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Phillies Take Unnecessary Risk in Moyer/Martinez Move

The Philadelphia Phillies, a team with a healthy 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East and a 71.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, are making a rather significant late-season move tonight, sending the once-great Pedro Martinez to the mound at Wrigley Field, while demoting 46-year-old veteran Jamie Moyer to the bullpen.

It would be a move that makes a lot of sense if a) Moyer were an absolute train wreck every time he has taken the mound, b) Martinez were the Martinez of 2000 (or even 2005), or c) the Phillies were a desperate team clinging to their postseason hopes.

Since none of those things are true (Moyer leads the team with 10 wins, albeit with a high ERA; Martinez hasn't pitched in the majors since last September and hasn't been effective for any long stretch since the first half of 2006; and the Phillies are hardly in a position of desperation), the move can only be viewed as a bad idea, an unnecessary risk in which the payoff, even if it eventually comes, could never outweigh the tumult caused by the move itself.

Like any team in their enviable position, the Phillies are trying to accomplish two things over the 6 1/2 weeks left in the regular season -- close out their division title, and set themselves up for a lengthy run in October.

But the Martinez move appears to have little chance of helping the Phillies in October. At best, he is a fifth starter -- a creature that becomes obsolete in the postseason. The Phillies' postseason rotation (assuming they get there) looks fairly settled at this point: Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee (in whatever order) in Games 1 and 2, followed by rookie J.A. Happ, who is 9-3 with a 3.16 ERA for his career (covering 20 starts and 16 relief appearances) in Game 3. Game 4, at this point, belongs to Joe Blanton, a career grinder who is 7-6 with a 4.02 ERA this season and who notched two big wins for the Phillies in last year's playoffs.

When the Phillies signed Martinez at a bargain price ($900,000 guaranteed) in mid-July, it seemed like a sensible move. They hadn't yet traded for Lee and the fifth-starter's job was a merry-go-round of has-beens and not-ready-yets. Martinez, at that point, represented some valuable depth with the potential -- if he proves himself healthy and effective -- to be an October contributor.

But with Lee's arrival and Happ's extended brilliance, the need for Martinez diminished. The only way to squeeze him into a meaningful spot on the big league roster would be to bump someone else -- either Happ, Blanton or Moyer.

By choosing Moyer as the odd man out, the Phillies risked alienating the popular sage of the clubhouse, a favorite among fans, media and teammates alike -- and a pitcher who, let's face it, was going to battle against tanks and rocket-launchers with sticks and stones every fifth day, and winning more times than he lost. He wasn't pretty, but he gave the Phillies a respectable five or six innings every time he went to the mound. It was unlikely he would ever start Game 3 of a postseason series again, as he did in all three rounds in 2008, but he was pitching at least well enough this summer to finish out the regular season as the number four or five starter on a very good team.

Oh, and he's also a guy who is signed through 2010 -- someone who, thus, deserves more respect than the Phillies showed him, not only for what he represents to their past, but to their immediate future as well.

Had the Phillies suddenly acquired Roy Halladay, that would be one thing. Had that occurred, I suspect Moyer would not have been quite as "disheartened" as he claimed to be after the Martinez move.

But Martinez is no Halladay -- not anymore, at least. For that matter, we don't even know yet if he's as good as Jamie Moyer. But for the Phillies, the price of finding out was terribly steep.

By Dave Sheinin  |  August 12, 2009; 1:34 PM ET
Categories:  Phillies  | Tags: Jamie Moyer, Pedro Martinez, Phillies  
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Let's go Marlins! "Va-mo-nos Marlins, Va-mo-nos!"

Posted by: cometsandoval | August 12, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I am happy to see Pedro pitch again. As a Red Sox fan I know he is not the Pedro of 1999 or 2000 but he is still awfully fun to watch pitch. I have always loved watching him. In fact, tonight I am going to switch back and forth between watching the Phillies game and the Red Sox game, until Pedro is out of the game.

And I think this is a low-cost experiment for the Phillies. If he does not work out, they are not out much money and they put Moyer back in. Nothing is set in stone, this is always true in baseball.

Posted by: jtsw | August 12, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Everyone in Philly seems content with the move. We are curious to see what Pedro can do. The feeling around Philly is that Moyer has reached the end of the road. He has not been effective this year, nowhere near as effective as last year. His ballooned ERA is the proof of that, never mind his 10 wins thanks to crazy run rupport. The Phils just so happen to have an overflow of pitching right now, a great problem to have. Nobody knows what is going to happen but if Pedro goes 4-1 down the stretch with a Moyer has been around a long time and he is a pro. He knows as much as anyone else that he hasn't gotten the job done this year. He had the chance to keep his job last Sunday and he gave up a dozen hits to the Marlins, a team he usually dominates. Lets see what Pedro can do.

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | August 12, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: cervantes1547 | August 12, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Well, last night proved the move is justifiable. Pedro looked very sharp for 4+ innings. His command wasn't completely there but he was throwing 92-93 with movement into the 5th inning. He threw a lot of pitches because he was getting behind guys. Once his pitch count passed 90 in the 5th inning, he got noticeably tired, but he pitched out of a jam. Clearly his stamina isn't there yet but he should improve over each start. Didn't give up any homers which is a huge plus considering Moyer gives up 2-3 taters per game. If Pedro can pitch like that every game and go into the 6th - 7th, he will be worth every penny and more.

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | August 13, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

If the Red Sox had signed Pedro with their heart instead of Smoltz with their heads, their heads would not be hurting so much now. Soul-less decision.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | August 13, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

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