SAN DIEGO - With his tender ankle still undergoing treatment and a looming start occupying his undivided attention, Padres righthander Jake Peavy said through a team spokesman yesterday that he would not discuss his trade availability with Philadelphia reporters until after he pitches tonight against the Phillies.
So, for at least 1 more day, the question remains unanswered:
Would the Phillies qualify as the type of National League contender he wants to pitch for? Or, as most baseball insiders believe, would the roughly 3,000 miles between Philadelphia and Peavy's home in Southern California, not to mention the cozy dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, preclude them from consideration?
One thing is clear, however: The Phillies know they need help.
Even before they learned they would lose righthander Brett Myers, likely for the season, to hip surgery, the organization felt it needed to upgrade its rotation in order to bolster its chance at repeating as World Series Champions. So even though the front office will not discuss potential trades publicly, and even though it could take another month or 2 to consummate a deal, the Phillies understand that their need for starting pitching increased greatly with Myers' injury, and they are exploring and evaluating all options.
"I don't care if it's outside the system or inside the system, we definitely can upgrade our pitching," manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday. "Once Myers goes out, we've got to find somebody close to Myers to replace him. Myers is a top of the rotation pitcher. We pay him a lot of money to pitch for us, and you've got to say he was our No. 2. We've got to find somebody that can go in the rotation and replace him."
The Phillies don't appear to have any top-of-the-rotation pitchers ready for the big leagues - the organization doesn't feel top prospect Carlos Carrasco is ready and up-and-coming prospect Kyle Drabek was just promoted to Double A Reading yesterday - so their efforts are focused on potential trade targets.
But it is unclear whether any acquisition will wind up being a big-contract pitcher who is currently with a club looking to dump salary or a free-agent-to-be with a contract that expires at the end of the season.
The Phillies have some flexibility to add a pitcher currently signed to a multiyear deal, although it is unclear how much. They have a team-record $130.84 million payroll this season. They have $94.5 million committed to 11 players under contract for next season. Centerfielder Shane Victorino, who has a $3.125 million salary for 2009, will likely receive a hefty raise through arbitration in the offseason. Factor in catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will earn $475,000 this season, and the team will likely have about $100 million committed to seven regulars, two starters, three relievers and bench player Greg Dobbs.
At that point, the number-crunching begins. Third baseman Pedro Feliz has a $5 million club option. Righthander Joe Blanton, who will earn $5.475 million this season, is arbitration eligible, along with seven other players besides Victorino. Any of those players can be nontendered, which would make them free agents.
In 2011, the Phillies have $60.5 million committed to six players.
"I think there's a lot of variables with how that all plays out," said assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, who was hired in large part to manage contracts. "We've got some decisions to make on options that need to be picked up or not picked up - we still have some flexibility with regards to that. We do a lot of looking all the different scenarios, with some guys, without some guys. Everybody does that. We do those kind of analyses on a regular basis."
Peavy is due to make $11 million this season, $15 million next year, and $16 million in 2011. He also has a $22 million club option for 2013. Peavy won the NL Cy Young in 2007.
Astros righthander Roy Oswalt, who could be available, will make $14 million this year, $15 million in 2010 and $16 million in 2011 with a $16 million club option for 2012. Oswalt, like Peavy, has the ability to veto a trade.
There will be other less complicated options. Mariners lefthanders Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn will be free agents. So will Rockies righthander Jason Marquis.
Which brings us to one of the few clear observations about the Phillies' situation: With 2 months before the July 31 trade deadline, patience could be a key virtue.
Two seasons ago, the Phillies called up a little-heard-of starter for what very well could have been a short audition. A year and a half later, righthander Kyle Kendrick was still in the Phillies rotation. Which brings us to tonight, when lefthander Antonio Bastardo will take the mound. The 23-year-old prospect, who was 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 11 appearances in the minors, will make his major league debut as the first candidate to replace Myers in the rotation. The key, Charlie Manuel said, is to throw strikes.
"Throw strikes, get ahead of the hitter," the manager said. "If he gets ahead, it's easy for him to follow the catcher, and our catchers know the team we are playing. They know everything about them. That's a big thing. Throw first-pitch strikes. Try to make a good, quality pitch on either side of the plate."
Bastardo has three pitches he uses: a fastball that Manuel said reaches about 90 to 91 mph, an improving slider and a changeup. He allowed three earned runs in 13 innings in two starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
After last night's game, the Phillies sent John Mayberry down to make room on the roster for Bastardo, whose contract will be purchased from Lehigh Valley in time for him to start tonight.
First baseman Ryan Howard was named the NL Co-Player of the Week, along with the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez. Howard had four home runs, 10 RBI and a 1.000 OPS . . . righthander Mike Koplove, a Philadelphia native, has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract that allowed him to ask for his release if he was not promoted to the big-league roster by June 1. Koplove, who was 1-3 with a 1.14 ERA for Triple A Lehigh Valley, is now a free agent. *