Kyle Kendrick had the Rockies on their heels last night through the first five innings, allowing just one earned by locating his fastball and getting hitters to make weak contact on his cutter. The wheels came off for Kendrick in the sixth: he allowed three runs without getting an out. A three-run shot by Wilin Rosario was the knockout blow.
Last night’s performance by Kendrick was a microcosm of his season: flashes of him taking the next step followed by moments of hard regression. Kendrick, by any measure, is having a career year: likely to reach a career high in innings pitched, Kendrick has career lows in BB/9 IP, HR/9 IP, HR/FB, FIP, and xFIP for full seasons, has already reached a career-high 1.6 fWAR, and is averaging almost a half strikeout more per nine innings pitched versus his career average. Entering June, Kendrick appeared to be a fringe All-Star candidate. Exiting July, a non-tender candidate. After last night? Who knows.
Kendrick’s performance is especially important when making decisions related to 2014. Kendrick is arbitration eligible after 2013, making $4.5 million this year and likely due for a raise in 2014. Kendrick is joined by John Lannan, who is also arbitration eligible after this season and is currently making $2.5 million, and Roy Halladay as pitchers the Phillies relied on to be in the starting rotation for 2013 who have a large series of question marks surrounding them.
What may complicate the Phillies decision making is the unusually deep pool of free agent starting pitching that is available and the plethora of depth found in their minor league system. The winter of 2013 will feature a huge group of capable veteran free agent pitchers and a few players that are emerging or developing stars, while players like Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin have shown varying degrees of Major League readiness in their appearances. Because there are a number of thoughts and decisions to be made among this pool of players, let’s break down possible fits for the 2014 Phillies starting rotation by category: Locks, Penciled In, Short-Term Free Agent Fit, Long-Term Free Agent Fit, and Prospect Gamble.
Cole Hamels is absolutely locked in. Since June 5, Hamels has a 2.66 ERA in 16 starts for the Phillies. For the season, Hamels has 19 quality starts, good for fifth in all of Major League Baseball. Don’t be fooled by the eight earned he gave up in an April start to the Kansas City Royals: Hamels is still a franchise-caliber pitcher with years who is headed into his peak years.
I’m not as certain to put Cliff Lee in the lock category but for the intents and purposes of this exercise, we will include him. Lee is fifth in the National League in xFIP (defined here) and is tied with Jose Fernandez of the Marlins for seventh in the National League for fWAR. He’s still an elite pitcher even at an advanced age. It may be easier to trade Lee this off season, as only $62.5 million is guaranteed after 2013 ($25 million for 2014, $25 million for 2015, and $12.5 million minimum for a possible buyout of 2016).
If I were the general manager, my instincts would be to trade Lee for the best available offer. The team has too many holes surrounding the pitching staff for his performances to make a regular difference and there is an abundance of one-year veteran free agents and prospects in the Phillies system who could perform well for the Phillies.
Jonathan Pettibone has earned a repeat look at the Majors for 2014 and I have him penciled in. Pettibone arrived in the Majors at age 22 and was able to nearly replicate his numbers from the minors. With added confidence, his control should improve in 2014 and push his Major Leauge WHIP closer to his 1.228 Minor League mark.
Short-Term Free Agent Fit
Kudos to MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs for making my life very easy. They compiled a filter of upcoming free agent pitchers to sort their stats. If you sort by fWAR, you will notice a number of veteran pitchers clogging the top of the list: Hiroki Kuroda, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettite, and Tim Hudson to name a few. I wouldn’t incorporate any of these pitchers into the Phillies long term plans and I wouldn’t take a flier on them in the short term either.
And this is the category that Kendrick, Lannan, and Halladay would fall into as well. And if were the Phillies, I wouldn’t bring back Lannan or Halladay. I would take the most time making a decision on Kendrick.
This category may be quite a tease: for the 2014 Phillies, I would not sign any veteran starting pitchers from the group of five above, primarily because I don’t think their seasons are repeatable in 2014 and also because I think the Phillies have a number of young arms who are Major League ready.. The only “veteran” or established name I would take a flier on is Josh Johnson, who may be much cheaper than anticipated and may have to settle for a one-year, bounce back deal.
