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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The $24 Million Mistake

It's hard to believe that the Padres actually snookered the Rangers a few years back and peddled lame-winged Adam Eaton for Chris Young, their #2 starter. It's even harder to believe that the Phillies, notoriously tight with their nickels (and loathing them because they're not dimes) gave Eaton a 3-year, $24 million contract as a free agent before last season. What was even worse was that Eaton had the highest ERA for all N.L. starters last season (close to the area code for Richmond, Virginia) and was left off the Phillies' post-season roster. Apparently, the team's front office decided to restrict fireworks shows for the post-game.

Now Eaton is back to his old tricks, and he was lit up today in his final post-season start better than the famous boathouses light up the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. He is vying for the fifth starter's spot (the first four are populated with Brett Myers, Cole Hamles, 45 year-old Jamie Moyer and second-year man Kyle Kendrick, who hasn't had a great spring either). The linked article reports that Eaton said he wasn't sure he's going north with the team, and Eaton's at least perceptive. It's hard to go north with the team when your career is going south.

It's not that Eaton is a bad guy, and once upon a time ago he displayed enough talent to be a first-round draft choice. It's just that he gets injured about as often as Carl Pavano and when he's healthy lately he's pitched like a 4-F who got starting assignments during World War II because most of the guys who could actually pitch ended up in the service. At any rate, the Phillies purport to be a team that will contend for the NL East title or a wild-card berth. It stands to reason that they won't do so if they trot Eaton out to the mound every five days.

Commentators had noted that the strength of the Yankees lies in the fact that they can write off mistakes like the signing of Carl Pavano. The question remains what the Phillies will do with Adam Eaton and the two years remaining on his contract. $16 million is pocket change in the Bronx; it buys some serious real estate in the City of Brotherly Love. But the Phillies will be deluding themselves if they put Adam Eaton in the rotation. Unfortunately, they don't have too many options. Kris Benson, who signed a minor-league contract, isn't ready. Chad Durbin has shown some promise, and a minor-league named Carpenter who's destined to start the season at AA Reading showed some great stuff against the Yankees yesterday.

Phillies' fans should be concerned but shouldn't be totally bummed. Why? Because it's as Phillies' pitching coach Rich Dubee said in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. Dubee remarked that the team used 28 pitchers last year, so anything's possible. On the positive side, they could find another Kyle Kendrick or J.C. Romero. On the negative side, the odds might be that finding guys like that to help your team just can't happen every year.

It's a shame for both Eaton and the hometown 9 that Eaton can't pitch the way both hope and the way Eaton once did. It would be a bigger shame, though, if the Phillies made their decisions based on hope and their unwillingness to write off a big contract than on recent history.