The Phillies Starting Rotation Rotation

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.

The Injured: Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan

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.

The 40 Man Crew: Jesse Biddle, Joely Rodriguez

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.

The New Guys: Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Tom Windle

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.

The Others: Severino Gonzalez, Adam Loewen

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.

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

1 comment

  1. SirAlden

    Brilliant. All the more reason to keep Hamels unless something truly valuable comes back.

    Their are two types of people saying that the Phillies off season has been a failure.

    1) The nihilists who want to blow everything up.

    2) Marginal sportswriters who get up each morning and after their cup of coffee have to say to themselves “What snappy thing that will create hits (both with those that agree and disagree) and a Headline can I write about to fill my quota today?”

    A) Hamels contract is lower than similar Free Agent Contracts to Top Starters this off season.

    B) The Phillies have the money and Hamels Contract only gets better at the All-Star break and next off season.

    C) Starters perceived as equal to or better than Hamels will be getting much more expensive and longer contracts than Hamels next off season.

    D) Nothing is gained by getting prospects equal to or less than the Cliff Lee trade.

    E) Even if you get a Top 100 prospect – a recent study showed that 70% percent of those prospects historically have failed to go on to significant Major League Careers.

    F) And “F” is for Finally – Let us not forget the photo ad of our Franchise World Series Winning California Cool Guy – with his head on his wife’s full pregnant belly that got him the Center City Penthouse in the Luxury Hi Rise. That photo along with “The. Letter To Chase Utley with Sticker” from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” never fails to bring a smile.