Originally written on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 3/12/12
7c

Joe Blanton's trade stock: rising.

Let’s talk Joe Blanton.

Coming off a 40-inning 2011 season filled with elbow problems, the 31-year-old righty had little trade value from November-to-February. His $8.5 million salary for 2012 appeared too pricey for a pitching-hungry team to bite on, given the health risk and his impending free agency. Why trade anything of value for someone who hadn’t yet conquered injury scares at the most important part of a pitcher’s body? Why take on salary?

That was then. This is March 12. Blanton has made clear that he feels healthy, and more importantly, he has had immediate Spring success after describing the comfort in his elbow. Blanton has pitched five scoreless innings in two starts, which most of us view as a minute sample in relatively meaningless games. But scouts don’t always see things that way.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos — one of the game’s most creative minds — was reportedly at Blanton’s start last Saturday, and sources told FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi that Anthopoulos left directly after Blanton exited the game.

Are the Blue Jays interested in Blanton? It would make sense.

Toronto’s rotation is captained by Ricky Romero, but the 2nd-through-5th starters are all question marks. Brandon Morrow has exceptional stuff and has proven he can maintain high-strikeout numbers, but a piece of his game is missing. Brett Cecil has had an up-and-down career, experiencing early success then struggling and spending time in the minors. Dustin McGowan has made four starts since 2008. Henderson Alvarez is 21 years old with the chance to be a plus-control fourth starter.

The Blue Jays need a pitcher like Blanton, a steady, reliable mid-to-back end rotation pitcher. It’s cliche to use those adjectives for Blanton, but it’s what he is… a 2.0-to-2.5 win starter from whom you know what to expect from start to start. Blanton isn’t boom-bust, he’s a 6-7 inning, 3-run pitcher. Some teams need that more than others. Toronto is one of them.

What has transpired early in the Spring is a blessing for the Phillies. Blanton being healthy and looking productive gives Ruben Amaro choices and it returns the leverage of a Blanton trade to the Phillies’ side. A few months ago, we were looking at salary relief as the best-case scenario in a trade of Blanton. Now, with another solid exhibition outing, Blanton could fetch a decent prospect and $5-7 million of freed payroll.

David Murphy wrote Monday morning that Blanton is perceived to be available by folks in baseball. Should the Phillies listen? Should they actively shop Blanton? Or should they keep a healthy Kentucky Joe for themselves?

It obviously depends on the return, but I say trade him.

It really comes down to what the Phils value: trade deadline flexibility and the chance to upgrade offensively or a steady fourth starter for the course of a 162-game season in a tougher National League East.

Since the Phillies are playing for October more than May and June, that deadline flexibility is so much more important than the 1.5 wins a healthy Blanton would give them over Kyle Kendrick, Joel Pineiro or Dave Bush. The ability to bring in a bat if the first base platoon fails or if John Mayberry can’t cut it every day in left field exceeds the need for a fourth starter, especially in the playoffs when that pitcher might be needed for a grand total of three starts.

This obviously assumes rotational health come playoff time, but what would you prefer in October, Blanton for those three starts and the same offense you see now, or Vance Worley in that role and the chance to bring in another hitter?

It’s far too early to speculate as to what bats would be available by the deadline, but thinking ahead wouldn’t hurt a team with such a high probability of making the playoffs.

The perception of Blanton has changed quickly. His $8.5 million salary went from a hindrance to an attractive one-year pricetag for a team looking to make a short-term upgrade.

The Phillies have a chance to act while Blanton’s stock is rising. The fans and front office say they want to replenish the minor-league cupboard… this is a way to do that. The prospect wouldn’t be a major difference-maker, but he could be a solid mid-level starting pitcher or infielder who could help two or three years from now.

But most importantly, it would give the Phillies the ability to transfer Blanton’s value to the offensive side of the ball come July.

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