Let’s not pencil the Phillies into the World Series just yet

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There’s no doubt that the Phillies’ rotation has a chance to be historically great, with two likely Cy Young candidates and two other starters that could rank among the NL’s 10 best, but this is still a team with issues.

– First, it’s no lock that Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels will live up to the sure sky-high expecations. Oswalt finished 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts for the Astros in 2009 and seemed on a pretty steady decline before bouncing back last year. Hamels was 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA in 2009.

– The team’s best position player is a 32-year-old second baseman, and second basemen have a track record for falling apart early. Ryne Sandberg had his last big year at 32. Roberto Alomar was 33. Craig Biggio hung around forever, but he was never the same after 32. Maybe Chase Utley has some Jeff Kent in him, but he did miss 47 games and finish about 80 points south of his usual OPS last year.

– Jimmy Rollins has been a bust in back-to-back years, hitting .250/.296/.423 in 2009 and .243/.320/.374 in 88 games last season.

– The outfield is a question mark, particularly if the Phillies are forced to dump as much of Raul Ibanez’s salary as anyone will take.  Top prospect Domonic Brown might not prove quite ready to step into right field, leaving Ben Francisco and maybe John Mayberry Jr. to hold down the fort for a spell.  Left field could be handed to a cheap free agent if Ibanez goes, maybe Austin Kearns or Marcus Thames.  

– Not one of those guys mentioned figures to approach Jayson Werth’s 921 OPS. 

– The bullpen has definite implosion potential.  Brad Lidge was plenty effective last season, but he’s continued to lose velocity off his fastball and he’s only getting outs with his slider at this point.  Ryan Madson is great in the eighth, but he’s melted down when asked to pitch the ninth, leaving Jose Contreras as the Phillies’ fallback in the closer role.

– Depth is a concern.   I like the Phillies’ strategy of loading up on stars and hoping for the best, but they’re going to have problems if injuries strikes.   The assumption is that Joe Blanton will be jettisoned to free up some cash for the Lee signing, leaving Kyle Kendrick as the probable fifth starter and Vance Worley next in line for a rotation spot.    Besides Brown and maybe reliever Scott Mathieson, no one else figures to graduate from the minor league system and play a role next year.

So, yeah, the Phillies have to be the favorites on paper.   A four-man rotation projected to finish with an ERA right around 3.00 guarantees that.   But I’d like to see a couple of shrewd moves from GM Ruben Amaro before I’d be confident making the pick.  Bringing in a live bullpen arm for Blanton and finding a cost effective replacement for Ibanez would be a nice start.  If he’s forced to simply give both away, then the 2011 Phillies will have merely traded Werth for Lee and seen a bunch of 30- to 33-year-old players get a year older.

Padres trade Brad Hand, Adam Cimber to the Indians for Francisco Mejia

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Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Diego Padres have traded closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber to the Cleveland Indians. In return the Padres are getting top catching prospect Francisco Mejia.

Hand, the Padres’ All-Star closer, has a 3.05 ERA and 65/15 K/BB ratio and 24 saves over over 44.1 innings of work this season. In addition to helping an Indians bullpen which has struggled mightily this season, Hand will provide an insurance policy for the next two seasons given that both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are due to hit free agency this winter. Hand, meanwhile, is under contract for this year and next for a total of $13.5 million, with a $10 million club option for 2021.

Cimber is another fine reliever who, along with Hand, suddenly transforms the Indians’ bullpen. He’s a 27-year-old rookie, but he’s been a very useful one this year, posting a 3.17 ERA in 42 games, with a K/BB ratio of 51/10 in 48.1 innings. He’s pitched even better than that of late and has been particularly hard on righties. He’s under team control through 2023.

In Mejia, the Padres are getting the Indians’ top hitting prospect. A catcher — though not necessarily a great defensive one — Mejia has struggled in brief stints in the big leagues thus far but is a .291/.344/.438 hitter in six minor league seasons and, at times, has shown star potential. He turns 23 in October.

A nice piece for the Padres in the long term and an immediate upgrade to the Indians’ bullpen in the short term. In short: a baseball trade.