If the Phillies somehow win the World Series this season (hey, stop laughing!), stories will abound of how the Phillies proved age is just a number and how the core group once again asserted their dominance and how Ryne Sandberg created a winning atmosphere, yada yada yada. But the real reason for another parade will be the names David Buchanan, Jeff Manship, or Sean O’Sullivan. One of those three pitchers will likely fill the shoes of Cole Hamels in the rotation for who knows how many starts (given the false hope created by Howard, Utley, and Halladay in Springs of Offseason's Past, I'm guessing it's for more than just a couple starts).
These depth signings can often make or break a season. Just imagine 2007 without Tadahito Iguchi or 1993 (if you're old enough) without Kevin Stocker.
For the 2014 Phillies, it might be Buchanan, Manship, and O'Sullivan, players who signed the dreaded "minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training." In other words, Ruben Amaro brought them in with the hopes that he never had to use them. If the starting five pitch well and remain healthy, we never have to hear their names until next Spring.
But teams so rarely endure an entire season without needing a sixth, seventh, or eighth starter at some point. In fact, as Matt Gelb pointed out, "no team survives a season using just five starting pitchers; the major-league average last season was 10.3 per team."
The Phillies were just under that mark last season, using 10 starters. Four of the five extra starters were not on the active roster to begin the season.
Teams occasionally give a spot start to a long reliever, but for most of those extra starts, teams need to dip into their farm system. Either with players who came through the system like Pettibone, Martin, and Cloyd last season or through depth signings and guys like Zach Miner.
The fact that Buchanan, Manship, and O'Sullivan are the top candidates to fill that role in 2014 shows just how desperate a situation the Phillies are in. Ruben Amaro probably could easily drop four names he would prefer over that trio, but numerous setbacks in Clearwater gave him no choice. Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin were injured not long after camp began, minor leaguer Adam Morgan had offseason surgery, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, well, recommence laughing.
Jesse Biddle is another obvious choice to fill the Hamels void, but Amaro has firmly stated he wants no parts of Biddle in a big league uniform this season and for once, I actually agree.
That said, here are the numbers of the men who might replace Hamels' 3.60 ERA from last season:
Career MLB: 52 games, 10 starts, 6.42 ERA
Career AAA (2009-2013): 84 games, 57 starts, 358 IP, 4.22 ERA
--Manship has been impressive this spring, retiring 10 of 12 batters, with 5 strikeouts and no runs allowed.
Career MLB: None
Career AA/AAA (2012-2013): 40 games, 40 starts, 242 IP, 4.24 ERA
--So far this spring, Buchanan has allowed one run in three innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
Career MLB (2009-2013): 50 games, 37 starts, 218.2 IP, 5.89 ERA
Career AAA (2009-2013): 94 games, 81 starts, 486.1 IP, 4.40 ERA
--O'Sullivan has been great to this point, having allowed no runs in five innings with just 3 hits and 1 walk. At this rate, his 0.80 WHIP will win him a Cy Young award.
So, while the Phillies have a record payroll and 5 players earning $15 million or more this season, their success hinges on three players without any guaranteed contract at all. Ugh.
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