NASHVILLE - Keep your fingers crossed that Adam Eaton is healthy come spring training, and, while you're at it, offer up a novena that he's capable of taking a few pounds off that 6.29 ERA when the 2008 season starts.
Pat Gillick doesn't think the Phillies will be getting another starting pitcher before spring training.
Makes your day, huh?
The Phillies' general manager left the winter meetings yesterday after coming up empty in his attempt to improve the ballclub that eked out the National League East title in 2007, then was swept out of the playoffs faster than a sand castle at high tide.
The clock is ticking on this nicely ripened Phillies nucleus that includes Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers. The NL East is once again prime for the taking, but that won't be good enough in 2008. It's time for the Phillies to take bigger steps, time for them to get to the World Series, even if it means being a sacrificial lamb for the American League champion.
But can this team, as currently constituted, get that far?
Are these Phillies, on Dec. 7, better than they were on Sept. 30, the day they clinched the NL East?
The Phils appear well on their way to subtracting 29 homers and 89 RBIs from the lineup because they have concerns about how Aaron Rowand's body and production would hold up on the five-year deal he seeks. They still have a sinkhole when it comes to offensive production at third base. But the big concern remains the pitching staff, which had a 4.73 ERA last season, ranking ahead of only Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Florida, three woebegone clubs.
The top of the rotation looks as good as any in the division with Hamels and Myers. It's the rest of it that is worrisome. Kyle Kendrick is still far from proven and he could still encounter growing pains despite winning 10 games as a rookie last season. Jamie Moyer is 45 and he had a 5.65 ERA from May 14 through the end of the season.
And then there's Eaton, who was worried enough about his shoulder that he requested an MRI several weeks ago. Physical rehabilitation was recommended, and he's putting in the work that he hopes will keep him healthy and increase his effectiveness.
That does not sound like a rotation capable of winning the 100 games Rollins has predicted.
The Phillies need more pitching. They're eager to look at Travis Blackley, the lefty they picked in the Rule 5 draft yesterday. They have Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman, who may be capable of a Kendrick-like climb in 2008, percolating in the minors. But right now, they are just hopefuls. The Phils need more than that.
Don't get your hopes up too high.
"I don't think we'll add a [pitcher], a fifth guy or whatever, between now and spring training," Gillick said before heading to the airport yesterday.
Gillick, as we have learned, likes to run interference now and then, but he might just be right on this one. The Phils aren't going to re-sign Kyle Lohse, whose big-dollar demands are unreasonable given his 63-74 career record. They don't have enough prospects to get into the hunt for Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton or Erik Bedard, the top pitchers on the trading block. Their best bet might be a flier on someone like Kris Benson, who is coming off a shoulder injury.
The Phillies went into camp last year with depth in their rotation. That soon dwindled when Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber went down. With an iffy Eaton at the back end, pitching could unravel this team in a hurry in 2008 if Gillick's intuition is right and he can't get something done.
"I know fans want to see constant improvement, we understand that, and they have every right to want to see it, but we have to do what we feel is right for the club," assistant GM Ruben Amaro said. "It's not an exercise in acquiring guys just to acquire them."
Amaro added, "The construction of the team is not over until July 31 and even beyond."
That could be comforting to Phillies fans because Gillick's in-season acquisitions (Moyer and Jeff Conine in 2006; Tadahito Iguchi, J.C. Romero, Lohse in 2007) have been better than the bulk of his off-season acquisitions, which have included Eaton, Garcia, Rod Barajas, Julio Santana and Ricardo Rodriguez.
"It's always disappointing when you don't get done what you want to get done," Gillick said. "The winter meetings and the trade deadline are two hot dates, but the reality is you always have to keep grinding."
And there are plenty of areas for Gillick to grind on. Will the Phillies have enough offense in the outfield without Rowand, and will they get more serious about bringing him back if he'd take a three-year deal? Will they make a much-needed upgrade at third? And can the NL East title be successfully defended with this starting pitching rotation?
That's a lot of questions for a team that fancies itself a contender.