Philadelphia Phillies: Is There Any Point in Keeping Their Minor League "Aces"?

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Philadelphia Phillies: Is There Any Point in Keeping Their Minor League
Jarred Cosart, the Phillies' 3rd-top prospect and the 43rd-overall top prospect, pitching at Single-A Lakewood for the Blue Claws.

As we all know, the Philadelphia Phillies have one of, if not the best, pitching rotations in MLB history on paper. With the exception of Roy Oswalt due to his leave of absence and eventual DL stint, the Phillies' staff of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and their fifth starter (who this year has been either Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick, or Vance Worley) has, for the most part, been fantastic.

According to ESPN, this season, the Phils have the second-lowest ERA in the majors at 3.09, just four points behind the Atlanta Braves, whose team ERA stands at 3.05. They lead the majors in fewest walks allowed, with 179, and in strikeouts, with 555. They also lead in quality starts, with 46, and complete games, with six. Lastly, they are in the top five in innings pitched (634.0) and the top six in opponents' batting average (.245).

In brief, the Phillies' pitching staff has been absolutely dominant this year.

Some of the Phillies' pitchers are also locked up for the long-term. According to Cot's, Halladay is owed $60 million through the 2013 season ($20 million a year).

Halladay also has a vesting option for an additional $20 million in 2014. His option vests if he pitches for either 225 innings in 2013 or for 415 innings from 2012-2013, and Halladay cannot be on the disabled list at the end of the 2013 season. If he is able to meet all said requirements, Halladay will pocket an extra $20 million.

In addition, recently re-signed free-agent Cliff Lee is due more money than Halladay. Although Lee is only making $11 million this season, his salary jumps to $21.5 million in 2012, then to $25 million from 2013 to 2015.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Lee also has a vesting option in 2016, worth a staggering $27.5 million. It vests if Lee pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 innings from 2014 to 2015. Additionally, Lee must not be on the disabled list at the end of the 2015 season, specifically with an injury to his left elbow or shoulder. Even if Lee doesn't meet the requirements, he is still paid a $12.5 million buyout.

Meanwhile, fifth starter Joe Blanton is also owed $17 million through 2012, and in the state of the Phillies' current rotation and the amount of money he is due, Blanton isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Roy Oswalt, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Astros last year for J.A. Happ, Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose, has a mutual option for next year worth $16 million. If either he or the Phillies declines the option, he receives a $2 million buyout.

And last, but certainly not least, there's Cole Hamels. As a Super Two player, he will receive an added fourth year of arbitration eligibility this coming offseason. Seeing as how Hamels has been dominant this year, he could come at a high price unless the Phillies lock him up long term before then. Even so, he won't be cheap.

Well, after describing all those contracts, you're probably wondering why they're even relevant to the title of this article. I'll bet you also looked at the title again after reading the last sentence, though I'm not going to bet my life savings on it.

I'll tell you why it's relevant: the Phillies have four fantastic starting pitchers (who have been dubbed in the past as the team's "baby aces") in their minor league system at the moment.

Which minor league ace should the Phillies try to trade?

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The baby aces are: Jarred Cosart (currently ranked as the 43rd-best overall prospect and as the team's third-best prospect,) Brody Colvin (currently Phillies' fourth-best prospect,) Jesse Biddle (Phillies' 2010 first-round draft pick and team's sixth-best prospect) and Trevor May (currently team's seventh-best prospect).

What does this mean?

It means the Phils have a huge crop of starting pitchers in their farm system, and, more importantly, the Phils might not have a lot of room in their rotation for all four of these pitchers.

Here's the Phillies' outlook for the future: They have Halladay and Lee locked up at least past 2013, Blanton through 2012, and unless the Phillies unexpectedly don't have Cole Hamels in a few years, he'll be here, too.

With at least the top two spots in the rotation occupied for at least two more seasons, the Phillies won't have a need for four starting pitchers. While it's unfortunate, as they all rank in the Phillies' top ten and are all projected to make the majors by 2013 (with the exception of Biddle, whose ETA is a year later), the Phillies most likely won't need all of them.

All are currently at Single A-Advanced Clearwater Threshers, except for Biddle, who is at Single-A Lakewood BlueClaws.

This season, in 11 games started, Cosart is 6-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 56 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .216 against him. Not bad.

Jesse Biddle pitching at the GCL. Photo taken by Joe Wombough.

