We thought we had it all figured out. The Phillies don't need a 5th starter until April 12th, so they will break camp with 4--Cole Hamels, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan, Jerome Williams. On April 12th, they'll announce that they've called up either Kevin Slowey, or Sean O'Sullivan, or Jeanmar Gomez to start a couple games until Chad Billingsley is ready to pitch in real, major league games. It wasn't flashy or exciting but it made sense and seemed realistic. There was a comfort in that, the known.
Then yesterday morning I woke up (Yes. I slept in. Back off.) to this tweet from Jayson Stark:
Exec from opposing team says he asked #Phillies who their 5th starter will be. Was told, "He's not here yet."— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 30, 2015
All of a sudden, my world was spinning and it wasn't because I spent the previous day at the bar watching March Madness. This was an existential spinning caused by the sudden onset of skepticism about a truth I once held dear. All of a sudden I not only have to unlearn an accepted truth and embrace uncertainty but I will have to, probably sooner rather than later, meet someone new.
But who is this new acquaintance? This isn't like meeting my cousin Lou from New Mexico who was visiting the Northeastern Unites States for the first time in my life. Although he was new to meet in person, he wasn't new exactly. He always existed in Christmas cards and in family gossip.
This fifth starter is not Lou; he's different.
Then today, the beats rolled out this bit of news:
The Phillies released Kevin Slowey.— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) March 31, 2015
Well, that was quick! (get it, Slowey pitched yesterday and his name has "slow" in it?)
That makes it even more likely that the April 12th starter will come from outside the Phillies organization. We don't know who this mysterious rotation man is yet, but here are a couple possibilities among players who recently lost out on rotation spots with other teams.
Jhoulys Chacin: Just over a week ago, the Rockies released Chacin, which took many by surprise. He's coming off a shoulder injury that limited him to 11 starts in 2014, but prior to that, he provided hope that that Rockies had actually found a useful starter. In 2013, his age 25 season, he threw 197.1 innings with a 3.47 ERA and a matching FIP. Say what you will of the offensive drought that has plagued the league recently, that was still good for a 129 ERA+, the 13th best among qualified pitchers that season. But, and this "but" is large enough to turn me against the idea of Chacin, he's coming off a year of shoulder injuries. Shoulder injuries can be death for pitchers, and it seems like one bit Chacin. Reports were that his velocity was way down and his breaking pitches weren't breaking. I'll pass.
Felix Doubront: Doubront is also in the Chacin mold of pitchers who aren't too old and have shown intriguing skills in their careers. He had a fun 2012 with Boston where he struck out more than a batter per inning over 161 innings. Since then his K% has declined to a Kendrick-ian 14% in 2014. Because he hasn't had the injury issues Chacin has had, he seems like a better bet to bounce back. Because of that, however, there might be other, more appealing, teams interested in his services.
Scott Baker: Another pitcher coming off an injury, Baker missed 2012 to undergo Tommy John surgery and has never quite found his way back. Unlike Doubront and Chacin, Baker, at 33 years old, is probably nearing the end of his career. That said, despite the public perception that Tommy John is a near-guaranteed one-year recovery, pitchers do recover from it at different paces. For some, it takes a couple years to get control and velocity back. Of the pitchers on this list, Baker has had the longest string of successful seasons, posting an average or better ERA+ in 4 out of 5 seasons from 2007-11. The hope would be that he would return close to that level and fetch a useful return in July.
Kevin Correia: Correia is basically what Kyle Kendrick will be in 4 years. For 12 years and over 1400 innings, Correia has cleaned up on the rewards program at the local innings joint. Like clock-work, he logs 150 -200 innings of below-average but suitable mound work each season. There's really no upside here. The plan would be to sign him and pray a contender is ravaged by injuries mid-summer. Not the worst bet in the current climate, but not the most exciting one either.
Paul Maholm: He's coming off a knee injury (ACL) and hasn't sniffed the acclaim of being average at his job since 2012. He's never been noticeably above average and, at age 33, it's hard to dream on an extra gear. I don't see a higher ceiling than Correia, but I do see a lot more risk, so pass.
Those are the pitchers currently available. Honestly, I'm not sure any of them is a better option than Kevin Slowey, but I'm also not sure any of them are much worse. In all likelihood, whoever this mystery 5th starter is will be the pitching embodiment of replacement level. More could become available in the next few days that would be of more interest.
There is one player who, although not a free agent, is rumored to be available and would add that wow! factor: Orioles reliever Brian Matusz. Back in 2009, he was the #5 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America and was seen as the hope for turning the Orioles fortunes. Of course, the Orioles have had success in the last 2 seasons, but not on the shoulders of Matusz. Although he hasn't started a game for them since 2012, he has been a valuable member of their expertly managed bullpen. He just turned 28 in February, so there is plenty of prospect shine left for me, especially after a strong spring.
Of course, the Phillies shouldn't give up anything of future value for him, but Matusz is someone worth considering. Worst case scenario is that he doesn't work out and you try to flip him to another sap willing to take a chance on a former top prospect. Best case scenario is that he sticks in the rotation and establishes himself as a potential back-end guy capable of being around when the Phillies are good again.
And then, there was this:
Amaro said team not interested in any of the pitchers who were released or opted out yesterday #Phillies— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) March 31, 2015
So maybe this entire exercise was pointless. Or maybe Amaro is full of shit, because mere minutes after that, Twitter dot com received this flash update:
Phillies have had internal discussions about SP who have become free agents, like Maholm & Correia, but nothing has been decided Amaro said.— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) March 31, 2015
So maybe there is some use in familiarizing ourselves with these castaways.
Well, that's more than enough words on a potential 5th starter in a throw-away season. Let's play it out with a blog stand-by: the user poll. Who would you like to see as the Phillies 5th starter to start (more or less) 2015? Share your thoughts in the comments.