It wasn't a question they wanted to be asking themselves early in the month of August. The Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to contend for a World Series this season. It just doesn't feel right that they're in this position, but it's time to finally address that dreaded question.
What do they have left to lose?
For the team with the highest payroll in the National League, being nearly 20 games out of first place and double digits out of a Wild Card position can be classified as a "lost season." Now, it's time to figure out where they stand moving forward.
That's why it is baffling (and bordering on idiotic) that the Phillies have continued to make a commitment to Kyle Kendrick in their starting rotation while right-handed pitcher Tyler Cloyd has been arguably the best starting pitcher in Triple-A this season.
The Phillies' commitment to Kendrick is certainly understandable. After agreeing to a one-year deal that would allow the sides to avoid arbitration last winter, Ruben Amaro Jr. and company signed off on a new, two-year deal worth $7.5 million that would also buy out a couple of his arbitration years, leaving him eligible for one final time before the 2014 season.
For the Phillies, it was all about cost-certainty. They didn't want to move into Kendrick's last (and most expensive) year of arbitration completely in the dark, especially after bringing Jonathan Papelbon aboard and pushing their payroll over the luxury tax limit.
But the point is much more simple than that: Kendrick is being paid like a back of the rotation starter. He'll earn $3 million in 2012 and $4.5 million in 2013.
Now, you can see the real problem beginning to take shape. Kendrick hasn't been good as a starting pitcher this year. In fact, he's been pretty bad. As a starter, Kendrick has posted a record of 2-8 with an ERA of 5.01. He has allowed 12 home runs and the opposition has tagged him to the tune of a .293 batting average and .832 OPS.
Of course, that poor showing in the starting rotation forced him back to the bullpen upon the return of Roy Halladay, but that's where the story gets interesting. Kendrick was actually much better in the bullpen than in the starting rotation.
Kendrick has made 12 appearances out of the bullpen this season totaling 13.2 innings. He has posted a record of 2-1 to go along with a 3.95 ERA and the opposition isn't hitting him as well. They've posted a batting average of .231 and an OPS of .692, and they've yet to take Kendrick deep.
So now we have the first piece of the puzzle. Kendrick has undoubtedly been much better out of the bullpen than he has been in the starting rotation. Now, take a look at what Cloyd has done with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and compare the results.
Cloyd is 11-1 with an ERA of 2.25 this season. He is striking out 6.15 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.27. The opposition is hitting just .204 against him and his WHIP is less than one.
Of course, it isn't all sunshine and roses for Cloyd. His BABip of .231 indicates that he's due for a major regression. Talent evaluators aren't fond of him because he is a right-handed pitcher with "average stuff." He has a below average fastball and barely average secondary offerings. His best tool is his control.
However, even in light of all of the roadblocks in front of him, Cloyd's FIP of 3.72 still suggests that he can, at the very least, be a solid fifth starter. So again, it's time to ask why he's not getting that opportunity.
The Phillies are not in a position to climb back into the postseason race. That ship sailed quite a long time ago, when they made the decision to move Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino at the trade deadline after being swept by the Atlanta Braves.
Now, the club's focus should be on the 2013 season. The Phillies have obvious holes. Who plays center field? Who plays third base? Who hits lead-off? However, Joe Blanton's departure and Kendrick's struggles should have opened a spot in the rotation for a fifth starter.
If the Phillies are too stubborn to give Cloyd a chance to come up and show that he can compete at the MLB level, it would be one of the biggest mistakes in a season where you can't even count the mistakes on your fingers.
Are the Phillies really naive enough not to give Cloyd a chance because they don't believe, through their own talent evaluators, that he can retire Major League hitters?
Or is it something else? Are the Phillies too stubborn to move Kendrick back into the bullpen because of his salary for the 2013 season, which would suggest that he is being paid like a starting pitcher? Is this another case of Charlie Manuel "sticking to his veteran players?"
The bottom line is this: The Phillies should have called up Tyler Cloyd yesterday, because it is time to face the music. This is a lost season. The Phillies are playing to stay healthy and evaluate talent for 2013.
Who knows? Maybe Cloyd comes up and shows that he can be a legitimate option as the club's fifth starter next season—for the minimum salary, at that. At worst, he gets shelled in the MLB and the club knows it needs to find a fifth starter for 2013, be it Kendrick or someone else.
But at least they would be able to say that they tried.
For now, Kendrick's days in the starting rotation should be over. As much as he would hate to hear it, "what you've done for me lately" actually matters in this league, and Cloyd has been doing this whole "winning" thing for a lot longer this season.
Again, it wasn't a question that the Phillies wanted to be asking themselves at this stage, but a question that must be asked nonetheless.
What do they have to lose?