Thursday, February 11, 2016

Replacing Vance Worley's rotation spot

Two days after Zack Greinke signed the richest deal ever for a righthanded pitcher, Kevin Correia agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with Minnesota. Last week, Joe Blanton signed with Los Angeles for $15 million over two seasons.

Replacing Vance Worley's rotation spot

Phillies pitcher Vance Worley. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)
Phillies pitcher Vance Worley. (H. Rumph Jr/AP)

Two days after Zack Greinke signed the richest deal ever for a righthanded pitcher, Kevin Correia agreed to a two-year, $10 million contract with Minnesota. Last week, Joe Blanton signed with Los Angeles for $15 million over two seasons.

The cost of doing business in the pitching market is prohibitive, from top to bottom. That's why, as the Phillies seek a replacement for Vance Worley's fifth spot in the rotation, think Chan Ho Park.

No, the Phillies are not signing Park, who recently announced his retirement from baseball. Rather, this situation conjures memories of 2009, the last time the Phillies truly had a rotation battle in spring training. (That is excluding 2010, when Jamie Moyer merely had to demonstrate good health to beat Kyle Kendrick.)

The Phillies had three young pitchers -- J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick and Carlos Carrasco -- as candidates for a job. Then, in January, they signed Park to a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

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Sounds a lot like the type of pitcher Ruben Amaro Jr. is currently seeking.

"We’ll probably look to add a low-risk, high-reward type of guy, or somebody’s who’s come back from an injury, or someone like that who can battle for that fifth spot," Amaro said Sunday. "A lot of teams have had some success looking for that guy late in the season and finding that productive guy. So that’s one possibility."

Park, of course, went to spring training in 2009 as the favorite to win the job. He did just that. And by mid-May he was demoted to the bullpen while Happ was installed into the rotation and flourished as a rookie starter. Park thrived as a middle reliever and the reward was solid considering the small risk ($2.5 million) taken.

So forget the Ryan Dempsters, Edwin Jacksons and even Shaun Marcums of the market. They will sign for at least two, maybe three years, given the demand. The Phillies are looking for a one-year deal having already invested $71.75 million in 2013 salary (AAV) for their four starting pitchers.

They possess young talent in Jonathan Pettibone, Tyler Cloyd, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin. None are proven nor are top prospects, which will probably prompt a cheap addition from elsewhere.

Pettibone, 22, could be the most polished; he finished the season in triple A but nearly doubled his walk rate there. Cloyd, 25, allowed eight home runs in 33 major-league innings after tearing through the International League. Morgan, 22, has a better power arm than those two and earned high marks from two scouts who saw him in 2012.

That depth should be augmented by the sort of veteran, "low-risk" pitcher Amaro described. There is no shortage of such available. A sampling: Joe Saunders, Chris Young, Carl Pavano, Derek Lowe, John Lannan, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Millwood and Chien-Ming Wang.

None of those names are particularly overwhelming and identifying one that stands above the rest is trivial. But remember, the Phillies are looking to replace the production of Blanton, while banking on Kendrick continuing his rise. Blanton made 20 starts for the Phillies last season with a 4.59 ERA.

Kendrick's final two months -- 3.20 ERA and 51 strikeouts to 14 walks in 70 1/3 innings -- were beyond encouraging in a small sample size because of real mental and mechanical adjustments. He'll be 28 in 2013, and the Phillies have not counted on him this much going into a season since 2008.

Ideally, that "low-risk" pitcher can move to the bullpen if ineffective and one of the younger arms is promoted. The Phillies may have some $20 million to spend, but that sum could disappear once a corner outfielder and veteran reliever are added.

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.

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