As my friend Dave Murphy continues to improve his tan at the General Managers' Meetings in Cali -- provided you can get a tan by sitting beneath a chandelier in an opulent hotel lobby for 6 or 7 hours a day -- it seems to me that the signals Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is sending out make sense. That is, pitching first.
In a world of competing resources, it's just the way to go. It is the lesson of the Phillies' run to the world championship. We have become very comfortable with the fact that this was a team built to hit. It is the notion we have carried for several years, mostly because it was true. In 2005-6-7, this was beer-league softball in a homer-heavy ballpark. That is what they were.
But not in 2008, even if we all were a little slow to recognize it. They won with pitching. We all know it now. They had the best bullpen in the National League -- that is why they won the NL East and the Mets didn't. They had Cole Hamels all year and an outrageous second half of the season by Brett Myers -- that is why they won. And in the post-season, well, they played 14 games and I think 12 of them would qualify as well-pitched by the starters. That is why there was a parade.
The hitting contributions came from all over -- yes they did. They were a clutch team more than consistent. At the plate, in October, the Phillies were the kings of cojones, and we will never forget.
But pitching built the platform upon which they all stood and received the trophy. Amaro knows that -- we all do. It is where they need to continue to shift resources. If you are willing to say that Joe Blanton is for real -- and why wouldn't you say it at this point, given the available evidence? -- then this team is set up very well 1-2-3. After that, Jamie Moyer makes perfect sense for another year (plus a reasonable option for 2010). Either Kyle Kendrick or Jay Happ or a combination of the two give perfectly sane possibilities for your fifth starter -- and Carlos Carrasco has to be out there somewhere as a possibility, if not immediately then fairly soon, no?
As for the bullpen, as long as Brad Lidge is around, well, let's just say that is a great comfort. You have two potential setup guys in Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero. You have two guys before them in Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre (who is definitely worth re-signing). You are likely to need more at some point because guys get hurt and guys have off-years -- it is the nature of the bullpen business. But that is more about being nimble later on than right now.
But Moyer and Eyre make sense here as priorities. Failure to re-sign either would require an outside move, in my mind. Which leaves Pat Burrell. I like him as a run-producer, and you can never take that away from him -- but they are dying for a more-consistent righthanded bat in that lineup: higher average, fewer strikeouts, not Burrell's power but decent power.
I think it's the transition they need to continue making. We never thought it would be possible to see a team in Citizens Bank Park that thrived because of pitching -- but now we have. Amaro's challenge is to maintain that pitching, even to bolster it, while re-shaping the Phillies' lineup into one that isn't so reliant on home runs to score runs.