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Option options

I don't usually put too much stock in what anybody says about the season in mid-February, but there were some interesting quotes and tidbits in Adam McCalvy's article yesterday.

The basic point is this: Carlos Villanueva is great, he's flexible, and he's got an option year remaining.  This quote from Mike Maddux is pretty cool:

"He has the pitches to start, he has the stuff to go short and he has the resiliency to go back-to-back [days]," Maddux said. "So he can do it all, he's an all-encompassing utility pitcher. Is he one of our best five starters? Probably. Is he one of our five best relievers? Yes. So he can fill any role."

At least the organization seems to know that.

But, apparently, roster decisions are based on more than just goodness:

"I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that he's not going to make the team," Yost said of Villanueva. "I'm just saying that we are open-minded enough that we have to control our depth. ... We did that for years and years in Atlanta. We'd send a guy that was better than the guy we had [in the big leagues] down to Triple-A. Atlanta won 14 straight division championships, so we weren't really in a building mode."

I'm going to try to figure out what the hell Nedley is saying in just a moment.  But first, thank you Adam for sharing this information:

A number of candidates for spots in the starting rotation behind Ben Sheets and Jeff Suppan have Minor League options remaining, including Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra and, yes, Villanueva. Only one of the competitors -- Claudio Vargas -- doesn't have an option.

I really wish that MLB would make option data more available to the public, so we wouldn't have to comb through articles like this to figure it out.  But anyway, now we know.  Basically, everybody can be sent down except for Vargas, who probably deserves it the most.  (Yes, I know he won 11 games.  I also know he's not a very good pitcher, and unlikely to magically become one.)

So when Yost says he wants to "preserve our depth," I assume that he means that he doesn't want to get rid of anybody.  That's tough, because there's only room for five starters in the rotation, and most of the other places to put them have their issues:

  • The bullpen: they could be useful there, but unless they are used strictly as long men, they couldn't step right back into the rotation.
  • The DL: Gallardo is there, but unless it's a Rule 5 pick with a swollen pinky finger, you can't just plop somebody on the DL because you want to.
  • The minors: Here you can keep the pitcher stretched out, but this isn't a possibility for Vargas.
It wouldn't surprise me to see either Villy or Parra sent to the bullpen.  But probably not both, because we want to "preserve our depth," and either could be sent to the minors to start there.

Ultimately, what this whole issue comes down to--I suspect--is that Ned doesn't want to part with Vargas.  If Vargas had an option, all of these guys would be identical in the team's eyes.  We'd go with our best five starters, and the other guys would pitch in Nashville.

What I'm afraid will happen is we'll get an Opening Day rotation of:

  • Sheets
  • Suppan
  • Bush
  • Capuano
  • Vargas
And then when Gallardo comes back, either Cappy or Vargas will go, depending on who is outsucking the other.  (Or somebody will be hurt, and that'll make the decision.)  That leaves Villy as the #7 guy.

If Capuano or Vargas was really bad, I wouln't be concerned about this.  If Sidney Ponson had a rotation slot, I'd be confident that Ned would see the light on about April 18th, and Villy would get the call.  But none of these guys are that bad.  Capuano, Bush, and Vargas all sported ERA+'s last year of 88.  The average SP is down around 90-95.  Those guys all have their good days, and they all have enough of a track record (of mediocrity, true) and enough potential that Ned, if he so chooses, can defend keeping them around.

But--and I think all of us, even Ned, know this--Villanueva is better.  Parra may well be better.  There is certainly some risk in losing some depth, but when that depth is Claudio Vargas and we have 7 good options aside from him, I'd be willing to take the risk of trading him or stashing him as the long man in the pen.