A running leitmotif of the winter, which started getting play after the Phillies signed Cliff Lee out from under the Yankees' and Rangers' noses, was that they'd have to send away Joe Blanton. There's no way they'd want to pay their fifth-best starter a salary of $10.5 million per year for 2011 and 2012. The fifth slot's the one you can skip while keeping everyone else on their regular turn, after all. It's the guy you don't pitch in the postseason, should you get there, which the Phillies have a habit of doing. Spend $21 million over two years for that guy? Really?
BlantonThe assumption was that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would do the "sensible" thing, and swap Kentucky Joe to some starter-needy ballclub to exploit the limited supply of good rotation-worthy free agents on the market. Either Amaro might need the money because adding Lee to the payroll was a big expense (despite its small initial footprint, just $11 million for 2011), or he might want to use it to address some other need on the ballclub. Either way, trade Blanton, and voila, he'd have cash back in the till. Amaro himself contributed to the speculation by commenting that the Phillies were discussing the possibility after signing Lee.
Like a lot of easy assumptions, though, a funny thing happened on the way to its happening: it never happened. Moving $10.5 million isn't all that easy in the first place, and Amaro had no incentive -- or need -- to take pennies on the dollar in a deal. And most of all, Blanton's trip to the DL with a bum elbow provides a handy reminder that it's a rare rotation that manages to run with just five starters across a full season. Odds are, someone's going to break, because somebody always does. It's the nature of committing an unnatural act -- throwing a baseball.
The other thing to note is that while Blanton may be "just" the fifth of five in the best top-to-bottom rotation in baseball, his final line last year was uglied up because of a bumpy first few starts coming back from a strained oblique that cost him April. Other teams might have looked at his full-season data, seen that final 4.82 ERA, and not found him to their liking. However, over his final 20 starts last year, Blanton posted a 3.92 ERA while pushing his strikeout rate up to 19.9 percent. The Phillies could choose to put some faith in that, and value him accordingly, and his SIERA -- which interprets what his performance was worth, and suggest what you ought to expect going forward -- was 4.01, or something well worth the price, since it was an above-average performance for major league starters last year.
In the meantime, the Phillies will have to get by with a more standard-issue fifth starter type in Vance Worley, an '08 third-rounder out of Long Beach State. It's not necessarily a matter of preferring to plug in the kid than immediately give Kyle Kendrick his old job back; Kendrick pitched two innings on Tuesday, so rather than risk the equivalent of a short-rest start on Friday against the Mets, it will be Worley's spin initially. Worley's a decent enough prospect for a guy with normal back-end aspirations for a big-league rotation: middling velocity, a nice curve, and like Kendrick, someone you skip if you feel the need. The Phillies will have to wait a bit to further enjoy the luxury of employing a $10.5 million fifth starter.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.