When word arrived earlier today that the Dodgers had acquired Roberto Hernandez from the Phillies, it seemed clear that it was more than just about adding depth to a bullpen that just lost Paco Rodriguez, Chris Perez and Paul Maholm, and that it was only a matter of time until the other shoe dropped. Quickly, it has. Hernandez told Philadelphia media that he would be starting in Milwaukee tomorrow night for the Dodgers — presumably he’s just flying there from Philly, rather than trying to get to Los Angeles tonight — which was supposed to be Beckett’s turn. Bill Shaikin adds that Beckett had an MRI on his troublesome hip and might actually miss the rest of the season.
While disappointing, this is also not surprising. We’ve known Beckett’s hip was an issue for weeks, and the combination of the injury plus the big ugly specter of regression meant that it was exceedingly likely that we’d seen the best Beckett had to offer, and that his remaining starts were going to be poor ones no matter what. Through that lens, Hernandez, as mediocre as he is, is worth having around. Beckett probably wasn’t going to give you more, and Maholm isn’t available to step in.
This also somewhat explains the way the trade happened, in that Hernandez was scheduled to pitch tonight, and was a late scratch for the Phillies, who now need to rush Sean O’Sullivan up from Triple-A on short notice. It’s easy to think the Dodgers realized there was no way Beckett was pitching tomorrow, looked at who they could get via waivers, and rushed to make sure that Hernandez didn’t pitch tonight, leaving the Phillies with a list of minor leaguers to pick from soon. (Reportedly, “two lower-level minor leaguers,” or cash.)
The question, then, would be, “is Hernandez a better choice than a minor leaguer,” and that’s less certain, though I can easily see why the Dodgers would say he is. We all want to see Zach Lee because of the hype and money around his selection and because we’ve been following him for so long, but a promotion for him would be far more about scrambling to fill a need than rewarding a prospect who has earned it. Even with the Albuquerque caveats attached, Lee has shown he has a while to go before he’s ready; either way, he just pitched on Monday. Red Patterson would be available, but also hasn’t started a game in which he allowed fewer than four earned runs since June 12. Chris Reed? Well, there’s hype, but also very good reasons not to. Carlos Frias? Maybe, but he just pitched the other night.
Unfortunately, you’re left in a situation where you realize you have no good options, and you cover your eyes and cross your fingers and you stare only at Hernandez’ last few good starts and not a career’s worth of not-good starts. You try not to think about the fact that the Dodgers have only three reliable starters, and a Dan Haren contract option. I think all we know for sure is this: Hernandez isn’t the end. He’s the beginning. Some other starter is going to appear, potentially soon. I don’t know who it will be, of course, because waivers are going to make the choices slim. But it will absolutely be someone.