There are other intriguing names: Jason Vargas would be worth a cheap look while I would invite Edinson Volquez to camp on a non-guarenteed deal. Both have seen better days and underperformed against high expectations and should be available for little monetary risk.
Long-Term Free Agent Fit
This is where the fun starts. You’ll find James Shields on the list but he has a $12 million team option that Kansas City is all but guaranteed to execute. The same is true for Jon Lester‘s $13 million team option. But Big Time Timmy Jim, Tim Lincecum? He’ll be available at a much reduced price from his current $22 million salary. Lincecum will be available and has seemingly turned the corner from a disastrous 2012, shaving off a half point from his ERA and improving all peripherals. Would you bite if the price ($8-10 million, 2-3 years) was right? Is it crazy to think that Kyle Kendrick may provide more value to the Phillies than Lincecum to the Giants in 2013 and may suddenly be a smarter long term option?
That’s the interesting part: Kendrick, at age 28, is suddenly one of the more attractive options available. He’s the same age as Scott Kazmir, younger than Dan Haren, and has a cleaner bill of health than Phil Hughes. Is the whackiest part of the Phillies 2013 season the fact that, despite his inconsistencies, Kyle Kendrick is a certified, middle-of-the-rotation MLB starter now?
If Shields or Lester somehow had their team options declined, I would call but the price would likely be too high.
Here’s the most fun category: let’s assume for a moment the Phillies bring back Hamels, Lee, Pettibone and settle arbitration with Kendrick. Knowing the Phillies of the past few years under Amaro, they would likely bring in a few veteran guys, think Joel Pineiro or Dave Bush type players, to compete for the fifth spot. But would they offer it to someone like Ethan Martin, Jesse Biddle, Adam Morgan, or Seth Rosin?
Pro wrestling commentator Gorilla Monsoon used to say of Greg “The Hammer” Valentine “It takes him 10 or 15 minutes to get warmed up, Jesse!” That’s what I see with Martin – live stuff who needs time to settle into a game. Martin’s live arm would be a nice fit in the bullpen but has worked only as a starter since 2012 after an less-than-successful run in the bullpen for the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate in 2011. Martin is likely the starter to go once Halladay and Pettibone come back in 2013 but will likely remain with the team through September. If the team chooses to keep him on the roster and have him pitch out of the bullpen, this whole thing could change.
Don’t let Biddle’s 4-13 mark in Reading fool you: other than a recent bout with control issues, Biddle has lived up to the hype as the Phillies top prospect and then some. Biddle will likely fall just short of a career-high in innings pitched but answered the bell for the Fightins. Biddle will definitely be in the competition for the fifth spot next year but may benefit from ironing out control issues with the IronPigs.
If you asked me before the start of the 2013 season which Phillies prospect would be the first to replace an injured Phillie in the rotation, I would have guessed Adam Morgan. Morgan will have freshly turned 24 when pitchers and catchers report next season. Since returning to the IronPigs, Morgan’s innings have been purposefully limited but he has pitched very well: 15 K in 24.2 IP, a 1.46 ERA, with 62% of batted balls finding the ground. Morgan is recovering from a rotator cuff injury but should be ready to take on a regular workload in 2014. The 6’1 lefty from Georgia would be my pick in 2014 to take the fifth spot in the rotation.
And finally, Seth Rosin may be a player the Phillies look at in 2014 at some point. Rosin will have turned 25 when pitchers and catchers report. Rosin has displayed a knack for keeping runners off of the basepaths at Reading (1.216 WHIP) and could be a dark horse to fill the fifth rotation spot next season. Rosin was the “throw-in” type player in the Hunter Pence trade in July 2012.
Absent from this list is Tyler Cloyd. Cloyd has done better in seven starts for the Phillies in 2013 than he did in 2012 but he faces the “potential v. actual” decision crunch that so many teams must make. The Phillies have a number of players they must choose to protect in the Rule V draft this off-season, including Leandro Castro, so Cloyd’s 40-man roster spot may become a valuable commodity. I anticipate Cloyd going the way of Michael Schwimer in a quiet trade for a low-ceiling prospect.
If I were the Phillies, my 2014 rotation would be Hamels, Lee, Pettibone, Kendrick, Morgan, with Martin in the bullpen and Biddle up when the first injury occurs. Any thoughts?