At long last, it looks as if the Philadelphia Phillies front office is embracing rebuilding in full. The major indication of this paradigm shift came last month, when Jimmy Rollins, the starting shortstop and leader of the club through arguably the best period in franchise history, moved on to warmer weather and more wins in Los Angeles. Couple Rollins' departure with those of Antonio Bastardo and Marlon Byrd, and it's clear the Phillies have decided to emulate the basketball team from across the parking lot and tank with the worst of them.
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That said, Ruben Amaro Jr. still needs to put nine men on the field and have five starters to rotate in. With Cole Hamels likely to be traded soon, Cliff Lee slated to depart midseason if his elbow cooperates, A.J. Burnett back in Pittsburgh, and Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez unlikely to return, the Phillies will have lost five of their top six starters from 2014 (in terms of innings pitched). When your starting rotation is David Buchanan and Jerome Williams, you're probably in trouble, and the Phillies smartly recognized this by signing Aaron Harang.
Harang, at age 36, will cost the Phillies a mere $5 million for his one-year deal. Never mind that his HR/FB ratio was the second-lowest of his career in 2014, or that his fastball velocity has dropped all the way to below 89 mph; Harang can eat innings, and that's what Philly needs right now. Harang is a long way from his mid-2000s glory days in Cincinnati, but even if he only produces a third of the 2.5 fWAR he put up last season, he'll be a bargain. Steamer doesn't think very highly of Harang, projecting him for a 4.75 ERA and 4.72 FIP in 163 innings, but that seems a bit pessimistic given that his FIP has only been above 4.70 twice (4.79 in 2008 and 2013).
There are signs Harang has reinvented himself of late, a mid-career crisis, if you will. His Brooks Baseball page shows an increased reliance on his sinker over the last several years, and he even added a cutter for 2014 (although that could be a classification change). If he keeps up his ability (and luck) from last year's performance, which had him ranking above Henderson Alvarez, Jake Odorizzi, and Jake Peavy in fWAR, the Phillies will have found themselves a bigger bargain than Williams (a 2.83 ERA in 57.1 innings last year, and signed for $2.5 million for 2015).
Signing Harang is a long-term move in a roundabout way: the Phils didn't give up any resources beyond a little money to get him, and having someone to trot out every fifth day allows them to develop prospects like Ben Lively (obtained in the recent Marlon Byrd deal) without rushing them to the big leagues. No, Harang certainly won't be on the team the next time they contend (if there is a next time), and I wouldn't even bet on him returning for 2016, but it's his effect on the organization as a whole that makes this a smart move. The sabermetric community (and the whole baseball community, for that matter) have rightly been hard on Amaro over the past couple years, but this recent sequence of moves shows that he's finally accepting the inevitable. With Rollins, Byrd, and Bastardo gone, and Harang signed for cheap, maybe the Phillies can finally work on foisting Ryan Howard on somebody.
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Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball.
Steven Silverman is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He also writes for Batting Leadoff. You can follow him on Twitter at @Silver_Stats or email him at Steven@SilverStats.com.