At one point in history, the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates had a steaming hot rivalry not all that unlike the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox rivalry that has spanned baseball history.
In the mid-to-late 1970s, two of the National League's best teams and perennial contenders were the Phillies and the Pirates. Thanks to proximity in geography, there was a burning passion for each of the teams.
If you were a fan in Philadelphia, you absolutely hated the Pirates, and the adverse was true as well for residents of the Steel City.
"During the 1970s, a total of only three teams won the National League East—the Pirates won it six times, the Phillies won it three times and the New York Mets won it once. In all three of the Phillies' title seasons, the Pirates would finish breathing down their necks in second place."
That rivalry has long since died out.
Though it is due to many factors, modern-day scheduling has the Phillies and Pirates meeting on an average of six times per season, and with the fact that the Phillies have trumped the National League East over the latter half of the last decade and the Pirates have finished with 18 consecutive losing seasons, the memories of those old rivalries are just that: memories.
However, that won't stop the two teams from matching up for a trade.
When the Phillies shocked the baseball world by signing free agent left-hander Cliff Lee, it wasn't a surprise to learn that right-hander Joe Blanton almost immediately became expendable. Rumors had the Phillies and Red Sox discussing a potential deal well into the night before the Phillies signed Lee, but that deal fell through.
In fact, many baseball executives believe that the Phillies won't move Blanton unless they find the right deal for them, since the backloading of Lee's deal (he'll only make $11 million in 2011) gives them some breathing room in the payroll.
So what do the Phillies need, and how do the Pirates make sense?
Before signing Lee and still hereafter, the Phillies have a glaring vacancy in the lineup left by the departure of right fielder Jayson Werth. Though the Phillies made him a fair offer, and general manager Ruben Amaro joked that he could have remained with the team had he accepted arbitration, Werth signed with the division rival Washington Nationals for a mega deal of seven years and $126 million.
Though the Phillies continue to reassure their fanbase that they are comfortable with their options in right field, which as of now will be some combination of Domonic Brown, Ross Gload and Ben Francisco, Werth's production will not be easily replaced.
In a year in which most of the lineup was plagued by injury, Werth was able to stay healthy in 2010 and would go on to put up a .296/.388/.532 slash line, good for a career high .921 OPS. Though he struggled mightily with runners in scoring position, Werth blasted 27 home runs and drove in 97 runs.
The production of the Phillies' trio of candidates in 2010? Well, let's just say that they weren't as good. They'll look for an affordable upgrade there.
The key word, of course, is "affordable."
The Phillies have a ton of money committed to their payroll in 2011, and the major reason they're looking to deal Blanton in the first place is to clear some of that capital. Though Blanton is owed $17 million over the course of the next two years, he is an affordable commodity to a team that craves starting pitching.
When discussing Blanton, the word "serviceable" comes up often. Though he's not a top of the rotation arm, he is a valuable option for any rotation. In a full, healthy season, Blanton is going to log close to 200 innings and feature a FIP right around 4.30. He won't win a Cy Young Award, but he will help a team win games.
The Phillies may have a valuable trade chip, but what do the Pirates have, and why would the Phillies be interested?
Ryan Doumit. The former catcher was forced to move to right field when the Pirates acquired Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder at the trade deadline last season, and Doumit was not thrilled about losing his starting catching job.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Doumit had this to say about the trade: "I was shocked, obviously. I didn't know how to interpret it. He's a starting catcher type guy. I'm a starting catcher type guy. I didn't know what to think of it. You know, obviously, I want to play. I want to play every day. I think I'm an everyday major leaguer and...I don't know. I'm still kind of taken aback by it."
Obviously, Doumit was not happy from being moved out from behind the plate, and he had every right to be upset. After he hit .318/.357/.501 with 15 HRs behind the plate for the Pirates in 2008, they rewarded him with a three-year, $11.5 million contract in the offseason, seemingly locking up their catcher.
The deal, which included club options for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, made the acquisition of Chris Snyder, who hit just .231/.352/.426 for the D-Backs before being shipped to the Pirates, seem questionable, to say the least. Speculation surrounding the deal was that the Pirates were concerned with Doumit's health behind the plate.
Though Doumit's 2010 numbers over the past two seasons have been somewhat disappointing, a move off a weak Pirates team and a solidified role in the lineup may do wonders for him.
For example, Roy Oswalt was in much the same situation with the Astros in 2010. During the first half of the season, with Houston, Oswalt was 6-12 with an ERA of 3.42. After being traded to Philadelphia, a revitalized Oswalt went 7-1, posting an incredible ERA of just 1.74, making a case for Cy Young consideration and finishing sixth. Could a change of scenery and a spot in right field be just what Doumit needs?
It's possible, and the Pirates, who are in desperate need of starting pitching, could use Blanton as well.
As it stands on Dec. 17, 2010, the projected ace of the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates staff is James McDonald. The 23-year-old McDonald was part of a Pirates staff that finished in dead last in many major pitching stat categories in 2010, including ERA, wins, complete games, innings pitched and batting average against.
Joe Blanton, who could easily take the mantle as the ace of that weak staff, could be an interesting option for the struggling Pirates.
Could a deal take place?
It's a very likely possibility, assuming that each team is willing to bargain. The Phillies will try to move as much money as possible. Blanton will be owed $17 million guaranteed dollars over the next two years, and Doumit, on the other hand, will be owed $5.6 million, including his buyout, over just one guaranteed year in 2011.
The Phillies will need to pitch in a good sum of money for the Pirates to take on Blanton. They aren't going to take on $11.4 million in a rebuilding phase without a significant return. On the same token, the Pirates may be much more interested in Phillies prospects than Blanton and will only accept him to facilitate a deal. They'll have to take borderline prospects and not top-of-the-line, projectable prospects.
So it's not the perfect match, but it is a deal that could work well for both sides. Blanton, who is expendable because of the Phillies' quartet of aces, could find a new home in Pittsburgh, where Doumit, who has become expendable by the recent acquisitions of Chris Snyder and Lyle Overbay and who will push Garrett Jones back out into right field, will find limited playing time.
If the trade is made and Doumit meets his great 2008 and down 2010 seasons in the middle, the Phillies will have turned an extra arm in that monstrous rotation into a switch-hitting outfielder with decent pop, the potential to hit for average and protection in the bottom half of the order. Not a bad deal. As always, though, dollars rule the day.
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