In 2014 nine different pitchers started a game for the Phillies. Three of the top four names on that list are now gone (A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick, and Roberto Hernandez), in their place the Phillies are rolling out Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, and another attempt at starting by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The result is what could amount to a buffet of trade assets for teams that will be looking for pitching over the course of the season. The key of course is that behind this curtain of older pitchers, the Phillies have rebuilt their minor league depth with pitchers nearly ready to step into a major league rotation. None of the Phillies’ young pitchers outside of David Buchanan (and Aaron Nola, but he is a different case) are really viable candidates to make the opening day rotation. Rather than force the issue, the Phillies have gone for a mix of flexibility and upside. Once again though, it is all about the future. None of the pitchers the Phillies have brought into camp this year have an salary obligations past 2015. This gives the Phillies all upside and really no downside. All of this together is one of the front office’s greatest pieces of work since they assembled the 2011 team.
What we have is a group that is meant to change. The minute someone reaches the Phillies demands for Cole Hamels he is gone, and likely that spot is filled by the loser of the #5 rotation spot race. Once Cliff Lee has reestablished his health and dominance, he is gone too, and then you have to make a decision on whether Aaron Nola is ready. This continues on and on down the rotation. If a team wants an innings eater, Aaron Harang could be out the door. The Phillies didn’t “rebuild” their rotation this offseason, no instead they set it up to rebuild itself organically.
I think it is fairly easy to make the assumption that by the end of the year Hamels, Lee, Billingsley, Williams, and Harang will either be out of Philly already, on the DL, or shoved to the side in favor of other prospects. So now we can start to think about how this will look with the transition in place:
Near Locks: Aaron Nola, David Buchanan
No pitcher is ever a lock to be healthy by the end of the year, but Nola is major league ready now and David Buchanan just put up 117.2 innings of serviceable production. Buchanan doesn’t have a high ceiling, but he should be able to hold down a rotation spot until something better comes along.
Shoulder injuries are scary things for pitchers, but both Pettibone and Margan once had the talent to be rotation staples. It is unlikely either achieves their future ceiling, but Morgan likely has the best chance to pitch in a rotation after finally having a healthy offseason to rebuild his strength.
Rodriguez is probably the next guy in line based on his opening placement in AAA. The former Pirate will certainly get a chance to prove he can stay in the rotation before going to the bullpen and based on his fall/winter he should be able to get close to a back of the rotation ceiling. Biddle has had his struggles, but if he puts it together at the beginning of the year he could be near major league ready quickly. It would be more end of the year for Biddle, but you never know with 40 man spots.
It really is only a short jump to the majors from AA and all three guys should open the year in the Reading rotation. Lively is the only one who really has a good chance of making the big league club this year due to already having AA time under his belt. Eflin and Windle could make the jump, but neither needs a 40 man spot this offseason so it makes little sense that the Phillies will accelerate either just to get them to the majors.
MAG: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
If you know what MAG is going to be, you are lying. I think he is more of a reliever than a starter, but he could be anything.
Trade Returns: ?
If the Phillies trade some combination Hamels, Lee, Billingsley, Harang there is decent odds they get a pitcher back who can fill in the rotation. We have no clue who this player could be, so lets not pencil them in.
Neither guy looks like a rotation staple going forward, but both could fill in at the back of rotation with more upside than Sean O’Sullivan.
So this is what the Phillies have set themselves up to possibly do by not spending big on a rotation, but also not relying on prospects to start.
Opening Day: Hamels/Lee/Harang/Billingsley/Williams
End of Season: Nola/Buchanan/Rodriguez/Biddle/Lively + 3-4 trade returns
The downside of this strategy, they pay guys to go away and bring up the prospects anyway. All in all the Phillies front office followed through on correcting one of the biggest weaknesses in the organization. The pitchers they have in the upper minors may not be the aces of the future, but they also shouldn’t be paying $5M for back of the rotation starters after this season.