phillies need a backup middle infielder. No one else on their current roster is a viable option for 2B, or SS.
Are there any open spots on the 40-Man Roster, to help facilitate roster moves?
Including Lee and Francisco, the 40-Man roster is currently full. The 40-Man includes Antonio Bastardo on the 15-day DL; he could be moved to the 60-day DL, to open a spot. Jack Taschner and Tyler Walker, AAA-quality relievers, have spots on the 40-Man. Injured Reading (AA) RHP Joe Bisenius has been on the DL since June 2, and Clearwater (A) catcher Joel Naughton is a surprising member of the 40-Man. If the Phillies want to deal J.A. Happ and/or Rodrigo Lopez for some AAA prospects, to replenish the IronPigs, finding them spots on the 40-Man shouldn't be a problem.
It's going to be a rather intriguing month of August for the Phillies. Can they hold their lead in the NL East? Can they survive without Steven Register? Stay tuned...