PHOENIX - The last time Charlie Manuel was the manager of a team that acquired Cliff Lee, the circumstances were different.
It was 2002, and the Indians were again looking to shed salary in exchange for a more promising future. Ace righthander Bartolo Colon was dealt to the Expos for a package of players that included future stars Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore and, of course, Lee. Manuel, who was in his third and final season as Cleveland's manager, learned of the trade via a note slipped under his office door.
"[It said], this is the players we got; they aren't ready for the big leagues, so they are no concern of yours," said Manuel, who was fired 2 weeks later in the midst of a contract dispute.
Fast-forward 7 years and Lee is very much a concern of Manuel's. Along with teammate Ben Francisco, a righthanded hitter who will fill a glaring void on the Phillies' bench, they are expected to contribute immediately.
But the deal, for a package of prospects headlined by pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, leaves Manuel with some tough decisions with regard to his starting rotation. Heading into last night's series finale against the Diamondbacks, Phillies starters were part of a staff that had posted a 2.90 ERA in 22 games. Not coincidentally, the team won 19 of those games.
Lefthander Cole Hamels (7-5, 4.42 ERA) and righthander Joe Blanton (7-4, 4.11) are both fixtures in the rotation. Lefthander J.A. Happ entered last night 7-1 with a 2.97 ERA. Righthander Rodrigo Lopez is 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts. And while lefthander Jamie Moyer has an unsightly 5.32 ERA, he leads the team with 10 wins and pitched seven scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks on Monday night.
Furthermore, the Phillies signed veteran Pedro Martinez in mid-July with the intention of using him as a starter. And Martinez said earlier this week that he hopes to be ready to pitch in the major leagues after a rehab start at Triple A Lehigh Valley tomorrow.
With Lee, the Phillies have seven starters. And while Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee have discussed their options, neither man seemed certain about which way to turn.
"It's going to be real tough," said Manuel, his eyes widening. "It's going to be very tough. If you go back and look when we started winning games, I give a lot of credit to our starting pitching. They've been doing a heck of a job. They've been taking us to a point in the game that gives us a good chance at winning."
The bullpen is a possibility for Lopez, although he could be placed on waivers in an attempt to send him back to the minor leagues. If another team claimed him, they would owe him the remainder of his $650,000 salary. Moyer can't be sent to the minors and it is unlikely that any team would be willing to take on the roughly $9 million he is owed through the end of next season. Dubee said he did not envision a bullpen role for Moyer. Dubee also downplayed the possibility of putting Martinez in the bullpen, although general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. left the door open for such a move.
Martinez will make a base salary of just under $1 million. He can earn another $1.5 million in incentives. Although the bulk of those incentives are tied to time on the active roster, a significant chunk is tied to the number of starts. But he also has incentives in his contract that pay him for relief appearances.
Martinez said earlier this week that while he signed with the intent of starting, he would be open to serving in relief.
"Our discussions with him were that he'd be a starter," Amaro said. "We did have some discussion about the possibility of doing some relief and pitching in a relief role. But again, this stuff will play itself out. Pedro is not pitching in the big leagues yet. We are hoping to get him on the mound [tomorrow] and see how he pitches. He has not pitched to many hitters yet. I know he is feeling much better and throwing better, but again, when Pedro comes, we want him to be effective at the major league level in, right now, what we view will be in a starting role. But that will be subject to change."
Until Martinez is ready to join the big-league roster, the biggest decision would likely involve Moyer and Happ, who pitched well out of the bullpen for the first month-and-a-half of the season and has been equally impressive as a starter.
"I think when you get depth, no decisions are easy,'' Dubee said. "And that's what you like. You like to have to make tough decisions, because that means you have quality people. I don't think any decision is going to be easy, but we'll talk about it and when we are ready to announce it, we'll [announce] it."
Another consideration is balance. If the Phillies keep Happ and Moyer as starters, the rotation would feature four lefthanders and one righthander. Looking forward to the postseason - which was a big factor in the decision to deal for Lee - the Phillies could have three lefties in their four-man rotation. The last World Series champion to have three lefties in a rotation was the 1996 Yankees, who featured lefties Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Key and David Wells in addition to David Cone.
But several Phillies downplayed the significance of a left-leaning rotation. Although Lee has struggled against righties this year, allowing them to hit .303, Happ's pitching style can bedevil righthanded hitters.
"With those guys, you are talking about Lee, Hamels and J.A. Happ; those guys aren't your common lefties," said Jayson Werth, a righthanded hitter who, until this season, had platooned against lefties. "Those guys are pretty tough. J.A., I faced J.A. in the preseason and last year before the World Series, and after a while I thought he was a tough lefty. He's tough on righties."
Of course, that is assuming that Happ is in the rotation. Which, as of last night, was very much unsettled.