With the emergence of Vance Worley (No. 49) and deficiencies of the Phillies come a predicament: do you trade him, or keep him?
Do they trade him? Or stash him?
Of all the wrinkles Phillies fans anticipated this season, none came within a 100-mile radius of the rotation. They figured that between (insert tired http://bleacherreport.com/article/newnickname for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt) and (insert a fifth starter, because it didn't really matter, right?) their dealers were set.
That's changed. Oswalt's back has flared as his reliability fizzled. Halladay, Lee and Hamels routinely go nine deep, but even they need relief pitching, something of a problem Tuesday, when Ryan Madson joined closers Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras on the DL.
That's neglecting to mention the hitting, as productive as Charlie Sheen with a bad case of the "Mondays." It's all left-handed, and no consistency, the walloping of Josh Beckett withstanding or not. The rarity (a five-run explosion in a shutout win in the Red Sox series-opener) came back to reality yesterday and today, a stark three runs in 18 innings.
That brings us back to Worley, who's emerged as a darling in the media, with the fanbase—and the waiver wire. Believe that Worley, who capped baseball's best lineup to but a single run over seven innings of work in Wednesday's 2-1 win, has value. Believe that Worley, posting a 2.57 ERA for a 3-1 record, is coveted.
Would you trade or keep Vance Worley?
But he causes as many problems as he solves.
Consider all the Phillies' balance:
There's evenness between pitching and hitting, one being the team's core competence and the other its Achillies heel. Then again, seven lights-out innings from Halladay, Lee or Hamels can combust pretty quickly without a trustworthy arm to bring it home. To "lock it up," as they say.
Then there's pitchers' mortality, one way to put the line drive blown back at Hamels in today's fifth inning. Anybody, even (maybe especially) Halladay, Lee and Hamels can go down that (snap!) fast.
Still, that's not a toughie, with the expected brevity of Madson's injury—he should only be out a few weeks with a hand contusion—and the caliber of available batting upgrades. Lest we forget: Before Worley, the best the trade block had to offer was Michael Cuddyer (.283/10 HR/30 RBI, for Worley? Eh) and Josh Willingham (nothing to write home about).
Dangling Worley as trade bait, the Phils nudge Hunter Pence (gimme dat, .312, 50 RBI and quicks you can't teach) closer within reach.
But what of the future? If the Phils pull the trigger on yet another blockbuster, what's left in the cupboard? Hail Philly's farm system all you want, but Lehigh Valley, Reading and Clearwater would feel more Dust Bowl than Pepperidge Farm less Worley and the armful of prospects it would take to make an impact deal.
That would bode as well for long-term viability as it would a pressure-free final stretch.
Know that if Ruben Amaro Jr. makes a third consecutive Incredible Hulk monster deal (Halladay in 2009, Oswalt in 2010) the pressure rests squarely on these Phillies frames. Considering Amaro's done all he can to deflect scrutiny and diminish expectations—he said defiantly on 97.5 The Fanatic (ESPN Radio in Philadelphia) this isn't World Series-or-bust—you have to wonder whether he thinks his, or any, team can handle it.
All streaks, no matter how promising, can skid to irrelevance and disappointment. Fast.
Do the Phillies really need any more hurdles?
Then again, do they really need Worley? Now, he's a commodity, if not currency. And the market is thirsty for value like his—young and fearless and cheap.
The waffling goes on...
Worley scaled the organizational ladder like a fireman saving kitties, going 9-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 19 starts at Double-A Reading, the highest he ever climbed before getting "the call." That prized of a possession, with that much sentimental value, makes you wonder when the Phillies will hit on a homegrown prospect next.
Let's say that finding a gem means sifting through 10 (or more) disappointments. The Phils have to play the odds here.
Then again, they have a postseason bracket to gash. And for you skittish nail-nibblers, not sold that the as-is lineup can make—let alone win—the World Series, you're not crazy. Those fears are perfectly founded.
The problem with this lineup isn't its potency. Never was. It's the one stat that sabermetrics can't capture: streakiness. This team surges, burning through the summer and the best pitchers in the bigs. Then, without warning or explanation, it wanes. (Poof!)
That's a bet you have to hedge against.
Unless, of course, you're me. I dig Worley deep in my pocket, savoring the fruits of my farm system and capitalizing on these slot-machine sevens. Unless the Dodgers make a payroll-clearing move and toss Andre Ethier on the slab, I don't budge.
But I'm not Amaro, not on his end of the receiver or sweating the beads of a GM whose job could be jeopardized by mismanaging baseball history's best-rounded roster.
Of which Vance Worley is the curiously, unassumingly and unspeakably important linchpin.