Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Next Stop For The Sputtering D-Train----Arizona

  • Questionable? Yes. Ridicoulous? No:

I'd loaded up to unleash on the Diamondbacks for the on-the-surface madness of picking up Dontrelle Willis from the Tigers and going to the lengths of giving up a player (RHP Billy Buckner) to get him, but in examining the deal, it's not as crazy as it seems.

Let's weigh the circumstances.

He's worth a shot.

It seems like a long time ago that Dontrelle Willis was one of the top five pitchers in baseball and, due to the years running into one another, it is a long time ago. Five years to be exact when Willis won 22 games for the Marlins.

Since then, what began as a slow decline picked up speed until he tumbled down the mountain and collapsed in a heap of anxiety and wildness. Now, Willis is a shell of his former self only still getting chances because of what he once was; that he's left-handed; and since there's so little quality pitching available cheaply.

The Diamondbacks pitching is heinous. Brandon Webb is clearly not going to be back anytime soon and don't be surprised to see him out until late in the season when----as a courtesy or to possibly bring him back themselves (he's a free agent at the end of the year) if Webb comes back for a few "show-me" starts to exhibit his health. Perhaps if he can return by August and get a few starts in, the Diamondbacks can gets a prospect or two for him in a trade.

They're said to be discussing the possibility of trading both Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson. (I suggested teams call and ask about Haren in my posting last Friday before this came to light----link.) With the good performance from Ian Kennedy, they're left with Rodrigo Lopez and a cast of mediocre (at best) thousands to fill out the rotation. One of their number was Billy Buckner.

The D-Backs aren't paying Willis and didn't give up much to get him.

Initially, there was the reasonable question of why the Diamondbacks didn't wait until the 10-day window the Tigers had to trade Willis elapsed after he was designated him for assignment; the D-Backs could literally have gotten him for nothing. Had they done that, they would've run the risk of not getting Willis; and even if they did get him, they'd need to clear a roster spot for him regardless.

Details of exactly how much money the Tigers are kicking in to pay Willis's salary have yet to be disclosed; since Willis's contract is up after the year (he's getting $10 million this season); and the D-Backs yielded a live body in Buckner to get him, it's safe to assume the Tigers are paying almost all of it.

Buckner hasn't exactly been good---in fact, his numbers in the majors and minors indicate something less than a journeyman----organizational filler----the D-Backs gave up nothing of use for something that could be of use.

Willis hasn't been that bad this year.

While he hasn't been good, Willis hasn't been Oliver Perez awful; he hasn't had a Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel inability to throw the ball anywhere close to where he wants. Willis is currently so fragile that any small mishap will send him over the edge, but he's been moderately competitive so far.

He's salvageable. He can pitch in Arizona without expectations and pressure that come along with a contending team and the return to the National League might awaken his enthusiasm and rejuvenate his career. Perhaps the chance to hit will give him something to look forward and spur a mound recovery. You never know what can make everything click once again.

Other locations may have been better for Willis.

Speculation centered around a return to the Marlins for Willis; but I felt that the best place for him was St. Louis with the Cardinals and Dave Duncan to try and tear down his motion and mentality and rebuild it as he's done so many times before with heretofore "lost" causes like Kyle Lohse; Joel Pineiro; Dave Stewart; Mike Moore, and many others.

I question whether D-Backs pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and manager A.J. Hinch (who have problems of their own too numerous to count in a limited space) have the capacity to rebuild Willis now or ever; but they need the pitching; they need the jolt his personality adds; and it's worth the gamble.

It's easy to insert the aforementioned Oliver Perez of the Mets jokes here. "If the Mets DFA Perez, maybe the Diamondbacks would claim him too," blah blah blah; but there's nothing to lose for the Diamondbacks with Willis. It's hard to see him getting it all back, but there's always that chance and it's worth the risk for what essentially amounts to nothing.

In the final analysis, it's a mutually advantageous roll of the dice. Willis needs to pitch; the Diamondbacks need pitching. Either way and for both sides, it's no lose. Why not?

Raul Ibanez's Phillies career has been made by his first two months of 2009 when he was a contender for the National League MVP. Since then, he's been terrible. Injuries could explain away his rapid decline last year----he had a shoulder problems in his career and a groin issue last year. It could be that he's 38-years old; or the National League may have learned how to pitch to him.

Whatever it is, Ibanez has been a player who would've been replaced had it not been for a large contract ($11.5 million annually through 2011); and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel's loyalty to his veterans.

Look at his numbers from the first two months of 2009 and what he did after and you see a crash of meteoric proportions; and not much has changed for 2010----splits.

Is he hurt?

Is he shot?

How long can the Phillies continue to put him out there while he's providing almost nothing offensively?

It's a guarantee that the Phillies are going to start hitting and someone's going to pay for this team-wide slump they're in. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth especially are going to go on a rampage sooner rather than later; but Ibanez? I don't know.

Manuel's loyalty to his veterans is known, but limited. He benched Jimmy Rollins in late June last year as Rollins was awful over the first three months of the season; Rollins played better over the second half of the season, but never regained his MVP-form from 2007. Will he sit Ibanez for a week to let him "clear his head" as he did with Rollins?

They can play Ben Francisco for a few games and re-insert Ibanez to see if a break does the trick, but what if it doesn't? What then?

Is it possible that the Phillies, in need of a spark and witnessing what's happened with Jason Heyward of the Braves and Ike Davis of the Mets, would bring top prospect Domonic Brown up from Double A Reading and give him a chance to play?

Every organization has their own philosophy of when the promote their prospects. The Phillies have been notoriously hesitant to give their prized rookies a shot before they deemed them fully ready. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were both 25 when he got their chance (Howard's way was blocked by Jim Thome); and J.A. Happ was also 25 when he became a full-time major leaguer. You can't argue with the Phillies success in developing their players and Brown is still only 22.

But would the combination of a slumbering offense; Ibanez's woes; the need for some spice; and the way Heyward and Davis have played expedite Brown's arrival in Philly?

I doubt it would happen until after the All Star break at the earliest, but the National League is so closely bunched that the Phillies can't afford to mess around relying on a fading veteran if he's no longer performing. Salary and loyalty aside, Ibanez has to produce----if he still can.

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Jeff said...

Maybe Jerod Morris was right.

Spooked Ibanez.

Stranger things have happened...

She-Fan said...

Fall from grace is right. Ibanez was the "it" guy last year.