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March 21, 2012

The BP First Take

Wednesday, March 21

by Daniel Rathman

The Rockies need reliable starting pitchers and have a plethora of infielders. The Phillies are running out of infielders and have a surplus of starting pitchers. Perhaps general managers Dan O’Dowd and Ruben Amaro Jr. should have a chat.

With two weeks remaining before Opening Day, Colorado’s rotation plan is still to throw a bunch of things at a wall and hope five of them stick. Jeremy Guthrie, Drew Pomeranz, and Jhoulys Chacin are locks, though Chacin has dealt with a blister on his pitching hand and was far too hittable on Tuesday night. Juan Nicasio’s recovery from a broken neck may be the feel-good story of the year. That leaves a four-way battle for the number-five spot, between Tyler Chatwood, Guillermo Moscoso, Jamie Moyer, and Alex White.

Chatwood may one day be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter, but he was nearly a win below replacement for the Angels last year and could use more seasoning. Moscoso thrived in the vast pastures of The Coliseum in 2011 but was lucky to post a 4.70 ERA (5.04 FIP) on the road, and he had a lowly 26.8 percent ground-ball rate that will surely be his undoing at Coors Field.  Moyer might be the current favorite, but he’s 49, already dealing with a nagging injury, and has a worrisome home run track record in recent seasons. White’s 8-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine innings this spring only looks good if you’re drunk, as he reportedly was while driving earlier this month.

That’s quite a motley crew—and it could be the Achilles heel for a team that PECOTA thinks might not be terribly far off from contending in the NL West this season. The Rockies added several steady contributors to their lineup this winter in Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, and Casey Blake, fortifying a lineup anchored by Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Center fielder Dexter Fowler could blossom into an elite table-setter if he sustains at least some of his .288/.361/.498 second-half triple slash over a full season. And even though Huston Street was shipped to San Diego in December, the bullpen should survive with Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle working the late innings.

In a three-horse race between the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Rockies, Arizona and San Francisco have an obvious advantage when it comes to starting pitching, but Colorado figures to boast the best offense. With Stephen Drew’s timetable for returning to the Diamondbacks uncertain and the Giants sorting through their own motley crew in the middle infield, the gap between the co-favorites and the sleeper Rockies is smaller than it seems. A stable fifth starter could go a long way toward bridging it.

And that’s where the Phillies come in. There are indications that the team is actively looking to unload Joe Blanton and at least some of his $8.5 million salary for 2012. Meanwhile, as I wrote yesterday, a lack of depth could leave Philadelphia reeling from injuries to its infielders.

Blanton is no ace, but he can handle a 200-inning workload and had no injury history prior to the elbow impingement that cost him most of last season. He has looked healthy this spring, logging an 8-to-1 K/BB ratio over 10 innings. And in the 41 1/3 innings he did pitch in 2011, Blanton showed an intriguing increase in his ground-ball rate—perhaps a fluke, but possibly the result of a shift away from his four-seam fastball and to using more sinkers and cutters.

The Rockies are not among the teams known to have shown interest in Blanton so far, but that may change if the instability at the rear of their rotation persists. With Chase Utley’s knee still acting up and his backup, Michael Martinez, now nursing a broken foot, the Phillies could find at-bats for infielders like Chris Nelson and Jonathan Herrera—who were displaced by the additions of Scutaro and Blake—if one is included as part of the return for Blanton.

The match is there, and the impetuses seem to be, too. That sound you hear is Mr. O’Dowd dialing Mr. Amaro’s number—at least it should be. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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