Phillies Fifth Starter Spot Up in the Air

Joe Blanton remains a Phillie, but for how long?

The offseason is winding down, so what else is there for Ruben's boys to do?

Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater's Brighthouse Field for physicals on February 13th, leaving 39 days from now until then. Or roughly 5 weeks or 936 hours or 56,160 minutes, depending on when you're reading this.

Aside from the Cliff Lee signing, there has been about as little action this offseason for the Phillies as anyone would have thought possible. Now, the coup for Lee counted for at least 5 utility infielder signings, but there are still a few holes that can be filled in the remaining 50K or so minutes. Keep in mind that prior to arbitration, the Phils have almost $157 million committed to the 2011 team, already $20 million more than last season and over three times as much as the payroll in 2000.

The battle for number five will most likely be decided in the Spring. Behind Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Lee, it's not as if they need a world shaker to start every fifth day. Since Lee was signed, the overwhelming thought was that Amaro would find a way to trade Joe Blanton and the last two years of his 3 year-$25 million contract. So far there hasn't been much to report on that front, but it's hard to imagine the Phils going into the season with Joey Cupcakes in the rotation -- it would simply be too expensive.

The cheaper in-house options include Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick, with Andrew Carpenter as a very long shot. Worley is a 23-year-old righty from Long Beach State who made his ML debut in July of last season. He pitched in five games, started two, and posted a 1-1 record with a .138 ERA. Opponents hit .178 off him and he struck out 12 in 13.1 innings. He'll likely top out as a 4th starter in the Major Leagues and it's reasonable to expect a solid season from Worley if he gets 25+ starts. He'd also be making less than a million dollars, so he would be a financially responsible option for this year as well as in the future. If he proves able to start consistently at this level, a long(ish)-term deal to keep him around until studs like Brody Colvin and Jarred Cosart are ready would take care of things for a few years.

Kendrick is a well-known commodity around these parts, having started 83 career games for the Phils, 31 of which came last season. He claimed to have learned a lot watching Halladay every day, but the production was not consistently there. He walks too many and strikes out too few, while allowing far too many home runs on a per inning basis. KK is also up for arbitration, where the Inquirer's Matt Gelb predicts he'll make between $2 and $3 million dollars after making less than $500K in each of the last three seasons. He'd be a relatively cheap option compared to Blanton, but he's got virtually no upside and it seems like he's accomplished all he can in Philadelphia. Ideally he'd be packaged with Blanton out of town, though adding a few MPH and tightening his breaking balls could help him fill Chad Durbin's spot in the bullpen.

The Phillies will likely address their fifth starter spot internally, but there has been chatter about a few free agent pitchers. Brian Bannister, Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Bonderman are some right-handed options, guys that could go for a cheap one-year contract to boost the likelihood of getting a long-term deal in the future. All of them had poor 2010 showings but have enjoyed various success in their ML careers. Pedro Martinez and Jamie Moyer are both rumored to be trying to play in 2011 as well, frightening as it may seem.

The best bet is that Ruben will find away to voodoo some team into taking Blanton off our hands and Vance Worley will toe the rubber at Citizens Bank Park every fifth day. How long a leash he'll be awarded by Charlie Manuel remains to be seen, but it's likely that Kendrick will be warm in the bullpen should he falter.

39 days...

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