Adding Gaudin is hardly the upgrade Phillies need

ASSOCIATED PRESS Chad Gaudin can start and pitch out of the bullpen.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Chad Gaudin can start and pitch out of the bullpen.
Posted: January 23, 2014

WITH JUST OVER 3 weeks until pitchers and catchers are due to report to Clearwater, Fla., the Phillies added veteran righthander Chad Gaudin to their pitching stable yesterday morning.

The well-traveled Gaudin, 30, has pitched for five teams in the last four seasons. He's made appearances for nine teams in parts of 11 major league seasons.

Gaudin was an underrated cog in the San Francisco Giants pitching staff last year, however, sporting a 3.06 ERA in 30 games. He went 5-1 with a 3.53 ERA in 12 spot starts for the Giants and allowed only one home run while sporting a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walkout rate in 18 appearances (30 1/3 innings) out of the bullpen.

The Phillies signed Gaudin to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp this spring. They hope he makes the club as a swingman — a pitcher able to pitch out of the ’pen while also capable to jump into the rotation if needed.

Taken as a standalone signing, adding Gaudin is a low risk and possible high reward that’s typical of a lot of minor league contracts for proven major leaguers.

A Phillies pitching staff largely lacking in depth and big-league experience can’t be hurt by adding a guy such as Gaudin to the inventory.

But taken as the latest signing in an offseason full of pitching risks — regardless of whether they are low risks — the Gaudin signing will almost certainly will be met with groans of disapproval or sighs of indifference from the Phillies’ fan base.

Although plenty of pitching upgrades remain available — including Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka — the Phillies haven’t acted like a team interested in doing a ton of spending this winter. They spent a lot of money in the last 4 years on the likes of Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, and both the front office and ownership have reiterated that they should be able to field a winner with their current projected payroll.

While that’s all well and good, Ruben Amaro Jr. has almost always put a strong emphasis on starting pitching since his tenure as general manager began six winters ago, and his net gains are nowhere near equaling his net losses in the last 2 years.

Roy Halladay, one of the game’s best pitchers of the last 20 years, retired last month and Amaro hopes some combination of Gaudin, Roberto Hernandez and Jonathan Pettibone will be able to replace him in the rotation. That sounds like a bigger reach than expecting Richard Sherman to shut up between now and the Super Bowl.

Yesterday, Amaro instead put the emphasis on the two guys atop the rotation.

“I’m always concerned about our pitching,” Amaro said. “Is it the best pitching in the National League? I don’t know that, but I like the start with the first two guys [Hamels and Lee]. We didn’t have those guys going well out the chute last year; it’d be nice to have that. Cole had a tough start. We’re relying on those guys; they’re two of the best lefthanded pitchers in baseball. I think we have some depth now to move it forward.”

Amaro probably should have moved forward more aggressively in preparing for the departure of Halladay, who was a free agent this winter, last year when the pitcher was coming off the first of back-to-back, injury-ravaged seasons. Instead, Amaro added nothing more than John Lannan to the rotation.

That didn’t exactly work out: The Phillies’ pitching staff had a 4.32 ERA in 2013 — only three major league teams were worse. After the All-Star break, Phillies starters had a 5.31 in 66 games, this despite allotting $71.5 million of the Opening Day payroll to starting pitching in 2013.

The Phillies have yet to replace Halladay. In need of a reliable, effective, durable starting pitcher to take Halladay’s place, the front office instead has added Hernandez, Gaudin and Cuban import Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez in the last 6 months to go along with the 23-year-old Pettibone.

“Are the rest of those guys All-Stars?” Amaro said. “Probably not. But we have some guys with some pedigree in them.”

Hernandez, whom the Phillies guaranteed $4.5 million last month, is 13-31 with a 5.23 ERA in 59 starts in the last three seasons. Gonzalez hasn’t pitched competitively in the last 2 years and has never pitched in the major leagues, but the Phils obviously liked him enough to give him $12 million last August.

“We don’t know what we have in Gonzalez; it’d be nice to get lucky,” Amaro said. “He’s got a ton of ability. Whether he can step up and be a true No. 3, I don’t know that. He has the arsenal to do that. It’s a little bit of a longshot, but not out of realm of possibility.”

An optimist would look at the makeup of the 2008 rotation and suggest you can win with one ace, a couple of inning-eaters and a couple of maybes. He would point out a stacked rotation led to nothing more than a one-round-and-out dismissal in the 2011 playoffs.

He also would be ignoring that the first of those two teams had a deep, balanced and in-its-prime lineup that led the team, while the latter was older and injury-plagued. The current lineup, with half of the aging ’08 core still around, remains both injury-plagued and uncertain.

It’s one of the reasons Amaro needed to add a dependable starting pitcher this winter. Instead, he’s been curiously conservative, with the Phillies’ winter nearing an end and spring training just around the corner.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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