Saturday, August 1, 2009

Odd Men Out?

With the addition of Cliff Lee to the Phillies rotation, Rodrigo Lopez's time with the team is rapidly drawing to a close. He's unlikely to start again (barring injury), and at the moment, they don't seem to need him in the bullpen, so he's likely to be moved. I argued in a post the other day that the move would probably be for a Triple A catcher. That move didn't come before the trade deadline, but that doesn't eliminate the possibility of the move.

The July 31 deadline was actually the non-waiver trade deadline. Players can still be traded. Indeed, the Phillies have made several post-waiver deadline trades in the past that went on to have major impacts. Last year, Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre were added, and that's also how the Phillies acquired Jamie Moyer in 2006.

The only difference is that after the non-waiver deadline a player must first clear "waivers" before they can be traded. Major, star-caliber players (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jake Peavey, etc.) are unlikely to clear waivers without being claimed by another team, but someone like Rodrigo Lopez isn't likely to excite too much waiver wire activity. And even if he does, a waiver claim doesn't eliminate the possibility of a trade. Claiming a player off waivers forces original team to (1) work out a trade with the team making the claim, (2) take back the player, or (3) lose the player to the team making the claim without getting anything in return.

Since the Phillies aren't trying to sneak a former Cy Young winner through waivers, there's a very good chance they'll be able to get Lopez through. And since I suspect that their preferred acquisition is a Triple A level backup catcher, there might not even be a need for the team on the other side of the trade to put their player through waivers.

If I'm right that takes care of one of the seven potential starting pitchers the Phillies have, but they'll only need five, so who's the second odd man out?

The top of the rotation is set with Cole Hamels, Lee, and Joe Blanton. The three people subject to all of the speculation are JA Happ, Jamie Moyer, and Pedro Martinez. Pedro has said that once he's ready, and clearly he thinks he is just about ready given his performance in the second rehab start on Friday.

Given Happ's success this year (7-2 with a 2.97 ERA), he would seem to be a lock for the rotation. Two factors weigh against that. First, unlike Moyer and Martinez, Happ has recent bullpen experience, having started this season in the 'pen where he also had success (2-0, 2.49 in 12 games). Neither Moyer nor Martinez has extensive experience in relief.

Second, Moyer has turned around his season. One month ago, it would have seemed downright absurd to suggest keeping Moyer in the rotation and moving Happ to the 'pen. In July, however, Moyer put up strong numbers (4-1 with a 3.30).

Of course, nothing will happen until Pedro is ready. His comments make clear that he believes he's ready now and after this stint on the 15-day DL, should be activated for the majors. It's possible, though, that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. will disagree and keep him in Triple A longer.

So, there's a very good chance that Happ will move to the bullpen when Pedro is ready to join the rotation. If either Moyer or Martinez struggles, Happ could always move back into the rotation, having made that transition flawlessly once already this season.

By mid-August, we're probably looking at a Phillies rotation of Hamels, Lee, Blanton, Moyer, and Martinez. And for the first time in my memory any team will be in the situation of removing a Rookie of the Year candidate (Happ) from the starting rotation despite doing a great job as a starter.

JA Happ would indeed be an odd man out.

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