The 2006 season featured the Bobby Abreu trade, and lines were drawn in '07 when the Phillies shifted No. 1 starter Brett Myers into the bullpen, a hot-button issue likely to last for another year. Let the debate continue: Is Myers a starter or reliever?
Relievers are the new starters, and now they’re being paid like them. The Reds and closer Francisco Cordero agreed on a four-year, $46 million deal, about $4.5 million a year more than Reds ace Aaron Harang will earn next season. Scott Linebrink, a middle reliever whose numbers are getting progressively worse, will get a four-year, $19 million deal from the White Sox, which works out to $4.75 million annually. Kenny Williams has four years to find out whether Linebrink’s stuff can cool American League hitters the way it did in the weak-hitting NL West and Central. J.C. Romero was released mid-season only to straighten it out in time for a guaranteed three-year, $12 million payoff from the Phillies, with a club option for a fourth season. Cordero and Linebrink can thank Romero and the Phils for setting the bar high.
An assignment to the bullpen can no longer be seen as a demotion, and one pitcher who knows that better than anyone is Brett Myers, who eagerly made the transition three starts into the 2007 season. Myers grudgingly accepted an assignment back into the Phillies’ rotation when the club acquired closer Brad Lidge last month.
Myers showed flashes of dominance as a closer, and in his own mind he’d found his true calling. Charlie Manuel and the Phillies brass thought so, too, but by September, it became clear they were shy in the rotation, too much of a deficit to justify saving their best arm for the 9th inning. With Adam Eaton developing offseason arm trouble, following a dismal season to begin with, the Phils have penciled Myers back into the rotation against his better wishes.
Myers becomes the highest paid pitcher on the team this season. His salary jumps to $8.5 million in '08 and $12 million in '09. He will still be in his 20s when he’s scheduled for free agency. If he stays healthy and continues to dominate, he can expect a chunky raise over his '09 salary, whether he’s a starter or reliever. Free agent relievers have one thing in common: they’re very old. Should Myers finish his Philadelphia term in the pen, there’s a chance he could break the bank, in his prime, as the top free agent closer on the market.
Returning to the present day, the Phils are still short in rotation, but may be even shorter in the bullpen. The club could conceivably solve the problem by adding another starter and reinserting Myers into relief, laying the foundation for the best bullpen in the league. That's easier said than done. Pickings are slim.
There are no guarantees that Myers can become a dominant closer, but there are no guarantees he can achieve a high-level of success in the rotation, either. His last action as a starter was basically 2006. Mentally, can he handle the prospect of surrendering multiple cheap homers in a park he hates and waiting five days to redeem himself, instead of pitching one innings and calling it a day?
Myers recorded the final out in the division-clinching game against the Nationals. The photo above is already iconic. Unless he goes the distance in a big game, he won’t achieve that level of glory as a starter, and will instead resort to the same quiet dignity of Jamie Moyer, walking off the mound with his work in doubt.
Beerleaguer: It doesn’t suit him, so here's what I'd do. Seek a quality veteran starter. Audition a prospect to compete with Eaton for the final spot in the rotation like many other clubs in spring. Shift Myers back into the bullpen as the closer. When the bullpen stabilized, this team won games. If a starter cannot be obtained, then Myers must stay.
Other unresolved issues we're discussing: Aaron Rowand and the outfield, third base and Ryan Howard's arbitration.