The Phillies declined to offer arbitration to Roy Oswalt earlier this month, an indication that they do not see him as part of their plans for future seasons. Oswalt is coming off back injuries and had a mediocre season last year as one of the Phillies’ “four aces”.
A veteran of 11 seasons, Oswalt is a three-time All-Star and was a big reason why the Phillies were able to turn their 2010 season around and reach the postseason.
Oswalt finished 2011 with a record of 9-10 and a 3.69 ERA after making 23 starts. With him, the Phillies won a franchise record 102 games.
It is even possible they could upgrade the position and get more than nine wins in 23 starts, but at the very least they should be able to have a successful 2012 season, regardless of the replacement.
Here are 10 options they have to fill the slot, as well as what potential impact each one could have.
Oswalt was dominant in 2010 for the Phillies
What better way to replace Roy Oswalt than to put Roy Oswalt back in the rotation? Oswalt remains unsigned and according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, he recently changed his mind on the number of years he’s looking for and would accept a one-year offer.
This makes it more possible for the Phillies to pursue him, not needing to be tied down with him for additional years. The Phillies sit about $6.5 million below the luxury tax level, as Ken Rosenthal pointed out that Jimmy Rollins’ new deal counts as $9.5 million towards the total.
It’s unlikely the Phils would be able to get Oswalt back at that number, although it would probably need to be less to give them flexibility and room to maneuver, so don’t expect this one. Also, with some of the other options they have, they really do not need to empty their pockets for this move.
Worley pitched like an 11-year veteran in 2011
Aside from maybe throwing 14 no-hitters, it's hard to do a better job than the one Vance Worley performed while pitching in the Phillies rotation. At one point, the Vanimal had pitched well enough during the 2011 summer to allow the Phillies to win 14 consecutive starts of his.
Worley didn’t allow many baserunners, and had a higher innings pitched total than hits allowed. He also pitched like a veteran, the way someone replacing a veteran Roy Oswalt would need to pitch.
Worley is clearly the best option to replace Roy Oswalt in the rotation, and it’s nearly set in stone that he will in fact enter Spring Training as the man to do that. You just never know with general manager Ruben Amaro’s way of thinking big, so that leaves us with some other options.
The 2008-09 Blanton would be much more valuable than the 2010-11 version
Whose spot did Worley take last season to get a shot? An injury to Joe Blanton opened the door for him to stay.
It wasn’t that long ago that Joe Blanton was a decent big league starter. “An innings eater” at his best, Blanton could go out and give you a chance to win the game each start for the first year-and-a-half as a Phillie.
An oblique and a strange elbow injury have held him back the past few seasons, but if he is as healthy as he and the team says he is, there’s no reason to think he can’t duplicate exactly what Roy Oswalt did last season, when he went 9-10.
Even including his past two injury seasons, Big Joe is 26-16 lifetime with the Phillies. He may not be the best option, but to replace a starter who posted a below-average, Joe Blanton will suffice.
Kyle Kendrick had a very good 2011
Don’t forget about the valuable swing man Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick actually posted better numbers than Oswalt last season.
Before we start to run off with that thought, we should remember that Oswalt was injured for parts of the year and Kendrick was strategically placed in the rotation to pitch in games he could succeed in, of which he took advantage, to his credit.
But maybe all that time spent with Roy Halladay is at least helping and this is not the Kyle Kendrick of 2008 who struggled mightily. It seems like he’s been around forever because he came up so young, but Kendrick is actually only 27 years old and it is possible he is still growing as a big league pitcher.
He’ll likely start the year in the bullpen, but if Blanton’s injury problems reoccur or they feel Worley is a better bullpen option, don’t be too down on Kyle. He could easily match and exceed Oswalt’s nine wins if given about 25 starts.
Charlie Manuel will have a new right hander to go to in Jonathan Papelbon
With Jonathan Papelbon at the back of the bullpen, it seems to be stronger and deeper. If they could shorten the game with the bullpen, the Phillies would not need to worry so much as to who takes Oswalt’s starts.
Oswalt averaged roughly six innings per start last season, which isn’t too hard to replace, but if the Phillies could add one more solid bullpen arm they would be set to cover the loss of an inning.
Among starts in which he pitched at least two total innings, the sixth inning was the one in which Oswalt struggled the most, posting an ERA approaching six.
If Contreras is healthy, Stutes and Bastardo pitch the same way they did earlier in the season, and they can get a contribution from one more player such as Michael Schwimer or Justin De Fratus, they should be able to cover for that one start every five games.
