CLEARWATER, Fla. – In a move that shows confidence in their stock of rising minor-league starting pitchers, the Phillies released veteran righthander Aaron Cook on Tuesday.
Cook immediately became free to pursue opportunities with other clubs. A number of big-league clubs, including the Mets, could be looking to add a starting pitcher before opening day.
Cook, 34, is a veteran of 224 big-league starts. He went 13-29 with a 5.54 ERA the last three seasons for Colorado and Boston. Always on the lookout for starting pitching depth, the Phillies signed him to a minor-league contract this winter.
The Phillies were contractually obligated to inform Cook by Tuesday whether he was going to make their big-league roster. If the Phillies weren’t going to keep him in the majors, they had to pay him a $100,000 retention bonus to send him to Triple A, or release him.
There were indications that the Phillies were open-minded about retaining Cook in the organization. Conversations between the pitcher, his agent and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. led to his release. In short, it sounded like the Phillies did Cook a favor so he could look around for a big-league job. If Cook doesn’t find one, it’s not out of the question that he could return to the Phillies.
“Technically the decision to release him was ours,” assistant GM Scott Proefrock said. “But Ruben was cognizant and considerate of the player’s feelings of the circumstances so that was the direction we decided to go.”
Cook was one of several big-league veteran pitchers signed to minor-league deals by the Phils this winter. Reliever Juan Cruz was released before camp started. Starter Rodrigo Lopez was released at the mid-point ofcamp, and now Cook. Zach Miner remains in camp, but is unlikely to make the big club.
Cook made a solid showing in camp. In 18 2/3 innings, he allowed 19 hits and seven earned runs. He struck out just five and walked four.
Cook became a bit of a focal point over the last couple of weeks. As Roy Halladay’s struggles on the mound increased, Cook was seen as a possible replacement if Halladay needed extra time to get ready for the season. Halladay is confident he will be ready to start the season on time, but his effectiveness remains an issue. He is scheduled to make his final spring start Thursday in Clearwater.
Halladay turns 36 in May. He spent seven weeks on the disabled list last summer and there are questions about how long he can hold up after carrying a heavy workload throughout his career. That makes the role of No. 6 starter an important one in this organization.
So, with Cook gone, who is the sixth starter?
Lefty Raul Valdes, headed for a job in the bullpen, could be a short-term spot starter. Beyond that, the Phillies believe they have four solid options in the high minors. They include Tyler Cloyd, who made it to the majors in September, and top prospects Jonathan Pettibone, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin. Cloyd, Pettibone, Morgan and Martin were all in big-league camp earlier this spring.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a clear-cut guy,” Proefrock said. “All have gotten good experience. Hopefully they will get more experience before we have a need for them. We feel good about the depth we have.”