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The image to your right was the cover of Sports Illustrated in March 2011. Depicted were the Phillies’ four aces — Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt — and Joe Blanton. It was a glorious time for the Phillies, still riding the rush of sell-out after sell-out and playoff appearance after playoff appearance. Going on two years later, a lot has changed. Once with quad aces, the Phillies now have just a pair of aces in Hamels and Lee. Halladay’s 2012 season was a disaster while Oswalt and Blanton are long gone. Meanwhile, Vance Worley suffered an elbow injury, Kyle Kendrick had immense success flirting with the league average, and Tyler Cloyd has struggled to keep his ERA under 5.00.
We assume Halladay and Worley will be ready to go by spring training, but there are no guarantees and the Phillies, more than almost anyone, know the value of having too much starting pitching as opposed to too little. Unfortunately, there won’t be many reasonable, cheap starters available in free agency after the top shelf (Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum) is harvested, a shelf the Phillies likely won’t be standing on their tips of their toes to reach.
One name to consider is Scott Baker. The Twins have a $9.5 million option on his contract that will likely be declined. In the event Baker doesn’t take a more team-friendly contract with them, the Phillies could make a play for the 31-year-old on a cheap one- or two-year deal. Before succumbing to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery on April 17, Baker arguably had his best two years in 2010-11, posting a 3.63 SIERA with a 3.93 ERA with a slightly above-average strikeout rate and a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching four to one.
Carlos Villanueva is another name to keep an eye on, as the right-hander looked good after moving to the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation at the end of June. From June 29 to August 30, the soon-to-be 29-year-old posted a 3.03 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 17 walks in 65 and one-third innings. His production declined precipitously in September, however, allowing 24 runs in 26 and two-thirds innings, thanks in large part to 10 home runs allowed. Villanueva earned less than $2.3 million in 2012 in his final year of arbitration, so he would come at a relatively cheap price if the Phillies were to pursue him.
No matter who they target, the Phillies should feel uneasy going into 2013 with a rotation that includes a 35-year-old Halladay coming off of the worst season of his career since becoming an every-fifth-day starter, Worley returning from elbow surgery, and one of Kendrick or Cloyd, both needing massive amounts of magic just to post a 4.00 ERA.