Bob Ford: Not exactly a Ferrari, but Blanton is reliable

Posted: January 24, 2010

Dependability and predictability are great qualities for a baseball starting pitcher, and the way Ruben Amaro Jr. sees it, Joe Blanton is the roster equivalent of a washing machine that earns a solid "good" from Consumer Reports.

Maybe there are models out there that look better on the showroom floor. Maybe some can deliver brighter colors and crisper whites. But throw the switch on the Blantonator and the clothes will get washed.

"We know what we're going to get," Amaro said when the Phillies signed Blanton to a three-year, $24 million contract last week.

If that sounds like thin praise, not exactly the gushing that accompanied the December trade for Roy Halladay, it is anything but. General managers around baseball would be happy to plug Blanton into the third or fourth spot in their rotations and gladly accept that the price of unspectacular production these days averages out to $8 million per season.

The Phillies know what they are going to get, or at least they know the calculus of the work that has come before. They know that they are going to get 200 innings, and that Blanton will allow about 90 earned runs. They expect him to average about six innings per start, and because they have a good hitting team that operates in a hitter-friendly park, they expect that his earned run average of about 4.00 will yield more wins than losses - if the bullpen cooperates.

Baseball is complex, and the individual pitch-by-pitch battles between the hitter and pitcher are unpredictable, but over the course of six months the numbers even out and you get what you get. For the Phillies, they will be happy if they get what they expect.

In this off-season, the Phils and Amaro have been very busy, more busy than you might think a league champion would want or need to be. A year ago, aside from minor tinkering, the Phils' biggest off-season move involved parting with Pat Burrell and acquiring Raul Ibanez for left field.

This time around, whether by their choice or not, the Phillies have needed to replace the contributions of Brett Myers, Pedro Feliz, Scott Eyre, Eric Bruntlett, Paul Bako, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park, Matt Stairs, Miguel Cairo, Clay Condrey and, of course, Cliff Lee. They also have needed to acquire pitching depth in the event Jamie Moyer doesn't recover effectively from surgery.

Already in the door are Halladay, Placido Polanco, Juan Castro, Danys Baez, Brian Schneider, Jose Contreras, and the redoubtable Ross Gload, not to mention another half-dozen players signed to minor-league contracts. Additionally, the Phillies came to contract terms with Shane Victorino and Blanton.

Aside from the trade for Halladay, none of the transactions is eye-popping, but the transactions are logical, defensible moves. It is the kind of quiet work the Eagles tend to do in the off-season, and for which they get very little credit.

In fact, if the Eagles had a comparable off-season, they would be criticized. If they acquired the football equivalent of Halladay but traded away Lee to make it happen financially, the city would label the organization as skinflints. That would be particularly true in a baseball environment without a salary cap and with none on the horizon.

The Phillies get a pass, though, because - are you listening, Eagles? - they won one world championship, got a return trip to the championship series, and have earned the right to have their judgment trusted.

It would have been nice to have both Halladay and Lee in the starting rotation, but that probably would have been a one-year experiment before Lee's free agency banged against the invisible ceiling of the Phils' $140 million salary limit.

If you accept the reality of that limit, and admit that the team got to the World Series twice operating with such a restraint, then not having Lee makes sense. If you think a team that prints money should take extraordinary measures while its unique offensive core is still intact, then not having Lee is inexcusable.

I fall more into the latter category. Utley, Rollins, and Howard aren't forever, and the chance to string together a mini-dynasty is there. In Amaro's perfect world, he would likely agree. In this world, however, he was forced to trade away greatness and sign dependability.

That's what Joe Blanton provides, and if he can cut down on the home runs allowed, he might even provide more than just that. Blanton gave up 30 homers last season, third most in the National League. Those accounted for 47 of the 88 runs he allowed. So if Blanton, who threw 3,221 pitches that didn't land over the fence, can figure out why the other 30 did, he could be a star, too.

Right now, though, he's a pitcher who consumes innings, stays healthy, and wins 12 to 14 games. The Phillies will take that bargain.

"There are no absolutes in this game. That doesn't exist," Amaro said. "The fact of the matter is that Joe has been as consistent a guy as there is in our rotation."

In baseball, consistency gets you something. In this case, it gets you 24 million guaranteed U.S. dollars for three years' work. That's not bad, and if it works out the way the Phils hope, you'll never need to be reminded there were better washing machines out there.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read

his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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