01.23.11

Note to Phillies: Don’t Fire Joe Blanton

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 5:41 pm by

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Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently said he won’t or doesn’t want to move former Oakland A’s Opening Day starter Joe Blanton (above), whose $8.5 million salary is reasonable for a #3, but high for a #5. As we all know, the fact that Amaro said this probably means a trade is coming. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Bob Brookover says it should be:

Amaro said the Phillies don’t have to trade Blanton to reduce a payroll that is already over $160 million, and that’s probably true. Come July, however, the $8.5 million that Blanton will be paid this season could be better used on something other than a fifth starter.

As great as the Phillies’ first four starters should be this season, the team is not without some question marks. Brad Lidge finished strong last season, compiling a 0.73 ERA over the last two months before pitching four scoreless innings in the postseason. But he still wasn’t the guy who dominated the league in 2008.

And there’s no guarantee that the projected platoon of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown in right field is going to provide the kind of production that will enable the Phillies to overcome the free-agent loss of Jayson Werth.

It would be a real shame and perhaps even a real disaster if Blanton’s $8.5 million salary prevented them from going after quality reinforcements.

A school of thought says that it might be impossible to deal Blanton because of his contract, but this is a guy whom the Phillies paid big dollars because they thought he would be a solid third starter in their rotation. Amaro needs to persuade only one other GM to believe the same thing. And when guys go down with injuries in spring training, the trade landscape can rapidly change.

But there’s a lot wrong with this logic. Trade Blanton now so you can deal/pay for other guys in July? Why not just trade Blanton in July, if the team has shown that it can win 100 games without him at that point? He’ll be worth more to a deadline contender wanting a post-season proven starter than he is for any old team with a #3 hole now. At that point teams will also be more willing to take all of his salary (which includes two more years of contract). Blanton is not overpaid, there just aren’t that many teams who can actually pay him (and need him) as a #3 or #4. If any team was willing to do that while providing the Phillies with anything but a laughable return, he would already be gone.

Sure, that means spending extra cash for 2-3 months, but that would also give the Phillies time to find out if they have the answers to the question that this column highlights (bullpen, RF). I suppose it’s possible that the $4 million they spend on Blanton for three months is $4 million they can’t spend on acquisitions in July, but those acquisitions would be half-price too. Plus, when you are dealing at the deadline, budgets get a little looser all around. Come July, you can trade Blanton himself for what you need, or for prospects if you’re moving some to fill those other needs.

And yes, players get injured in spring training. They also get injured during the season. Every current member of the Phillies rotation has spent time on the DL over the past three years, and each of the last three Phillies teams has needed not five, not six, but seven to eight starters. If JA Happ, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton – 60% of last year’s spring training rotation – can all go down for several months, so (unthinkable as it may be) can any of the current studs (three of whom are over 30). It would look pretty stupid to trade Joe Blanton and then have Kyle Kendrick instead of Roy Oswalt (and Brian Bass – ok, Vance Worley – in Kendrick’s spot) for even just a month if you don’t have to.

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