After pitching in eight games this season (seven started), Colvin is 0-2 with a 4.70 ERA and 31 strikeouts. Opponents are batting .259 against him. He was on the 7-Day DL from April 11 to May 13, which accounts for the lack of starts. 

This year, May has started 13 games and is 4-4 with a 3.55 ERA and 88 strikeouts. Other teams are batting .220 against May this year. That's pretty good, too.

Lastly, Biddle is 3-6 this season in 13 starts with a 4.03 ERA and 60 strikeouts, with the opposition batting .232 against him. That's decent, given this is his first full year.

Of these four pitchers, Cosart is clearly the most dominant. May seems to be second in line, and he has been striking out many batters as well. Biddle is okay, but he needs more time to develop.

Colvin, having been on the DL with a back injury for roughly a month, is a little more difficult to judge. After all, injuries can always persist later, and if his back continues to be a problem throughout the season, Colvin could face a serious fallback. 

With all this minor league starting pitcher stock, the Phillies most likely won't need all four. When a baseball team (in this case the Phillies) doesn't need or want players anymore, they do one of two things: they either cut them, or they trade them for other prospects or current talent.

Well, one thing's for sure: The Phillies won't be dropping any Top 10 prospects any time soon. By process of elimination, that leaves one option available—trades.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Phillies general manager Rubén Amaro, Jr. has recently stated that he plans on making no high-profile trades at the deadline this year, if any moves at all.

Knowing him, however, this could easily change when July rolls around.

It looks like Amaro is getting ready for the deadline early this year, as he's designated lefty reliever J.C. Romero for assignment to make room for Vance Worley.

Worley is expected to start Saturday night against the Mariners in Seattle. Protocol in such a case means that Amaro must trade him within the next 10 days. If he fails to do so, Romero is released into free agency.

Back to the main point. Since the Phillies have this plethora of starting pitching in the minors, they might as well take advantage of it on the trade market. Teams such as the Mets, Cubs, and Blue Jays all need starting pitching help. However, there is one team most Phillies fans would like to see Amaro work with.

You guessed it. The Houston Astros.

The Astros are currently lacking in pitching depth. Since the Phils acquired Oswalt last year at the trade deadline, the Astros have been in dire need of a quality pitcher. While Brett Myers was fantastic for the team last year and even garnered a few Cy Young votes, he has been underwhelming this season, and having him as the "ace" of a staff is...well, pathetic.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Myers this year is 2-6 with a 5.03 ERA and 63 strikeouts. He's walked 29 batters and has a WHIP of 1.40. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like an ace to me.

Wandy Rodriguez, the Astros' No. 2 in their rotation, has not been awful this year. He's posted a 4-3 record with a 3.13 ERA and 58 strikeouts. He did miss some starts, however, so the fact that he's also walked 20 and has a WHIP of 1.31, means in general, he has not been great.

While I could also talk about Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles, and J.A. Happ, I won't go into specifics since the Astros' specific pitchers aren't the main point of this article.

However, I will say this: The Astros have one of the worst staffs this year.

Their team ERA is second to worst at 4.65, they've walked the sixth-most batters (239), they have the fourth-fewest quality starts this season with 33, and they're dead last in opposing batting average, having allowed a .269 average to opponents. Surprisingly enough, they are ranked ninth in strikeouts, with 498 this season.

While I'd love to see the Phillies go after Hunter Pence, I know it's out of our reach, especially since they are trying to avoid the $178 million luxury tax. However, the Phillies have previously dealt with Ed Wade, as he was the team's GM in the past, and...well, he still loves the Phillies.

The Astros need pitching and we need a right-handed bat. If only he'd take Blanton off our hands, we'd be set. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.

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New owner Jim Crane most likely won't allow Wade to trade the face of the franchise. For all we know, Crane could fire Wade after the season.

In conclusion, the Phillies need a solid right-handed bat, regardless of who they choose. It would be unlike Amaro not to make any sort of deal this year, but if he sticks to his word (which I don't see happening), there won't be any trade.

However, with all this minor league pitching depth the team has, why not explore a deal to give one of these guys a chance to make it to the big leagues?

With the rotation currently blocking off any chance for an upcoming starter, this would be the right move for both the Phillies and any one of these minor league pitchers, especially Cosart (who I'd like to see stay), Colvin or May.

If the Phillies want to see their minor leaguers reach their potential, they have to get them to the majors. For these starting pitchers, a trade seems like the only possible way they can do that.

What do you think? Should the Phillies explore a trade with another team involving one of these pitchers? Please share your opinions in the comments below. 

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