ROY HALLADAY'S second major league start 3 months after shoulder surgery is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon against the Cubs.
Once again he will have the slight advantage of facing a watered down major league lineup. But If he exhibits the same control of his pitches as he did in Sunday afternoon's start against Arizona, he is again likely to post encouraging numbers and fuel what is shaping up as a lively civic debate: Should the Phillies try to re-sign the man who gave them a discount during his peak years? Or is it a move heavy on sentiment and light on logic?
Even before this unsightly season began, there was a growing public sentiment that the Phillies were too old, that a fire sale for "prospects" was the way to go, thus shortening the number of years needed to rebuild. While evidence of success involving this strategy is spotty at best, it does not seem to be where Ruben Amaro Jr.'s head is right now. He did not trade Cliff Lee at the deadline. He re-signed Chase Utley and his scary knees for two more seasons, with an option for the third.
Those who support this move and do not support retaining Halladay argue that Utley still ranks among the league's top 10 second basemen and that Halladay, 36, does not remain among top pitchers. It is a stock anaysis of course, judging Utley amid what is shaping up to be the first time in four seasons that he will play in more than 115 games and Halladay amid the second straight season in which shoulder problems limited his appearances and effectiveness.
There is also his age of course, and the diminished velocity of his fastball, which measured 87 to 89 mph on the gun Sunday. Halladay repeated afterwards that doctors have told him that his velocity will be the last thing to come back, and probably not all the way until an offseason of rest. But he also said he has been pleased with the vertical drop of his sinker thanks to his repaired shoulder and the improved arm slot it allows, and interim Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg noted the swooping, offspeed curveballs he threw for strikes all afternoon served as effective out pitches.
So what if that is what you see through the last day of the regular season. Do you bet on the doctors being right about that velocity pushing that fastball into the 90s next season? Does it even matter? Can Halladay, who has always been more about control than power, be effective enough to be your best third starter option next season, even if the velocity doesn't come back?
Last May, as Jamie Moyer attempted to pitch at the ripe old age of 49, a fella named John Carter, writing for Bill James Online, presented a list of "Pitchers Who Pitched Well In Their Old Age."
What struck me is that they were not all power pitchers, but rather guys with good control and at least one dominant specialty pitch. Yep, there are lots of kunckleballers on the list and a few spitballers as well, but Tommy John and his sinker are there, too, as is Jim Kaat and his famous slider.
I suspect what connects all of them is smarts, and command. We have no doubts about the former when it comes to Halladay. And if he shows enough of the latter in tomorrow's start and into September, bringing him back seems a no-brainer to me. You've already invested in Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, Lee and Papelbon for next year. Unless you plan on trading some or all of them away for prospects who bring their own seeds of doubt with them (Tommy Joseph, anyone?), isn't Doc a better bet?
On Twitter: @samdonnellon