- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
ATLANTA -- We didn't need a radar gun to know there was something amiss with Roy Halladay, who left his start against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday after two innings because of shoulder soreness. The hitters were telling us that, with more aggressive swings against him, with significantly better results.
This month, Halladay has allowed 44 hits and 24 runs in 35.1 innings, including five homers in his last three starts. This is a pitcher who allowed only 10 homers for the entire 2010 season. Hitters are swinging, and they are not missing.
But the radar gun has been providing clues, too. Halladay's velocity has been down this year, as Fangraphs.com notes.
As Phillies' officials and coaches go to work today, they have no idea what they'll get out of Halladay for the rest of this season, just as they don't know what they could draw from Ryan Howard (who is improving) or Chase Utley.
The Phillies are in last place in the NL East, but that standing is deceptive; Philadelphia has been playing much better of late, with 10 wins in their past 15 games, and they have climbed over .500, to 25-24.
The Phillies are five games out of first place, in a division that has been steamrollered by injuries: The Nationals have lost Jayson Werth, Drew Storen and others, while the Braves have lost the middle of their lineup over the past 10 days.
The Phillies have reached a crossroads, and have decisions to make.
They could stand pat with their current roster, and look for a Halladay replacement from within. Vance Worley has seemingly made progress as he works his way back from arm trouble, and if he steps back into the Philadelphia rotation, the Phillies could plow ahead with a five-man staff of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton (who has been dangled in trade talks for a lot of the past two years, but suddenly seems indispensable), Kyle Kendrick and Worley -- with the hope that Halladay comes back, after benefiting from a shutdown.
The Phillies could be the team that jumps on Roy Oswalt, the most prominent free-agent pitcher still available. All winter, teams thought that Oswalt had priced himself beyond his actual worth; last year, the right-hander threw 139.2 innings, while dealing with back trouble. He had a 3.69 ERA, and his 1.34 WHIP -- respectable for sure -- was the worst of his career. Some club evaluators have viewed the 34-year-old Oswalt as someone from whom you could expect about 100 innings, with a significant risk for more back trouble.
The Phillies already have a record payroll, at $173 million -- which is about double what it was in 2007. Oswalt could cost something in the range of $5 million to $7 million, and he is probably weeks away from being ready to rejoin a rotation.
By the time Oswalt is ready to pitch in the big leagues, the trade market could loosen up, and the likes of Ryan Dempster will be up for grabs. In getting someone like a Dempster or a Shaun Marcum, the Phillies would have to part with prospects from a farm system already thinned by trades for Halladay and Lee in recent years.
There is another option for the Phillies, of course -- an option that is almost certainly out of the question. They could decide that because of Halladay's injury, along with the uncertainty about what Utley and Howard might give them, the Phillies could be aggressive sellers. They could market possible free agents Hamels and Shane Victorino, to add to their farm system.
For the readers: If you were running the Phillies, would you:
A. Stand pat, and try to grind it out and buy time for something to change?
B. Call Oswalt today and get him signed?
C. Move aggressively in the trade market for someone such as Dempster?
D. Begin to turn over the roster and trade off the likes of Hamels?
The guess here is that the Phillies will check again on Oswalt's price, while standing pat. We'll see.
Charlie Manuel acknowledged his concern after Halladay's exit Sunday, writes Bob Brookover. From Bob's story:
- Pitching coach Rich Dubee removed Halladay from the game after the second inning because he did not like what he was seeing on the mound and he already knew that the righthander was experiencing soreness.
"I know he's had a cranky shoulder," Dubee said. "He hasn't looked right and he didn't look right today. I knew he wasn't going to come out of the game. I basically said that was enough."
Halladay said he first felt soreness "about halfway through" his previous start against the Washington Nationals.
"We checked everything out, and strength and stuff was fine," Halladay said. "But we were just careful this week, cut back on throwing, did all the normal stuff [to deal with soreness]. You have this stuff from time to time and you know most of the time if you take care of it, it kind of goes anyway."
Dubee indicated that Halladay's soreness dates from beyond his last start.
"Yeah, it's been an issue," he said. "It's been there. It's been lingering. Some days it's better than others. Chicago was better than others. Even the start of the last game it was better and then got cranky. Today, warming up he felt fine, but as he got into the game and sat down and even before the first inning, it was just hard to get it going again."