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March 13, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Trouble at the Doc's Office

by Daniel Rathman

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Despite an even .500 finish last season and a similar 81-win projection for 2013, PECOTA gives the Phillies a one-in-four chance of reaching the postseason this year. Those odds would plummet, though, if Roy Halladay were unable to recover from a down season marred by shoulder trouble to do his 4.0 WARP part. 

Should Phillies fans, fantasy owners be concerned about Roy Halladay?
And, if the veteran right-hander’s outing on Tuesday offers any indication of the results to come, the Citizens Bank Park faithful ought to be fidgeting about their team’s 2013 hopes.

After holding opponents to six hits and two walks over 8 1/3 innings in his first three spring starts, Halladay suffered a thumping at the hands of the Tigers yesterday afternoon, despite facing a Detroit lineup that was without Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Austin Jackson. He coughed up seven runs over just 2 2/3 innings of work, issuing four walks that created jams and allowing six hits (including two home runs, one of which was a Ramon Santiago grand slam) that turned the outing into a full-blown disaster. 

Even more worrisome than Halladay’s box-score line, however, was the stuff that he brought to the mound on Tuesday. Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the 35-year-old’s fastball was “sitting between 86 and 88 [mph],” and he later spoke with a scout who clocked him at 84-85 mph. Either measurement would represent a significant step backward from Halladay’s 2012 sinker velocity, which ticked back up to 91 mph after his 42-game stint on the shelf to nurse a lat strain. And the control issues, which led to an extremely rare, four-walk outing for the northpaw (who had only twice doled out at least that many free passes in a regular-season start since 2009), also remain unexplained. 

One scout who was in attendance at Clearwater, Florida, told ESPN’s Jayson Stark that Halladay had “no finish on anything,” and the right-hander later attributed his dismal arsenal to fatigue. Halladay refuted any notion that he is dealing with pain or soreness, and instead blamed his 69-pitch fiasco on an enhanced conditioning program, which made him “lethargic” before he even took the mound on Tuesday.

His manager and pitching coach, however, seemed more troubled by the lack of bite on Halladay’s stuff. The latter, Rich Dubee, believes that the righty’s delivery was the culprit, telling reporters—including MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki—after the game that his mechanics had “no tempo.” Meanwhile, Charlie Manuel expressed concern but was reassured by Halladay’s assertion that he is healthy, and the skipper expressed confidence that the velocity and command would return once he is stretched out and able to tackle his normal workload.

Regardless of the actual explanation for the poor performance, fans and fantasy owners will surely be watching when Halladay next toes the rubber. The northpaw has lost several ticks off of his hard stuff—which touched 94 mph when PITCHf/x data were first extensively tracked—over the past several years, and if he is still struggling to reach 90 mph on the radar gun next month, the movement on his sinker and cutter may no longer adequately compensate for their diminishing oomph.

Should an injury force Halladay or another starter to the disabled list before Opening Day, the Phillies would either be forced to dig into their farm system, where the most-prepared choices are Tyler Cloyd and Jonathan Pettibone, or to use a placeholder veteran like Rodrigo Lopez and Aaron Cook, who signed a minor-league deal earlier this offseason.

Yes, that’s the same Aaron Cook whose incredibly low strikeout volume prompted this article from Matthew Kory last August, and no, none of those options is likely to even approach the value that a healthy and effective Halladay could generate. Combine Tuesday’s radar-gun readings with the dearth of high-ceiling replacements, and there is plenty of cause for concern. All we can do for now, though, is wait to see the reports from Halladay’s next Grapefruit League start, which could come against an Orioles split squad on Sunday afternoon.

Diamondbacks shopping John McDonald
General manager Kevin Towers spent the winter stockpiling left-side infielders and corner-position reserves, and after a few months of adding, the time has come for the Diamondbacks to subtract. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, McDonald is among the position players that Towers is now hoping to ship out of the desert in an effort to clear the logjam that his plethora of pickups created.

The 38-year-old McDonald played in 70 games for the Diamondbacks last year, earning 47 starts at shortstop in the absence (and departure) of Stephen Drew, but with Cliff Pennington set to take over the primary duties and Willie Bloomquist available to spell him, McDonald is entirely expendable. A glove-first, right-handed hitter, McDonald hit southpaws well in a 72-plate appearance sample of .318/.366/.530 work last year, but he has not previously shown a useful split against lefties and is unlikely to have picked up a new skill at age 38. 

McDonald could fit well with the Rangers, who are seeking a “utility infielder who can play shortstop,” per MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Jeff Baker, the only utility man with major-league service time on manager Ron Washington’s current bench, has made 420 major-league appearances at five different positions, but has never played shortstop (or catcher or center field).

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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