Keep in mind, Jonathan Papelbon can pitch multiple innings. The converted started already has 31 career saves of four or more outs. In Game 3 of the 2011 NLDS, Charlie Manuel showed that he will go to his closer outside of the ninth inning if the game calls for him to do so. This provides even more flexibility. Remember, they’re going to get the rest in during most of Halladay and Lee’s starts.
Spring Training is the time to keep an eye out for people who could make an immediate impact
Remember when Kyle Kendrick came up at age 22 from Double-A and went 10-4 his rookie season? It’s not impossible to find an unlikely contributor in the minor league system the way they did with Kendrick in 2007.
Most of the “baby aces” are too far away from being major league ready to help this year, but there are a few intriguing options down on the farm. Dave Bush was brought back on a minor league deal, and former Giants and Mets left-hander Pat Mitsch was also added to the minor league group.David Purcey was also brought in, but he has pitched poorly in each chance he’s gotten in the big leagues.
Purcey is a big left-hander who at one time was a highly regarded young arm, but his results have cooled the future expectations from him. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if he put it together to become a typical No. 4-5 starter.
One name to remember: Austin Hyatt. Hyatt, 25, has posted steady minor league numbers the past two seasons, compiling a 24-13 record and has made 32 Double-A starts. He was drafted in 2009 after attending Alabama, and he could be a dark horse for any spot starts. Hyatt has not pitched deep into games consistently, but either did Worley in his first few big league starts and he turned out to be alright.
Colon made a contribution to the 2011 AL East champs after being a Spring Training invitee
Inviting non-roster invitees to Clearwater for Spring Training would allow the team to look closely at several pitchers at once, as well as provide competition as an additional motivation.
The Yankees did this last season by bringing in Freddy Garcia, Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon. It turned out they saw two of them as a fit and got 20 wins combined from Garcia and Colon, and revived each of their careers.
Although they do not have much need to do so, the Phillies could benefit by doing this and sending a few guys to take turns through the Iron Pigs’ rotation should anything happen. It will allow them to plug in a veteran arm should multiple injuries occur in the rotation, and bring in a guy much like Rodrigo Lopez in 2009.
Who’s out there? Aaron Cook is a sinker ball pitcher who conceivably be adequate at Citizens Bank Park if healthy, Colon is available, Rich Harden could be intriguing providing he’s healthy too and they could benefit by getting Chris Young into camp just to prevent him from pitching against them. The most realistic options are three former Pirates: Ross Ohlendorf, Zack Duke and Paul Maholm. Maybe Sergio Mitre as well.
These guys are nothing more than low risk, medium reward players.
Willis has been awful as a starter since 2006
Unless there was some promise issued to Willis upon agreeing on a contract with him like Chan Ho Park before the 2009 season, Willis likely will not seriously be considered for a spot in the rotation. It would not be surprising if they at least think about it in Spring Training, much like they did with Jose Contreras before the 2010 season.
Clearly, the recent Dontrelle Willis is not the same Dontrelle Willis that pitched for the Marlins in the middle part of last decade. Could the Phillies and Rich Dubee get something more out of Willis than he's given in recent years? Probably not. So he's not "Plan B" but he's not quite "Plan Z", so consider him somewhere around Plan V.
Gonzalez was an All-Star in 2011
If Ruben Amaro could find a way to acquire Gio Gonzalez, it would not only replace Roy Oswalt, but it also would represent an upgrade of the rotation spot.
Gonzalez walks too many (92 and 91 the past two respective years) to be a real "ace" at this point, plus he pitches in Oakland so he may not be as good as it looks (see Joe Blanton). However, his tremendous stuff and high strikeout rate (8.6 career K/9) make him a solid fit in the Phillies rotation. You just wonder if he could handle pitching in Citizens Bank Park as well as Oswalt did.
The Phillies were linked to Gonzalez during the Winter Meetings, perhaps for a deal including Domonic Brown. Earlier this month, I looked at why trading Domonic Brown makes sense. If Amaro could acquire him with a package built around Brown, it'd be an upgrade not just for this year, but future years. Make no mistake about it though, he's the most talented of their options.
A healthy Howard and Pence will be the heart of the Phillies' order
If this would work, it would be the easiest solution of all: Just score more runs on that day in the rotation.
It’s not as farfetched as it may seem. The Phillies have a tendency to swing better bats in games they start a weaker pitcher. Last year they had five solid starters so they didn’t need to do this as often, but in 2010, Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton ranked as the top two leaders in run support received in the National League.
How does this work? It’s not necessarily that the bats try harder or anything of that nature when a certain pitcher is pitching, but the manager may manage the game differently. The team may be more aggressive for runs and score some more that way.
If it’s a day game after a night game and they are resting a few regulars, maybe rest them another day and use as much offense as they can get on the day the Roy Oswalt-vacated spot comes around in the rotation.