The Phillies' season just got a little more interesting. While five Phillies were taking part in another disheartening NL loss in the All-Star Game, Ruben Amaro and the front office were hard at work. The result of that work is a new addition to the Phillies rotation: Pedro Martinez.
Pedro will head to the 15-day DL with a mild shoulder strain (not a promising start) but this may be primarily so the Phillies can get him a few warm-up starts before he joins the rotation.
On the surface, it's a questionable move. The Phillies are asking a 37-year-old pitcher who hasn't thrown 200+ innings since 2005 to shore up the back end of their rotation. Based on that there is little reason to believe he'll be any better than the Phillies' in-house options (Rodrigo Lopez, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, maybe Antonio Bastardo again). Especially considering Pedro's unimpressive 5.61 ERA in 2008.
But the thing to remember is that the Phillies' expectations for Pedro are low. They know they're not getting the Pedro Martinez that was, in his prime, the most dominant pitcher on the planet. They don't need him to pitch 200 innings and amass 200 Ks. They just need him to go out every five days for the next three months and give them quality starts. If Pedro gives the Phillies six innings and allows three runs (the definition of a quality start) in every start for the rest of the season, this will have been a rousing success. If, in addition, he can summon some of his old magic and provide a few dominant outings, even better.
So all in all this has to be considered a good move. The Phillies aren't paying much, in fact it's only a $1 million contract (with up to $1.5 million in incentives), so there's very little risk involved. If Pedro struggles and/or gets injured, the Phillies can cut him loose and continue to shuffle in the Rodrigo Lopez's of the world into the fifth rotation slot. But if he is good (and based on this season, a Phillies starter posting a 4.50 ERA would, in fact, be pretty good), the Phillies will get a huge lift to their postseason aspirations.
In all likelihood, this move in itself will not have a huge impact on the season, seeing as most projections suggest Pedro will be about a league-average pitcher. Even if he exceeds that, we're most likely talking about a Joe Blanton-style acquisition, where we add a solid 4th or 5th starter, not an ace.
That said, this could greatly impact the Phillies' ability to trade for an ace. One of the stumbling blocks in the Phillies quest to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays is that it might require giving up J.A. Happ. Happ is a very valuable asset, and not just because he's a promising 26-year-old pitcher, but because he's become a key member of the rotation. Frankly, either Happ or Blanton has been the Phillies' best starter this season (depending on whether or not you want to give Blanton credit for getting a lot more starts), as Hamels has been fairly erratic.
A few days ago, trading Happ (and others) for Halladay meant mortgaging the team's future AND its present, to a degree. While Halladay would surely be an upgrade over Happ, the Phillies would still have been left with a hole in the 5th slot in the rotation. But now, with Pedro in place, the Phillies can seriously consider trading Happ and trying to ride a rotation of Hamels, Halladay, Blanton, Moyer, and Martinez to the World Series. With that group, I would like their chances.
Of course, given the choice, I would still opt to deal prospects from the minors (even the great Kyle Drabek) and retain Happ, if for no other reason than he's proven that he can be effective for the Phillies and they are already a very old team. The Phillies will need starters next season too and, as it stands, they can only be sure about having Hamels and Happ. Myers is a free agent and Blanton is arbitration-eligible. Moyer has another year under contract, but he has really struggled this year and one has to think he'll consider retirement. Even if Pedro fares well in the second half, he'd half to really dominate for the Phillies to consider bringing him back at age 38. And then there's Halladay, who will be a free agent in 2011 and may or may not be interested in signing an extension with the Phillies. So trading for Halladay but retaining Happ would give the Phillies an excellent 3rd or 4th starter this year and a guy they can count on for the next few years as well.
There is one catch to making such a deal. Trading for Halladay and keeping Happ would crowd the Phillies' rotation and one has to think that would force Moyer out. They certainly won't send Pedro to the bullpen after all that work to sign him and Moyer's 5.99 ERA does not exactly inspire confidence for the stretch run. So Moyer would have to head for the 'pen, where it's unclear whether or not he could be of any use. Moyer has appeared in 654 games and 601 of them have been starts, with only one relief outing since 1997 (and that outing came in the 16th inning of an 18-inning Mariners loss to the Rangers in 2004, so it wasn't exactly by design).
Frankly it's just hard to see the Phillies doing that to one of the best-liked players on the team and the premier elder statesman of the game. It just seems like bad karma. But most likely it will not be an issue, as trading Happ for Halladay makes a lot more sense now than it did a week ago. We'll see if it happens, but at least for now we can be pleased that the Phillies revolving door of #5 starters has come to a halt.