The Phillies might have checked in with Ervin Santana

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The Phillies are reeling after Cole Hamels suffered a setback, pushing his 2014 debut into May most likely. They’re thin on starting pitching depth even after adding A.J. Burnett last month. As a result, they have checked in with Ervin Santana according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Or maybe not. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported shortly after Cafardo’s tweet that a team source told him that the Phillies have not checked in on Santana. [.gif of Larry David hemming and hawing]

It would be surprising if the Phillies wound up with Santana because it isn’t as if they’ve lost Hamels for an entire year. Additionally, they have set a franchise-high payroll following the Burnett signing. Not counting pre-arbitration players, they sat at close to $172 million, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly back in February. Once you include those pre-arb players, they’re close to $180 million. Adding in their 1/30 share for player-benefit costs (between $10-11 million), they’re right up against the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Adding Santana would undoubtedly push them over. The Phillies would then have to pay a 17.5 percent penalty on the amount they exceed the threshold, and it would put them in line for a harsher penalty next season if they were to exceed it again. There’s an incentive to stay under if you don’t have unlimited amounts of money like the Yankees and Dodgers.

Amaro recently said in an interview with MLB Network Radio that he needed ownership approval to sign Burnett and would undoubtedly need it once more to sign Santana, which might be one wrench in his plans if Cafardo’s tweet is true. As it stands, the Phillies can hope Jonathan Pettibone is healthy by mid-April, that Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez can handle Major League competition, or choose from a handful of non-roster invitees including David Buchanan, Jeff Manship, Sean O’Sullivan, and Mario Hollands.

Santana, by the way, recently fired his agent. Seems he isn’t happy about being unemployed going into March.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.