Remember that scene in Star Wars where Yoda and Young Skywalker engaged in a light saber duel as part of Skywalker's training? I think it was in Dagobah, but I'm not sure. I'd like to think I'm not that big of a geek. But I'm probably wrong, because I'm about to compare Ruben Amaro Jr. to Skywalker and Ed Wade to Yoda in their battle for former Tigers righthander Brandon Lyon.
The updated score: Yoda 2, Skywalker 0.
"Ed stole him from us," Amaro joked earlier today.
Late last night, the Astros inked Lyon to a three-year, $15 million deal to join their bullpen, leaving the Phillies searching for other options in their quest to add both a reliever capable of pitching multiple innings and in the back end of the 'Pen. Amaro would not discuss the details of negotiations, but right now it looks like the market for pitchers is slanted in favor of the players. Already, we've seen Lyon and veteran LaTroy Hawkins agree to impressive multi-year deals (Hawkins signed for a reported two years and $7 million with the Brewers. Meanwhile, starters Rich Harden and Brad Penny each have signed incentive-laden deals with the reported guaranteed money for one season at $7.5 million. Already, five of the top relievers have either accepted arbitration or accepted deals that would have put serious dents in the Phillies' available cash flow.
Here's a look at 10 of the top pitchers on the market and where they stand:
RHP Rafael Soriano, ATL: Accepted arbitration from Atlanta and is reportedly headed to Tampa Bay in a trade.
LHP Mike Gonzalez, ATL: Would seem to be the best fit for the Phillies, although given the money awarded Lyon and the one-year, $7 million deal the Braves gave Wagner, the price for him figures to be high. He's also a client of Scott Boras, who has a history of patiently waiting for the best possible deal.
RHP Jose Valverde, HOU: The one true stand-out closer remaining on the market, it's hard to believe he has any chance of landing in Philly, where he would not enter the season as the closer.
LHP Billy Wagner, NYM: He signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Braves, although there was no chance of him returning to Philly.
RHP Fernando Rodney, DET: The Phillies have expressed interest in him, and now that Lyon has left the Tigers, Detroit could feel some pressure to step up its efforts to re-sign him. He saved 37 of 38 games last season, but has struggled late in the year in each of the last two seasons and posted a 4.40 overall ERA last season. But he is a groundball pitcher who also averages 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings for his career.
RHP Justin Duchscherer, OAK: Could fit as a starter or a reliever, and after missing all of 2009 while battling injuries and clinical depression.
RHP Rafael Betancourt, COL: Would have been a good fit for the Phillies, but he accepted arbitration with the Rockies.
RHP LaTroy Hawkins, HOU: Signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Brewers.
RHP Brandon Lyon, HOU: The Phillies targeted him, but the Astros ended up signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal.
LHP Darren Oliver, LAA: He's a versatile veteran who can fill a number of different roles. He's a groundball pitcher and battle-tested veteran, but he doesn't have the huge back-of-the-bullpen arm the Phillies would ideally like to add to provide some insurance for Lidge.
Unless the Phillies are willing to pay big money for Gonzalez, they might have to turn their attention toward some of the less-sure-things on the market who have bigger upside. Veteran righty John Smoltz is one such player. He is a guy who could enter spring training competing with Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick for the No. 5 spot in the rotation but could wind up in the bullpen. I really think the Phillies end up sweetening their offer to Park in order to bring him back, given the way the market has unfolded. Otherwise, they might end up heading into spring training with their figures crossed tighter than they had hoped.
Beyond Smoltz, Rodney and Park, here is a list of some of the names on the market whom the Phillies could consider:
RHP Octavio Dotel, CHW: Might not have lived up to the two-year, $11 million deal he had in Chicago, but he has a big arm and has averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings in all but three of his 11 big league seasons. He has experience in the ninth inning, with 83 career saves, but he gives up a lot of home runs and at times struggles with his command, neither of which jibes with the Phillies' idea of a good reliever.
RHP Jose Contreras, COL: Much like Park last year, the Phillies could offer him a chance to compete for a starting spot, while also impressing upon him the possibility that he winds up in the bullpen, where he thrived late last season for Colorado. He'll be 38 on Opening Day.
RHP J.J. Putz, NYM: Pat Gillick and Benny Looper are very familiar with Putz, whose decline last season might be attributed to a bone spur in his elbow that he had repaired at the end of the season. Putz has huge upside, but upside has its price, as well as its risks. Amaro has said he is looking particularly at low-risk, high-reward type of guys. Putz might end up being a high-risk, high-reward type of guy.
RHP Kiko Calero, FLA: Would seem to boast a lot of the characteristics the Phillies are looking for. He allowed just one home run in 60 innings last season for the Marlins while striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings and posting a 1.95 ERA. But he was high-risk, high-reward last season coming off surgery. This year, the 35-year-old is likely looking to be rewarded for his stellar 2009 season. Call him medium-risk, high-reward.
Beyond those four names, we have a bunch of players who are either low-risk high reward who lack the reliability that the Phillies would ideally like to nab, and a bunch of players who are more front-of-the-bullpen options.
Amaro said he has not been surprised by the contracts that have been awarded thus far.
"Supply and demand," he said. "There aren't that many quality arms out there, as far as we're concerned. When you have 30 teams looking for the same things, it grows the market."
In addition to increasing the likelihood of retaining Chan Ho Park, I think Lyon signing with Houston only increases the small possibility of the Phillies changing their strategy and swinging a move for a guy like Roy Halladay. Amaro re-iterated his belief that the Phillies are highly unlikely to be major players in such a move. But he said two days ago that he thinks the biggest key to a solid bullpen is a top-notch rotation. And if the Phillies don't see any relievers worth investing significant money in, it would make sense to at least explore a scenario in which they allocate that money to a starting pitcher. If they were to trade Joe Blanton, which is one possibility, it would likely free up between $7 million and $8 million on the payroll. Factor in the $4 to $5 million they had budgeted for a reliever like Lyon, and you've got $10-12 million potentially open. Halladay is due to earn $15 million this season. Such a salary, along with a trade of Blanton, still could leave the Phillies with an ability to add a low-risk, high-reward type of relief option. Plus, keep in mind that the team could negotiate a contract extension before trading for Halladay, which might give them the opportunity to back-load the contract and free up more money for 2010. For example, they could ask Halladay to take a pay-cut from $15 million to $11 million in 2010, then tack that money on to his salary in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Of course, that's just the money issue. There's no indication that the Phillies are willing to part with the package of prospects that would be required to land Halladay.