LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Phillies' front-office contingent left Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort early yesterday afternoon hoping it had found an answer in the quest for pitching depth.
According to multiple reports, the first from CSNPhilly.com, the Phillies have come to an agreement on a deal with free agent pitcher Roberto Hernandez. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. couldn't comment specifically about the deal - nor name the pitcher - as he prepared to leave the site of baseball's winter meetings following yesterday morning's Rule 5 Draft. But he said he was close to acquiring a starting pitcher who could fill out the rotation.
The Hernandez deal is likely pending a physical. MLB.com reported it would be a 1-year deal. According to Fox Sports.com the deal is worth $4.5 million.
Hernandez, 33, is 59-82 with a 4.67 ERA in eight seasons with Cleveland and Tampa Bay. He had his most success as a big-league pitcher when he had a different name on the back of his uniform.
Hernandez, a native of the Dominican Republic, was arrested in January 2012 for using a false identity to obtain a U.S. visa. After spending his first six major-league seasons with the Cleveland Indians as "Fausto Carmona," Hernandez returned with his real name late in the 2012 season, after obtaining a work visa and serving a 3-week suspension from Major League Baseball.
Hernandez made just three starts for Cleveland in the 2012 season.
He signed a 1-year, $3.25 million deal with the Rays before last season and went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 32 games (24 starts). Carmona struck out 113 and walked 38 in 151 innings.
Hernandez could prove to be an ideal fit at home-run-friendly Citizens Bank Park, though: His 1.24 ground ball-fly ball ratio was seventh best in baseball among pitchers with at least 140 innings.
Amaro tipped off reporters that he was close to finalizing the deal yesterday morning. While he wouldn't identify the pitcher, Amaro offered insight into the type of pitcher he was on the verge of signing.
"More of a depth guy, someone who can slide into the bottom of our rotation," Amaro said. "We need some depth. We're trying to get the best bang for our buck, and in this marketplace, it's tough because the prices have soared significantly. Like I said, we're just trying to add some depth."
Hernandez had his best seasons when he was Fausto Carmona.
He went to the All-Star Game in 2010. He enjoyed his best season in his first year in Cleveland's rotation, going 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 32 starts in 2007, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.
Hernandez will likely slot somewhere behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick in the Phillies' rotation. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone would stand to be the favorites for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, while Amaro said fellow righthander Ethan Martin would also be stretched out this spring, too.
But the actual order of the rotation behind Hamels and Lee sounds pretty fluid.
"Who knows who's going to step up to be the number three, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez could be that guy," Amaro said. "We're just trying to look for depth in that area. If we have to go with three or four, fours and fives to try to do that, that's what we'll do."
The Phillies have some concern with where Gonzalez will be in April, particularly because he hasn't pitched competitively in the last 2 years, or as Amaro said, "a very, very long time." Gonzalez is in Clearwater working out and will continue to do so next month in preparation for spring training, but the Phillies wanted to add insurance in case they need him to continue to develop.
When the Hernandez signing becomes official, the Phillies are likely finished adding starting pitchers to the mix, Amaro said yesterday.
"The likely signings we'll have there, if we can get this one done, will probably be free-agent invites, that sort of thing, to create some depth in Triple A," Amaro said.
With 2 months until the Phillies report to spring training, the starting rotation appears to be final. There are still plenty of other arms on the free-agent market - Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and A.J. Burnett among them - but Amaro has opted to take a chance on Hernandez, instead, and hope the bottom of the rotation holds up for the duration of 2014.
"Some of the big names, for us, are probably more names than they are talent," Amaro said of the free-agent market in general. "I would imagine with the prices that are out there, and what they're seeking, I don't think it matches up with the level of talent - that's my take on it. Someone's going to pay, I'm sure. Someone is going to get the players. We're just not targeting those because we don't think it's the right bang for the buck."