Ron Costello

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In Philly It Gets Late Early

There's a risk, of course, in doing what the Phillies did to prepare for the 2017 season.

Renting players.

They rented right-handers Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson, outfielders Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick, and right-handed relief pitchers Joaquin Benoit, and Pat Neshek. That's six. Did I miss anybody?

Rented, because all six have one-year contracts AND, they're no longer spring chickens.

The conventional wisdom is when you mix the six into the roster they show the up-and-comings and wannabes how the game is played; they improve the lineup while the other start-ups continue to percolate upstate; and appease the fans by helping the club get to the .500 mark.

They breathe life into the team.

And if you hit the Rental Sweepstakes Jackpot, the six rentals play well enough — at the July 31 trade deadline — you trade them for more up-and-comings to clubs that have a shot at the postseason. With the league alignment and two wild cards in each league, there should be enough suitors.

Make sense?

Pefect sense. Only, there's some flies in the ointment, snags, if you will. One snag is serious injury or extended time on the DL. Another is the rented stink up the field and the only place they'll go on July 31 is to the Jersey Shore.

Now, you might be asking yourself, how are the rented six doing in this not-even-out-of-April-yet season?

Glad you asked. Take Buchholz. He's the first snag — injured and out for the season. The Phillies took $13.5 million, put it all in an envelope, and ran it through the shredder. I will say this: Buchholtz did better than Danny Tartabull, who in 1997 fouled a pitch off his foot in his first at-bat and was done for the season. But not as good as Freddy Garcia, who in 2006 made 11 starts, got a win, was DL'd and done and gone in June.

Another rental, Howie Kendrick, is currently on the DL with an oblique injury — a muscle strain in the lower abdomen. Obliques can come from a check swing: You see a pitch you can hit and you turn on it — start your swing — but your brain tells you to hold up. The muscles you use to hold up are in your lower abdomen. Ouch. Obliques can be a nag all season, especially when you're 33 like Mr. Kendrick.

Thirty-three year-old players with oblique injuries aren't high trade bait in late July.

Two down and four to go.

But for me here's the key to the future of the Phillies over the next 3-4 years: Maikel Franco.

The Phillies need Franco to produce Scott Rolen numbers. Simple as that. Franco is lagging behind a little in the first-three-year Scott Rolen comparison department. Has Franco been a disappointment to the Phillies? I wouldn't say that it's early yet. But he needs to bust loose.

This needs to be Franco's break-away year. If not, it may not matter how many up-and-comings and wannabes are ready to come down the Northeast Extension, this season and over the next three.

They need Franco. And I know it's early in the season and early in Franco's career, but, in the words of the most famous baseball philosopher ever:

It gets late early around here.

See you soon.

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