August 6, 2009

The pursuit of happ-yness.

A few days ago, I made the case to a friend that J.A. Happ should move to the bullpen, opening a spot in the rotation for Pedro Martinez.

This wasn't a knock on Happ's pitching ability, nor did I see it as a permanent solution. But the Phillies built up a good deal of enthusiasm by signing Pedro, and even I was a little curious to see how much he's got left in the tank. Regardless, it seemed likely that he'd get his shot, one way or the other.

And Jamie Moyer isn't a reliever. Odds are, his soft-toss precision style would get knocked around worse than RJ Swindle's junk did during his midseason callup last year.

So the only solution seemed to be Happ. He's been lights-out all year, bullpen or otherwise, and he's young enough to be adaptable to both situations. Given the money owed to Moyer (in the middle of a two year, $13 million contract) and the curiosity over what Pedro could bring, it seemed to be the logical move.

But that was before Happ's second complete-game shutout of the year. They've come against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Colorado Rockies, hardly pushover offenses. Overall for the year, he's got a 2.74 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP. The only five starters with lower ERAs are Chris Carpenter, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Dan Haren and Wandy Rodriguez. Lofty company.

Meanwhile, the inordinate amount of respect being shown to Pedro Martinez is starting to annoy me. This is a guy who has been subpar at best the last two years; it's not like we signed late-90's Pedro. Curiosity is one thing, but striking out 11 AA batters and winning a few Cy Youngs when I was in middle school shouldn't guarantee you a rotation spot on the defending world champions.

Would I rather see Pedro in there than Jamie? Probably, and this is coming from a guy with Jamie Moyer pennants and trading cards covering his desk at work. But with the Cardinals, Dodgers and even the Giants looking like strong contenders in the National League, it's "what have you done for me lately" time. And despite dominating the Marlins, Nationals and Diamondbacks, against everyone else Moyer looks like a guy whose time is just about up. Offering him a two-year deal, instead of arbitration, might be one of Amaro's worst moves so far.

I was in support of a Happ bullpen move because it seemed like the only rational solution to the Phillies' pitching logjam. It worked best on paper, but only because of outside factors like contracts, curiosity, commitments and the seemingly easygoing nature of a 26-year old rookie from Illinois.

Now? It's not possible. The kid made his statement, and he backed the Phillies into a corner that, frankly, I'm glad they're in. I'm not sure what they'll do with the aged Martinez and Moyer, but I know one thing. If the Phillies hold onto to win the NL East, J.A. Happ should start Game 4 of the NLDS. That, in my opinion, has become a foregone conclusion.

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