Honestly, I miss Roy Halladay.
There comes a point in every injured player’s recovery period where some fans sort of forget that they’re not around. It’s almost like you’ve become used to their absence, and the phantom limb feeling you get in the time immediately following their disappearance from the roster dissipates.
It’s a bit more layered than just that, though. I miss the Halladay of old, of pre-injury shoulder strength and command; a domineering, towering mound overlord, a regent of the rubber whose very presence demanded the respect of the opposition before he undressed a single batter.
The truth of the matter is, though, that that Halladay is gone. “Doc” is thought of less as a reference to surgically precise pitches and more about the operating table with which Roy has become all too familiar lately. And it’s a sad thought, because anytime a player who stands above his or her contemporaries for such an extended period of time begins to decline, it triggers fond memories of the past and the bittersweet yearning for their impossible return.
There was hope that, once Halladay’s shoulder underwent its most recent tidying, the aging wonder would resemble something more along the lines of his superlative 2010 and 2011. The reasonable hope was never that he’d replicate those years, but that he’d do his best to imitate them and make us all forget about 2012 and the first half of this season.
That renaissance just doesn’t seem possible. Perhaps things will improve with another rehab start, but at this point, the improvement to hope for just seems to be one that moves Doc from “batting practice tosser” to “hopefully better than John Lannan.” Some radar gun readings, according to reports, had him looking more like Tyler Cloyd, and while that’s not awful, it’s unenviable.
Prior to this season, I held the belief that, if anyone could adapt and learn to pitch with diminished velocity, Halladay would be The Guy. Off-the-charts pitchability and stuff with enough movement to compensate for lack of zip seemed almost like a no-brainer, and I figured that Doc was still likely to find a way to post a sub-4.00 ERA even as his peripherals would begin to slip. Now, though, I’m not so sure this injury of his will allow him to regain most of the command of and movement on his pitches that would enable him to compensate.
And that’s part of the reason why Halladay shouldn’t be back with the Phillies in 2014.
It’s long been a foregone conclusion that Halladay’s $20 million option for 2014 will not be vesting, and the pitcher will become a free agent at season’s end. For some team, he could be an excellent buy-low addition, a player who would almost certainly have to accept an incentive-laden deal and stay healthy to earn most of it. And make no mistake: the man will try his damnedest to prove that he is healthy and can be effective again. His competitive nature and drive will never, ever be questioned.
But Philadelphia shouldn’t be the place to have that comeback happen. The Phillies, bogged down by massive deals on a team filled with well-publicized underachievement, actually has a chance to start something of a transition to a younger roster next season. Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Pettibone and Cloyd are under contract for 2014. Kyle Kendrick and John Lannan have their final arbitration years. Ethan Martin remains a rotation possibility, and with Jesse Biddle‘s hopeful ascendance in late ’14 plus Adam Morgan‘s hopeful recovery, internal options appear to be emerging at a quicker rate than they seemed to last year. That leaves off recent promotions like Cody Asche and a young outfield with Domonic Brown and Ben Revere. That’s not to say that’s a thoroughly impressive crop of starting pitchers, but for a team that’s probably not looking at a vastly improved 2014 – no matter what Ruben Amaro tells you is the goal – the more distant future could be more important.
I wouldn’t call retaining Halladay “foolhardy,” because in some ways the move could make sense for the Phillies. If the guaranteed money is palatable and Halladay’s cool with the incentives package offered, you could do far worse with a reclamation project than a two-time Cy Young Award winner with near-Hall-of-Fame-worthy credentials. But for the sake of the club’s present and future, moving on – both tangibly and spiritually – is the best way to go. It doesn’t mean it won’t sting, but the quicker this organization begins to give up the ghost, the better it (and we) will eventually be off.
Besides, if absolutely nothing else, Doc deserves a better shot at going out a winner than this club will provide.