Some might argue that holding baseball's winter meetings in Indianapolis is akin to holding the Academy Awards in Duluth. Or the Republican National Convention in Burlington. Or the G8 summit in Pittsburgh. They might argue that corralling all the boys of summer and sending them to a place where yesterday the temperature barely cracked 30 and an inch of snow fell reeks of incongruity. They might argue that the overall mood of these winter meetings might be lifted if they were held in a place where, you know, the sun actually shines for an hour or two each day.
But really, Indianapolis is fitting.
First, the lay-out of the city was designed by architect Alexander Ralston, who was an apprentice of famed French architect Pierre L'Enfant, who a couple of centuries ago designed the crown jewel of minor league baseball cities: Washington, D.C.
Second, the winter meetings bear a remarkable similarity to the sporting event that made Indianapolis famous. Except instead of a bunch of race cars driving around in circles, it features a bunch of executives and agents talking around in circles, with a bunch of sports reporters chasing after them and writing around in circles.
But the true beauty in Indianapolis as winter meetings host can be summed up in one word: Eugenics. In 1907, Indiana became the first government in the world to pass a eugenic sterilization law, which provided for the involuntary sterilization of "confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists." Over the next 67 years, the state sterilized an estimated 2,500 people in an attempt to purify the gene pool.
I know all of this because there is a historical marker erected near the State Capitol Building that commemorates this practice. It is the same type of plaque you'll find scattered throughout the city of Philadelphia. Except instead of marking the site where Milton Hershey opened his first candy store, it marks the site where the decision was made to sterilize thousands of American Citizens against their will.
And if there is one area in which sport of baseball has experience, it is fessing up to the sins of one's past.
So please, Indianapolisians (or is it Indianpoli?), pay no attention to those who grumble about your hallowed metropolis. Here at High Cheese, there is no place we'd rather be (Except for here, and here, and here).
There is an old Methodist hymn that we used to sing in Church called "Pass it On." The opening words of the song go like this: "It only takes a spark, to get a fire going. . ." Now, the writer of this song was talking about God's undying love and not trade rumors at the winter meetings, but I think the message still fits (Bob Marley also wrote a song called "Pass it On," but he may have been using the phrase in a slightly different connation). I bring all of this up after having spent the night thinking about a "rumor" that you no doubt will read in several Philadelphia-area newspapers today. Early yesterday afternoon, a couple of hours before Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was scheduled to meet with local reporters in his hotel suite, one of the national web sites reported that the Phillies were entertaining offers for righthander Joe Blanton. There was little context to the report -- Were the Phillies determined to get rid of Blanton? Did they think the $7-plus million he could be do in arbitration was economically unfeasible? What type of package were they looking for? What was their plan to fill Blanton's spot in the rotation? Were they looking to deal Blanton because there was another starting pitching on the market who they felt would provide better cost-effectiveness? None of that. Just: the Phillies are willing to move Blanton.
Obviously, reporters from Philadelphia read this report. And when they gathered in Amaro's suite, they asked him to address it. Amaro, as he always does, refused to comment on specific trade rumors. But, interestingly enough, he said he could not entirely rule out the possibility of trading away a member of his rotation. Now, sports reporters aren't always the sharpest chains on the blade, but most of them are blessed with at least a passsable sense of deductive reasoning. And with Cole Hamels already having been ruled out as a trade candidate by Amaro earlier this offseason, and Cliff Lee going nowhere, and J.A. Happ possessing a $400,000 salary that makes him unwise to move, and Jamie Moyer possessing an $8 million salary that makes him impossible to move, those reporters were left with. . .cue the dramatic Law and Order music. . .Joe Blanton!
Suddenly, both ends of the rumor equation were fulfilled:
This: "The Phillies are checking on interest in Blanton, two major-league sources said."
This: "I don't want to mess with our rotation as it stands. But that doesn't mean I'll make it a hard and fast rule."
This: The Phillies could be shopping Joe Blanton!
Now, before this post devolves into a rant on the Tourettic nature in which "news" is relayed at the winter meetings (minimally-processed food: good; minimally-processed information: bad), let me lay out a few things that you should keep in mind:
1) The Phillies have likely engaged in conversations with Joe Blanton's agent in an attempt to work out a contract before the Dec. 12 deadline to offer players arbitration.
2) The Phillies have likely decided internally on a salary figure that they would like to pay Blanton and they feel like he deserves.
3) The player has likely decided with his agent on a salary figure that he would like to earn and that he feels like he deserves.
4) As is the case almost 100 percent of the time, there is likely a difference between each side's salary figure.
5) Both the Phillies and Blanton likely feel like he has most of the leverage, since he has five-plus years of service time and has pitched at least 194 innings in all five of his big league seasons and is coming off a year in which he was one of the team's most consistent pitchers and has career numbers that should merit a sizeable pay-raise in arbitration (Earlier this offseason we projected Blanton to make somewhere around $7 million, although it certainly could go higher).
So, yes, the Phillies would be derelict in their duty if they did not listen to what other teams have to offer for Blanton. And if the media happens to plant a seed in Blanton's head that he could be traded to some far-flung destination if the organization deems him too expensive, well, it is what it is.
But while Blanton might be the Phillies' most viable option at clearing some salary in order to provide more maneuverability under the $140 million figure that they say they are targeting, I do not expect him to be traded.
1) The Phillies already have uncertainty at the back end of their rotation, with Moyer and righthander Kyle Kendrick competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. With Hamels' struggles last season and Happ entering just his second full season in the majors, you could argue that Blanton and Lee are the only two known quantities in the rotation (I think Happ will be just fine and that Hamels will improve -- but the fact is, until they prove it, we won't know). While Blanton may not be an All-Star, what you see is generally what you get, and that is an extremely valuable quality to possess as a starter.
2) A quick look at the free agent market suggests Blanton might be worth at least $7 to $8 million. Brad Penny just signed with the Cardinals for one year and $7.5 million guaranteed.
Penny from 2006-09: 665.0 IP, 4.34 ERA, 1.395 WHIP, 6.0 SO/9, 3.0 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9
Blanton from 06-09: 817.1 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.362 WHIP, 5.7 SO/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9
3) Another quick look at the free agent market suggests a more cost-effective option might not exist. First, let's rule out all left-handed starters. Because if the Phillies were to replace Blanton with a lefty, they would face the very real possibility of entering the season with five lefties in the rotation: Lee, Hamels, Happ, FA, Moyer. I just don't see that happening. So see ya Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn. They've already ruled out Brett Myers. If Ben Sheets' primary goal is to prove his health on a one-year deal and earn a multi-year contract next season, Philly probably isn't the best place to do that.
So who are we left with? Justin Duchscherer, Rich Harden, Jason Marquis, and Joel Piniero all might have more upside than Blanton. But all four have serious question marks. And it's unclear whether any of them would even be cheaper than Blanton.
4) So to trade Blanton, the Phillies would have to receive an established major league starter in return, or be forced to enter the season with a rotation that includes both Moyer and Kendrick, or an unproven player, or be forced to rush Kyle Drabek to the big leagues when most in the organization feel the proper course of action is to give him at least another half of a season at Double-A or Triple-A.
So, no, I don't feel like Blanton will be traded, unless the Phillies feel he is going to ask for a really high number in arbitration that could break the bank if he wins. Even then, I just don't see many other options.
RAJ labelled himself "a bird in hand kind of guy" the other day. And trading away a known quantity like Blanton is the exact opposite of bird in hand.