Pitching and defense wins championships. This old adage has been ingrained in the minds of baseball fans and front offices for decades. Take just one look at the Phillies pitching depth throughout the organization and it’s clear the Phillies have adopted the mantra since starting their rebuild.
Currently, the average age for the Phillies pitching rotation, with the exception of Jeremy Hellickson, hovers around 24 years old. When Clay Buchholz went down, while not ideal, there wasn’t a huge sense of panic. That’s because you have the likes of Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Jake Thompson waiting to fill the slot. Look even further down the line and you’ll find the combined 2.03 ERA among Lakewood’s young hurlers incredibly promising.
While pitching may win championships, it’s not necessarily always in the most obvious sense. The obvious way is to draft, sign and acquire arms though trades that you hope will eventually be at the core of a winning team. The Phillies tried this route when they acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt in 2010 and ’11. Together with Joe Blanton and homegrown Cole Hamels, this all-star rotation in ’11 led the Phillies to 102 wins, but a first round playoff exit.
The Mets are also taking the obvious route. In case you haven’t been paying attention, it hasn’t been going according to plan.
Their own version of the “Five Aces” have played together for only four months since June 28, 2015, according to Sports Illustrated. Zach Wheeler was sidelined for nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery. Matt Harvey was a shell of himself in 2016 and had season-ending surgery before the all-star break. Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom were both done with more than a month left in the season. Noah Syndergaard was just diagnosed with a partial lat tear, which will likely keep him out until after mid-July.
For the sake of throwing out old adages – it doesn’t always pay to put all of your eggs in one basket.
Can anyone fault the Mets for holding onto all of those elite pitchers during their rebuild? Hardly. But in hindsight, I’m wondering if General Manager Sandy Alderson would have liked to swap one of them for a bat or two to help out his struggling offense.
What Klentak has done by acquiring a plethora of pitchers is smart. What he does with them, however, will shape the future of the Phillies.
Will he take the obvious route like the Mets and hold onto all of his assets for better or for worse? Or will he gamble on a few and sell high in attempt to fill necessary holes elsewhere?
My bet is on the latter.
Klentak and majority owner John Middleton have made it clear they will make the necessary investments for star players when the time is right. It wasn’t until more recently, however, that Klentak has hinted at acquiring key players via trade, telling the media before the home opener “We could easily make an investment in the form of a trade.”
Teams in contention are often in desperate need for an arm or two to get them through the long haul. On the flip side, lowly teams with depleted systems are eventually willing to trade a star player, much the like Phillies did with Cole Hamels, in order to replenish the farms.
If the Phils’ depth of pitchers continues to progress, Klentak’s phone is going to be ringing. If he’s smart, he’ll answer. The pieces to a championship might be on the other end.