The simple answer to that question is yes. Every team in baseball including the Phillies could use more pitching. With the bullpen beat up and unreliable, John Lackey giving up 8 runs in 4 innings on a day the Sox needed a strong start, Clay Buchholz showing heavy regression from last year and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett still being mysteries, this team could absolutely use more pitching. Specifically they could stand to upgrade over Dice K and Lackey.
The tougher question to answer is how make that upgrade over the unreliable duo of Dice and Lackey?
As most of us are well aware, Dice and Lackey are very well paid. Dice has another year on his contract and is earning $10 million this year and next. Lackey has 4 more years at over $15 million, which might be the worst use of the phrase “4 more years” since George Bush got re-elected (Boom! Political satire! Eat your heart out Bill Maher!). This makes them 1)untradeable and 2) in Lackey’s case unreleasable.
Another solution to underperforming starters is to demote them to the bullpen. This probably won’t be a solution either as both have pitched just once in relief their entire careers, with Dice’s first foray coming Wednesday night (it did not go well). In addition, neither profile well in a bullpen role. With Dice K’s love of the walk and Lackey’s “fast”ball sitting at 89 now, they would not be able to come into any situation with runners on base or in a close game.
Yet another solution for a struggling pitcher is to find something wrong with them and place them on the DL. Dice has been relatively decent over his last few starts and he looks to be healthy so this probably won’t work for him, nor is it time to push him to the side just yet. But Lackey is a different story. In his latest stinker, which unbelievably isn’t even his worst start of the season, Sloth’s “fast”ball looked significantly slower than usual. I was noticing a lot of 87-89 readings on the MLB gamecast and very few if any above 90. After checking Fangraphs pitch velocity tracker, I confirmed that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Lackey over the last 4 years threw a fastball at about 91.5 MPH. This year, the average is down to 90.4 MPH. But if you look at the graph below and see the top cluster of blue dots that represent his fastball velocity for each start, you can see them trending downward. So maybe there is actually something wrong with him.
So let’s say there is something wrong with Lackey and the team throws him on the DL and for hypotheticals sake, let’s say it’s for an extended stay of 2 months. What can the team do next? The internal options are not all that inspiring. I love Tim Wakefield and what he has done for the team, but there is no way he should be fluttering his knuckler every fifth day. Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers offer intriguing options but should probably be left in the bullpen. Michael Bowden is no longer an option as he has been pitching the ninth for Pawtuckett all season and quite well I might add. Felix Doubront has also been pitching in short stints this year and just doesn’t quite seem ready for prime time yet. Andrew Miller may be an option someday but he’s got 17 walks in 22 innings in Pawtuckett. Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton, the top pitching prospects in the system, are either not ready (Ranaudo) or falling apart (Britton). And for those morons who wish the Red Sox didn’t trade Casey Kelly for Adrian Gonzalez, he’s striking out an uninspiring 6.2 batters per 9 innings in AA.
So we can’t be spiritual and look inside for relief, what is there on the outside? Well at this point in the season, not a whole lot. There are few teams who have lost hope at this point (although it’s looking more and more possible that the Twins and White Sox just don’t have it this year). Even the Royals believe they are contenders after one month. The Sox could look to poach San Diego or Houston for some of their starters, but other than maybe Wandy Rodriguez, who is a free agent this year, none of the names inspire me. If they want to go the trade route, they will have to most likely be patient for July to roll around where they can look to unload some of their minor league outfield depth.
What about the free agent market? In what shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the pickings are slim. The team could take a flyer on the likes of Kevin Millwood, John Maine, Jeremy Bonderman, Doug Davis or Ben Sheets. But with all their various issues, would any really be an upgrade over even an injured Lackey? Almost certainly no.
Unless the Sox want to do something bold, it looks like we are stuck with these five men in our rotation. They have mostly been lights out since the second week of the season, but the issues remain very close to the surface. I have some ideas of ways the team could upgrade the rotation and other areas, but they are pretty radical and I’ll probably save them until next week. For now, let’s be happy the slumping Twins are coming to town and hope our very expensive offense can tee off on their collection of number 4 starters. The charge (or slow crawl) to .500 continues!