Ever since the Philadelphia Phillies signed free-agent left-hander Cliff Lee in December, rumors have been flying about the city of Philadelphia regarding the status of interim right-handed starter, Joe Blanton.
Set to make $17 million over the course of the next two seasons, should the Phillies explore a trade for their fifth starter—or is he better served in their rotation?
To make things short and sweet, Blanton is better off wearing a Philly uniform, at least for the 2011 season.
Giving a quick survey of the trade market, the last of his suitors that would be willing to take on his contract in full seemingly went off the board when the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins signed free-agent right handers Brad Penny and Carl Pavano, respectively, and the Washington Nationals acquired former Chicago Cubs' starter, Tom Gorzelanny.
Now, trading Blanton becomes a counter-productive scenario. In order for the Phillies to move him, their trading partner will require that they pay a portion of his salary. To do that, the Phillies would require a prospect in return. That seemingly removes potential suitors like the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles from the equation.
If they are forced to pay a large sum of Blanton's contract, what is the point in trading him? They are better served paying him to be the fifth starter in Philadelphia rather than the third or fourth starter with another team.
Though Ruben Amaro is the type of general manager that likes to dwell in the shadows until the last possible moment, using smokescreens and sly tactics as a plot to operate in his own style this time, he may be telling the truth—he's not comfortable trading Blanton because his options have run dry.
The need for an expensive, middle-of-the-rotation right hander just isn't all that great.
So what can the Phillies do to shed payroll? After all, as Ken Rosenthal of FOXsports.com first reported, the Phillies will need to create some payroll flexibility in case they need to make a spur of the moment trade at the trade deadline.
And trading another right-handed starting pitcher, Kyle Kendrick, could become a top priority for the Phillies.
At first glance, the now-former fifth starter seems to have little trade value. In 2010, Kendrick made 31 starts for the Phillies, posting a record of 11-10 to go along with an ERA of 4.73.
Kendrick is an extreme "pitch to contact" pitcher, as he posted the lowest strikeout rate (4.18 K/9) among qualifying starting pitchers. Though he showed relatively good control, he also showed that he was prone to the home run, and his ground-ball rate had decreased from the year prior.
Though his win total is a product of extremely high run support (he finished second in baseball in this category, with the Phillies' offense averaging a whopping 8.47 runs per Kendrick's starts), he has shown a number of positive tendencies as well.
Though he has a tough time striking hitters out, he posted a good BB/9 of 2.44, and the opposition hit .277 against him. His greatest strength, however, may be his durability.
In three full season with the Phillies (in 2009, he appeared in just nine major league games), he has logged 483.2 innings, starting 83 games and never missing significant time with injury.
Kendrick, who was eligible for arbitration this off-season, settled on a $2.45 million contract with the Phillies, who now have two viable options for the 26-year-old right hander—move him to the bullpen or trade him.
Surprisingly enough, there would be a role for Kendrick in the Phillies' bullpen.
He would become the long reliever, and push the interim long reliever, David Herndon, to Triple-A. With a rotation that features inning eaters Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, Kendrick would see very few innings in 2011—which overall, may be a good thing.
He would be available for a spot-start should that situation present itself, and in the event of an injury, provide the Phillies with valuable depth. However, they could choose to use him differently out of the bullpen as well.
Though a "specialist" usually denotes a tough left-handed reliever, Kendrick could become a "right-handed specialist" of sorts. Though his numbers against right-handed hitters aren't all too flashy, they are remarkably better than those against left-handed hitters.
Kendrick's sinker is particularly tough against right-handed hitters (50.5 percent ground-ball rate), and in total, they managed to hit just .247 against him. Using him against select right-handed hitters isn't all that impossible to fathom.
However, the Phillies may be able to receive more value out of Kendrick in a trade.
Earlier in the week, the Detroit Tigers established a market precedent for a pitcher like Kendrick, when they traded Armando Galarraga to the Arizona Diamondbacks for fringe prospects, Kevin Eichorn and Ryan Robowski.
Galarraga, 29, is widely regarded as a very similar pitcher to Kedrick.
In 2010, despite pitching a perfect game (we can save that debate for another time), he posted a mediocre record of 4-9, with an ERA of 4.49 and compiled similar strikeout, walk, and home run rates.
In all fairness, Kendrick is actually the more proven, established pitcher.
According to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, a "handful" of teams showed interest in Galarraga before the Diamondbacks acquired him. Though the D'backs are probably off the board, there would be interest in a very similar pitcher in Kendrick.
So if the Phillies really wanted to move Kendrick, they would be justified in receiving a couple of fringe prospects for the right-hander. Moving his salary, however, (Galarraga is due to make $2.3 million) could be another issue.
So where do the Phillies stand with Kendrick? Before the trade deadline last season, the Phillies seemed to have lost all hope in the former promising starter. After a falling out with pitching coach, Rich Dubee, the Phillies designated Kendrick for assignment, only to recall him just a day later because of an injury.
While that depth can never be a bad thing, the Phillies have other starting pitchers that they can turn to in the event of an injury in 2011.
Before the Phillies signed Lee, people around the city of Philadelphia were calling for 23-year-old right hander, Vance Worley, to be given a chance in the rotation.
In 13 innings with the big league club last season, he displayed good control and the ability to strike hitters out, posting a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 1.38 (3.16 FIP).
Other pitchers that could start games for the Phillies in the event of an injury include David Herndon, who posted a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 4.30 out of the bullpen last season and prospects including Drew Carpenter, Drew Naylor, JC Ramirez and, if necessary, Antonio Bastardo.
Though they aren't currently on the Phillies' 40-man roster, pitchers Nate Bump, Michael Stutes and Michael Schwimmer could all make spot starts for the Phillies in 2011.
So, the depth is there. The Phillies must make a decision on whether they want to keep Kendrick in the system "just in case," or if they are better served by moving his contract and receiving a couple of decent prospects in return.
Moving Kendrick may not create the same wiggle room that moving Blanton would, but his time in Philadelphia has run short.
In the long run, a trade may be beneficial for both Kendrick and the Phillies.