For the Philadelphia Phillies, a tough decision awaits on the fate of former ace Roy Halladay. As most Phillies and baseball fans know, Halladay was the best pitcher in the National League as recently as two years ago and arguably the best in the majors, both then and for a few years before that.
However, Halladay has perhaps taken one of the biggest falls from grace in the one of the shortest amounts of time of anyone in recent baseball history. Going from an ace to throwing the shortest start of his career back in his final start of the season on September 23, which lasted for just 16 pitches according to Walter Villa of MCall.com. On the season, Halladay made just 13 starts due to his shoulder injury and surgery, culminating in an unsightly 6.82 ERA.
There has been little to no precedent for such circumstances in which an ace hitting free agency isn't just an ace, but a question mark entirely. For all we know, Halladay could be back—Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. admitted that he might bring Halladay back in 2014, according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News.
In the event that he doesn't, though, here are five other players who the Phillies could sign if they do in fact let Doc Halladay walk this coming offseason.
Josh Johnson is a similar case to Roy Halladay in that Johnson was also a former ace with the Miami Marlins and has since fallen from that pedestal. Phillies fans may remember him as the opposing pitcher in Halladay's perfect game on May 29, 2010. Nevertheless, had a shoulder injury not derailed Johnson's 2011 season, he might still be the ace pitcher baseball knew back then.
It's been two years since Johnson's shutdown in mid-May, 2011 for the remainder of that season, and unfortunately for Johnson, he hasn't rebounded. After leading in ERA until his shutdown, Johnson rebounded in 2012 from the injury, going 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.
However, after being traded as part of the Marlins-Blue Jays blockbuster this past offseason, Johnson's been awful in Toronto. Making just 16 starts on the season, Johnson went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. He was shut down yet again, this time for the season, after making his final start on August 6.
Perhaps the Phillies should use Johnson's case as a comparable to that of Halladay. Then again, Johnson is only 29 years old and will be 30 years old be the start of the 2014 season, so he's got a bit more time to recover. On a one-year, incentive-laden deal, Johnson may not be the worst signing in the world. It all depends on how much he's paid.
Matt Garza has always been an intriguing pitcher. He's come to stir a lot of buzz around himself throughout his career, which has been highlighted by a no-hitter on July 26, 2010 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. Since then, he's found himself on two additional teams, and that list may see a third team added to it in 2014 (not to mention he started his career in Minnesota).
Garza is this offseason's best free agent starting pitcher, and depending on how you view the market, that's not saying all that much. On the season with both the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers, Garza has pitched to a 10-6 record with a 3.82 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
Seems a little high? Those numbers are actually right in line with his career 3.84 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, yet Garza could ink a deal of four or five years' length at an annual value of $15 million or more.
That kind of money for that kind of mediocrity is ridiculous, and the Phillies should only consider signing Garza if and only if his price tag comes down. That's a big "if" to happen, though, and Garza should be able to strike a deal of his preferred magnitude somewhere.
Dan Haren is another one of those pitchers whose recent track record reflects that of Roy Halladay. While Haren was never a bona fide ace, he was awfully close when at his best.
Prior to the 2012 season, Haren had been a force in the majors, not once spending a day on the disabled list in his career and not posting an ERA north of 4.00 since 2006. He had been one of baseball's most dependable starters, both in terms of innings count and performance.
Then came 2012, and a bad back plagued Haren for most of the season. He landed on the DL for the first time in his career and his 4.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP—then with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—were career-worsts for Haren in a full season. He thus had his contract option for 2013 declined and landed with the Washington Nationals on a one-year deal, and that hasn't worked out for either side.
Haren's a little safer than a Josh Johnson in that he's not unhealthy anymore but just ineffective. He may be too much of a headcase for the Phillies to consider, though if they do, Haren should be cheaper than the $13 million he landed this past year. He might not be a terrible option on a one-year deal, again loaded with incentives.
Unlike his predecessors in this slideshow, Ervin Santana has taken a role reversal in a positive direction in 2013. After a 2012 season as a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in which he led the majors in home runs allowed and turned in a 5.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP on the season, Santana was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the offseason for career minor league pitcher Brandon Sisk.
Since the trade, Santana has flourished with the Kansas City Royals, posting a 3.24 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 32 starts. He's been lights-out at times, and his 161 strikeouts in 211.0 innings are a nice rebound from his ugly 2012 stats.
Santana could be hailed as the best starter on the market this offseason, depending on who you ask. The problem with Santana is that it's difficult to say whether or not these improved stats are an anomaly, especially since his ERA has been below 3.92 only once before this season and never below 3.38 at the end of a season.
Considering that Angels Stadium is a hitter's park and he didn't do well there, Citizens Bank Park may not be ideal, either. Then again, Kaufmann Stadium isn't a pitcher's haven either, so it's not unfathomable to think that Santana could succeed as a Phillie. He would be a little expensive, but unlike Garza, Santana probably wouldn't be overpaid.
The last name on this list isn't as flashy as the names before him, yet Jason Hammel is as, if not more deserving of praise than anyone else on this list.
After being swapped with Matt Lindstrom for Jeremy Guthrie, then of the Colorado Rockies, in what was thought to be a trade of minor importance before the 2012 season, the Orioles found themselves a dependable starter for the year in Hammel. Although his 2012 was somewhat plagued with a knee injury, Hammel was invaluable when on the mound, pitching to an 8-6 record with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. For comparison, Guthrie failed to last the season in Colorado.
In 2013, Hammel hasn't quite been the dominant force he was in 2012, as his 7-8 record, 5.05 ERA and 1.47 WHIP would indicate. While that goes to show how quickly things change in baseball, it also shows that Hammel could be due for a bounce-back season in 2014, and perhaps the Phillies would benefit by taking a flier on Hammel.
Chances are that Hammel would sign for a two-year deal with an average annual value below the likes of $8-10 million at this point. Nevertheless, Hammel could be a good name for the Phillies to sign, as he'd be both inexpensive yet possessing enough potential to be an effective return.