Internet and sports-radio rumors have free-agent pitcher Kris Benson in Philadelphia today, possibly to finalize a free-agent deal with the Phillies. The 33 year-old right-hander missed the entire 2007 season, but had been a durable and reasonably effective back-of-the-rotation starter in his three previous seasons, pitching between 174 and 200 innings in each with ERA+ scores of 100, 99 and 95.
The appeal of Benson is that essentially he's Kyle Lohse, the former Phillie still hanging out on the free-agent market, but will come cheaper as a result of his questionable health: maybe one year for less than $5 million, compared to Lohse's likely demand of something like two years, $20 million. This makes sense if you regard both as roughly equal risks for 2008, and indeed their career numbers are fairly similar...
Benson: 7 years, 1207.3 IP, 68-73, 4.34 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 102 ERA+
Lohse: 7 years, 1164 IP, 63-74, 4.82 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 95 ERA+
If anything, Benson looks better by this comparison. But Lohse is more than four years younger, has a cleaner bill of health (in fact, he's never missed a large chunk of time with injury), and two of his last three seasons were better than Benson's (e.g. Lohse's 2005 vs. Benson's 2004; since Benson missed '07, they can't be directly compared). Lohse's career numbers are dragged down by his atrocious 2006.
In truth, as I commented in the previous thread, the Phillies need both guys. It's implausible enough to imagine Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, both of whom missed at least a month last season, making 30 starts apiece. It's even less likely that 45 year-old Jamie Moyer and previously unheralded Kyle Kendrick are good for, say, 350 decent innings between them. And let's not even revisit the Adam Eaton question, or the dubious prospect of getting solid work from the likes of the Durbins or J.A. Happ or Travis Blackley.
Adding both Benson and Lohse gets the Phillies some redundancy and insurance. They're both decent #3 to #5 options, and given the likelihood that Benson won't be 100 percent recovered by Opening Day, the only guy pushed out of the rotation is Eaton--who's a perennial injury risk himself. By the time Benson is ready for action in May or June, one of the first five likely will be hurt or ineffective.
My fear is that the Phillies will stick with Eaton from their habitual failure to appreciate the concept of sunk costs, and at best will add Benson as a nod to practicality. In normal times, this could be a defensible course of action, But as noted here and elsewhere, these aren't normal times: you've got three superstar regulars in their primes, one legitimate Cy Young contender and another guy who could win 15-18 games, and other pieces in place to make a run at the whole thing. You've got a division rival that has shown they'll mortgage the future to win now. Phillies management owes it to their players and fans to go the extra mile--and get both Lohse and Benson.
(No, I don't think this will really happen. It just should.)