The Phillies would love to trade Blanton and insert Kyle Kendrick into the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Major league sources tell me the Phillies are making it clear that they would take as much as $2 million of Blanton’s $8 million deal.
While the Phillies’ desire to trade Blanton isn’t anything new, especially since Kendrick was signed to a two-year, $7.5 million deal during the off-season, we have a better idea of just how much salary relief they are seeking. Cot’s Contracts puts the Phillies at $167 million without factoring in pre-arbitration players. Saving $6 million would put them $17 million under the luxury tax, which is more than enough wiggle room for in-season transactions. That makes one wonder if GM Ruben Amaro has another big trade up his sleeve. At the very least, it gives the team the flexibility to pull off such a move in July if necessary.
Swapping out Blanton with Kendrick does have its downsides. Of the five projection systems listed on FanGraphs, Blanton’s FIP is projected between 3.98 and 4.11. Kendrick is projected between 4.30 and 4.61. To prorate that over 200 innings, that amounts to an 88-91 run range for Blanton and a 96-102 run range for Kendrick. At the most extreme, the difference between the two is roughly 15 runs, or one and a half wins. PECOTA isn’t any sunnier, projecting a 4.29 ERA for Blanton and 4.76 for Kendrick, a difference of 10 runs over 200 innings. Unless one expects Kendrick to post an absurd BABIP, as he has done in the past, there will be a noticeable drop-off in production out of the #5 spot in the rotation.
As tends to be the case in spring training, some dark horse rotation candidates have emerged. Scott Elarton, of the career 5.29 ERA in 1,065 innings, has looked sharp in six exhibition innings with the Phillies, striking out five and walking none. Dave Bush has an ugly spring ERA, but has pitched better than it indicates, having struck out three and walked none in four and one-third innings, inducing plenty of weak contact. Blanton has, to this date, looked as good as anyone as he currently sits with a goose-egg ERA backed up by four strikeouts and one walk in five innings.
If Blanton wasn’t showing signs of good health and if none of the Phillies’ hopefuls (Elarton, Bush) looked capable of competing with Major League hitters, the team wouldn’t be so eager to move Blanton. It is certainly a good situation to be in, as Blanton is an above-average pitcher with good control and an ability to miss bats (2.7 K/BB as a Phillie). As long as he continues to show that his elbow is back to form, interest in Blanton will build as spring training goes on. Per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports: