Opinion among bloggers and those who comment therein is running strongly in favor of the Phillies seeking pitching help and using minor league first baseman Ryan Howard as the bait.
The arguments are persuasive. In no particular order they are:
1. Robinson Tejeda is game, but his minor league record does not suggest he will be the answer to Randy Wolf's loss.
2. Howard's stock has never been higher (depending on whom you listen to) or is at the very least high enough to draw interest and someone of value in return.
3. Jim Thome is blocking Howard's path to the big leagues for the foreseeable future anyway.
4. The Phils not only need to replace Wolf in the starting rotation, they might have to replace Vicente Padilla, too, if he remains ineffective (See below). Padilla will also be a free agent at the end of this season according to one comment I read, so his departure seems assured sooner rather than later.
5. There are few quality starters out there and even fewer are left-handers, but at least one, Barry Zito, fits the bill for most of the bloggers and commentators who weighed in.
6. Based on their impressive play over the last month the Phils have a legitimate chance to win their division, but their chances are diminished significantly with the loss of Wolf. So, they must act now.
7. There isn't any other help down on the farm.
I'm sure I left out some arguments, but the above list addresses the majority of opinions I read.
Here is how I see things unfolding.
The Phils will try to trade Howard, a move I oppose given Thome's fragile health the last two seasons. Howard, you may recall, formally requested a trade at the beginning of the season when he was sent down to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after a stellar year in 2004 and an excellent spring training. He was called up to the big club when Thome was on the DL, but he didn't produce until his final few games, when he started to hit with authority. He can hardly be faulted for struggling when he was given roughly 20 at-bats here and there, some as a pinch hitter, a role veteran players find difficult to fill. Anyone who judges him based on that brief period is kidding himself. The reality is that the 25-year old Howard is a proven hitter at every level at which he has played, one moreover, whose power and swing are ideal for Citizens Bank Park. The consensus is that since he cannot play for the Phils in the next few years, get rid of him while he is still coveted by other teams. The Phils will probably accommodate the majority in this case.
Barry Zito is the favorite object of the local bloggers' desire. Despite a down year in 2004 and a poor start to 2005, he is a proven commodity. Moreover, as many people point out, his record this season is deceiving. Though 3 - 7 overall with a 4.47 ERA, he has a 3.48 ERA for his last 11 appearances and has suffered from terrible run support for much of this year.
Zito, others remind me, signed a contract through 2005 with a club option for 2006, making it much more likely he would be more than a 3-month rental if the Phils were to acquire him. As a lefty, he would also fill that need in what now is an all-righthanded starting rotation here.
School is out on whether or not the lack of a lefthander is really a problem. I would have to defer to Charlie Manuel and Mike Lieberthal on this matter. Both said it could be. They know better than I do.
School is also out on whether or not the A's would even listen to an offer for Zito. They don't have to trade him. Further complicating this particular scenario, Oakland already has a young first baseman of their own, Dan Johnson, who was the MVP of the Pacific Coast League last year. On the plus side for all parties, the Phils play Oakland in a weekend series beginning tomorrow, so Zito wouldn't have to travel far to join his new club. Toppping off everything, in a delicious coincidence no press agent could have ever dreamed up, Zito is scheduled to start against the Phils Friday night. His opponent? It would have been Randy Wolf; instead, he faces Robinson Tejeda.
If Zito is unavailable another possibility would be...are you sitting down?...Eric Milton. OK, I know, he is having a horrendous season. All the more reason the Reds would be willing to let him go. The Phils would be intrigued because Milton pitched effectively here last year. True, he gave up a ton of homers in a Phillies uniform and is on course to give up even more in Cincinnati, but Milton produced here, leading the club in wins. He received tremendous run support last season, but in truth he could expect even more now with the way the Phils have been hitting. He wouldn't be my choice either, but I'll bet Ed Wade is going to make inquiries. This unlikely deal isn't without its own complications. Would Cincinnati want Howard with Sean Casey in residence? Not likely, so don't fret over these remote possibilities.
* * * * * * * * *
Seattle fans can be excused for wondering what all the fuss has been about the red-hot Phillies. In the first two games of the series the Phils managed a lone run in each. On Tuesday night they were held to three hits. Last night they managed eight, though five of them were by two players, Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley.
Jon Lieber pitched well enough to win Tuesday. The same cannot be said of Vicente Padilla, who continues to struggle. Staked to a one run lead in the top of the first he promptly surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning on way to another loss. He pitched 5.2 innings and yielded three earned runs. Seattle's final runs came on a two run homer off Ryan Madson.
Nothing demoralizes a team faster, especially on the road, than jumping out to a lead only to have their starter give it right back. Padilla, who has often lost his focus during a game has developed a new wrinkle this season: he begins
a game without focus.
* * * * * * * * *
Todd Zolecki writes in this morning's Inquirer
that the loss of Randy Wolf is going to be far more costly than first thought. Not only will they lose the lefty's services for at least all of next season, they are obligated to pay his entire $9 million salary thus further hamstringing any efforts to sign someone else.
* * * * * * * * *
How quickly can things turn around? The Phils fell an additional two games behind division leading Washington following their losses in Seattle and are now three games back in second place.