The Phillies have reached the all-star break, and their deadline approach is still as cloudy as it was a month ago. Should they add talent to make a playoff push, or trade their stars and begin to rebuild? Their play most of the season has been a roller coaster ride of solid play and frustrating blown opportunities. So here we stand, about two-thirds through the 2013 season. The Phillies record is at .500 (48-48) and they are 5.5 games out of the second wild card spot. To secure a playoff berth, the Phillies would have to jump the Reds and Nationals, and get ahead of the Dodgers, who they are tied with through 96 games.
Statistically they have a better chance of catching the Braves for the NL East title than they do at overtaking the Pirates for the #1 wild card spot, as they are 9.5 behind the Pirates and only 6.5 behind the Braves. The bottom line is that if you get into the playoffs, whether as a wild card or a division winner, anything can happen. It doesn’t matter how you get there, but if you have a shot you need to go for it. That is why if I am Ruben Amaro, it’s time to stand pat. In one or two cases, maybe buy a player or two. But at the same time, he should sell a few players. Wait, what??? Allow me to explain.
I say it’s time to buy, but not in the sense that Phillies fans have gotten used to since Amaro took over. I’m not talking about giving up top prospects for a big name acquisition. Or top prospects for a mediocre acquisition (I love Hunter Pence but that trade still hurts). If you can add a few small pieces and keep the core intact, and get some return for players you will lose at the end of the season, you can still make a run this year. A lot of names have been floated in rumors and suggested by writers, so I would like to quickly run through them and comment on who I would keep, who I would trade, and where I see the team past the July 31 deadline.
Let’s begin with the upcoming free agents:
- Michael Young – TRADE – I would absolutely trade Michael Young if another team showed interest. I love him as a player and a clubhouse leader, but he is replaceable in the lineup, and definitely in the field. Both Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis are potential replacements that can offer comparable offense, and improved defense. Young can offer a contending team some depth and flexibility, as he can play first or third base. He had to waive his no trade clause to come here from Texas, and when he did, he made it very clear that he was not interested in extending his stay in Philly past this year. He may feel differently now, but I believe if a contending team was interested, he would be willing to go there for a few months before hitting free agency and having the ability to go wherever he wants. I doubt he gets you much more than a second tier A ball prospect. Unless he is packaged with…..
- Carlos Ruiz – TRADE – Listen, I love Chooooooch as much as you do. He’s a fun player to watch, fun to root for, and so damn adorable. Seriously, every time I see him smiling in the dugout I just want to give him a hug. Why trade him? He’s 34 years old and starting to slow down. On a team that has to get younger, here is an opportunity to do so. The Phillies have Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle in the minors, and can use Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero to get them through this season. Most importantly, catching has become a premium position in this league and Ruiz should fetch a decent return. Ruiz should be able to get you a similar package that Shane Victorino did a few years ago, a solid prospect and a bullpen arm. The hope here would be that the relief pitcher has a bit more upside than Josh Lindblom. I know, I’m sorry for reminding you that he existed.
- Roy Halladay – N / A – Doc is injured and will not be traded.
- Chase Utley – KEEP – I have a soft spot for Chase. I am trying to look at this from an unbiased point of view, which is very hard to do. If I’m Amaro I would talk to Chase now and get an idea of what kind of contract he will be looking for in the offseason. If his demands are reasonable, you need to resign him and let him retire as a Phillie. If he wants too much money or too many years, then you need to shop him around and get what you can. I feel like he will stick around and finish his career in Philadelphia, and the fan in me thinks that’s exactly how it should be.
Now let’s jump into the top tier pitchers that have been included in rumors lately that would land you top level prospects if you decide to make them available.
- Cliff Lee – KEEP – He’s owed a lot of money until at least 2015 (2016 is a vesting option), and he’s 34 years old. Does he have 3-4 years of top level performance left in his left arm? It’s tough to say as pitchers can hit a wall and drop off very drastically, very quickly. I still feel that you should build around strong pitching, and having Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of your rotation is a great foundation to anchor your team. Because of his salary, you will be limited with the number of teams that could afford him. Add in his limited no-trade clause, and it would be very difficult to get teams to bid against each other to drive up the price. He will be dominant for a few more years. Keep Clifton in Philadelphia.
- Cole Hamels – KEEP – You do not trade your 29 year old three time All-Star, former World Series MVP, home grown, left handed ace. Let him be the face of the franchise until 2018. Moving on.
- Jonathan Papelbon – TRADE – I would trade Papelbon. I don’t think they SHOULD trade him, or even that they WILL trade him, but in the right circumstances, I would do it. Premiere closers are worth a lot in today’s game, and despite his recent struggles, he is still one of the best. If a team is willing to give you one of their best prospects, and maybe a corner outfielder or a relief pitcher, then I’m packing his bags. Don’t dump him for fringe prospects, but if a team is desperate for bullpen help, let them give up top talent to get him. His $13 million a year would go a long way in addressing needs this offseason, and you should be able to find a capable closer for much less. The biggest issue would be who closes for the rest of the season. They are not exactly deep in the bullpen, but you cross that bridge if you have to. Name your price for Papelbon, and if no one wants to meet your demands, you keep him. If they want him bad enough, let him go and take their talent.
The only ‘buying’ I would be interested in is if you can land a decent outfielder that can cover centerfield until Ben Revere returns from injury, then you can slide him over to right field to push Delmon Young to the bench (Or the unemployment line. Either would be fine). Otherwise, John Mayberry has been known to have a stronger second half the past few seasons, so you can let him hold down the fort temporarily. Not the worst option, and better than giving up talent to get a stop-gap outfielder for a playoff push.
A relief pitcher or two would be nice, but it will be hard to get a decent arm without overpaying, as a ton of teams have the same desire. The Phillies don’t have much to offer in a trade, and don’t want to give up what other teams are going to ask for. That is why I don’t see the Phillies doing much, instead simply riding out the season and hoping for healthy players that outperform our expectations. With the state of the National League, it might not be the worst game plan.
It’s very tempting to take the Sixers’ approach and trade away everything of value and rebuild from the ground up. But I really think that with a little tweaking, the Phillies can still contend and sneak into the playoffs. Now don’t get me wrong, if a team calls and blows Amaro away with an offer for anyone on the team, he better give it consideration. In nearly all cases I just don’t see that happening.
Call me an optimist, call me crazy, call me whatever you want, but I don’t think you can give up on a season when you are 5.5 games out with 66 to play. I don’t see Atlanta or Washington running away with the division, and unless either of them make a huge move to improve their team, the division is an open race. The second wildcard spot is also very possible. And like I said, once you get in, anything can happen! A solid rotation and a decent lineup can win you a World Series. Just ask the San Francisco Giants or the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies CAN sneak in and make a run. To quote the legendary Tug McGraw, “You Gotta Believe.”