J.A. Happ's next scheduled start is on Friday, which is also the Phillies' last game before the trade deadline. Happ, of course, is no stranger to trade speculation. After last year's deadline, when his name continued to pop up in the Phillies' unsuccessful talks with the Blue Jays, he admitted to being relieved that the process was over. This year, he may have to go through it again. The Phillies continue to explore a possible trade for Astros righthander Roy Oswalt, but these types of deals almost always require a team to part with a young starter who is either major league ready or close to it. The Angels landed Dan Haren by trading big leaguer Joe Saunders. The Phillies sent Carlos Carrasco to the Indians in the Cliff Lee deal and Kyle Drabek to the Blue Jays in the Halladay deal, and Josh Outman to the A's in the Joe Blanton deal two years ago. But the Phillies don't have any polished starting pitching prospects left in their system, which is where Happ factors in. . .
1) For whatever reason, the Phillies have never acted as if they are sold on Happ as a long-term fixture in their rotation. He lost out on a spot in the rotation last spring training in favor of journeyman righthander Chan Ho Park. After he replaced the struggling Park, his name continually popped up in trade negotiations despite being perhaps their most consistent starter. He was left out of the playoff rotation despite going 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 23 starts during the regular season. Then, earlier this month, he was optioned back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after he was activated from the disabled list.
All he's done is go 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA and .246 BAA while averaging 6.0 innings in 31 starts (pretty much the equivalent of a big league season). But hey. . .
2) That being said, the Phils suffer more from a lack pitching depth than a lack of top-of-the-rotation production. Oswalt, a legitimate ace for the last decade, would make for an intriguing addition to Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels. But if he comes at the expense of Happ, the Phillies will have done nothing to improve their overall starting pitching depth, the lack of which is the biggest reason for their current situation. The Phillies only have three starters under contract for next season -- Halladay, Hamels and Joe Blanton -- so they will likely need to add at least one more before spring training. Oswalt is far better than any of the free agent options who could be available (see below). But again, if he is added at the expense of Happ, the Phillies are left with three No. 1 starters, a good No. 4, and Kyle Kendrick, with no obvious depth at Triple-A in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
Even if the Phillies aren't enamored with Happ's upside, or if they are worried about the forearm strain that cost him 2.5 months of the season (they say he is healthy, and his velocity was back yesterday, but his command has been rustier-than-normal since spring training), he still gives them flexibility because he is cheap and under their control.
3) Among the starting pitchers who are eligible for free agency after the season: Cliff Lee, Andy Pettitte, Ben Sheets, Carl Pavano, Ted Lilly, Brett Myers, Javier Vazquez, Jon Garland, Brandon Webb, Rich Harden, Chris Young, Brad Penny, Jorge DeLaRosa, Dave Bush, Aaron Harang, Kevin Correia, Bronson Arroyo, Jake Westbrook, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla.
4) Happ's situation is tough to forecast because he has missed most of the season. Charlie Manuel said yesterday he thinks Happ just needs more work to iron out some of the command struggles he had against the Rockies. But he won't have much of a chance to get more work before the trade deadline.
5) Obviously, we aren't talking about Happ-for-Oswalt straight up. The big question is, when you factor in the downsides of trading Happ with the financial committment to Oswalt for 2011 (He's owed $16 million and has talked about wanting his $16 million option for 2012 picked up, but a lot could happen between the Phils and Astros in that department), as well as Oswalt's small-town demeanor, along with the potential of having to trade away Jayson Wertht to complete the package, the question becomes, is it worth it?
Assuming Oswalt stays healthy through the end of next season, you can make a strong case for it. But you don't assume he stays healthy, you can make a strong case against it.