COMMENTARY | At this writing, there are two acts left for Philadelphia Phillies management in the great Roy Halladay experiment before they begin the process of deciding whether or not to bring him back for 2014.
He was scheduled to pitch Monday night in Miami, then in one of the final games of the season in Atlanta over the weekend. Regardless of what anyone thinks of his performance since returning from early-season shoulder surgery on Aug. 25, this will be a tough call.
The Phillies hold an option that would allow them to bring back Halladay next season for $20 million. That certainly seems like a lot of money for a guy who is 4-4 this season with a 6.71 earned run average, and 15-12 the last two years while allowing better than five runs a game.
Halladay has lost velocity these last two seasons, as much as five miles an hour or more on his fastball. There's no way of knowing if he can ever get it back. His command hasn't been there this year, as evidenced by 34 walks and 10 hit batters in just under 62 innings.
That said, he pitched with a compromised shoulder early in the season and then returned to the major league mound less than four months after stopping for surgery. There isn't anyone in the Phillies' organization who believes what we've seen from Halladay since he returned to action is the best Halladay can be.
The consensus is if any pitcher in the major leagues can find greatness again, it's Halladay, even at 37 years of age come May 14. No one in baseball has a stronger work ethic. No pitcher in the game is more dedicated to his craft. Even without the velocity that propelled him to a 40-16 record in his first two years with the Phillies, including a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter, a Cy Young Award in 2010 and a runner-up finish for the same award in 2011, he may succeed with experience and guile.
The reality is when you get past Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton and Jim Bunning -- all Hall of Famers -- Roy Halladay is probably the best pitcher the Phillies have ever had. Unless his shoulder just fails him going forward, he doesn't seem like a guy who is ready to call it a career.
So, do the Phillies spring for the $20 million and hope he can join Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in what potentially will be the best three pitchers in any major league starting rotation, provided they all pitch up to top levels? Do they decline that option and try to negotiate a lower number, which would risk insulting him or losing him to a better offer, say from the pitching-starved Yankees?
The Phillies could let him go and spend more money on free agency from a class that right now includes Phil Hughes, Bronson Arroyo, Josh Johnson, A.J. Burnett, Tim Lincecum, Matt Garza, Tim Hudson, Grant Balfour, Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Paul Konerko, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson, Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence among the very best candidates.
Cano is the only one on that list who absolutely is worth top dollar at this stage of his career, and the Phillies have already re-signed Chase Utley, so that won't happen. The other best names on that list all come with risks, and the Phillies have enough question marks as it is, Doc or no Doc. Can you say Ryan Howard?
Considering what's available on the market and the state of their young pitchers, it appears if the Phillies really hope to contend next season, they would have to trust in Halladay being Halladay again somehow, someway. One more season at $20 million is probably more worthwhile than overpaying Carlos Beltran or Jacoby Ellsbury to play the outfield for multiple seasons, which some team will do.
The problem is this is just about a blind transaction. It's a complete unknown. The Roy Halladay we see now may be all we'll ever get again. By committing $20 million to him, the Phillies are pretty much committed to running him out there every five days as long as he's physically able to do so. If he doesn't have it anymore, it could get difficult to watch.
If I were a betting man, I'd say they'll keep him. I'm just glad it's not my call.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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