I have no problem admitting that my personal belief is that the Philadelphia Phillies should come as close to "blowing up" their team as possible without venturing into that forsaken zone of mediocrity. It's part of the baseball life cycle—players get old and expensive; teams need to rebuild.
"Old" and "expensive" are frequent adjectives regarding the Phillies. The youngest member of this club's regular starting infield is a 33-year-old Ryan Howard, and while players like Ben Revere and Domonic Brown have infused some youth into the order, the average age of players rostered by the Phillies this season is still 30.
The "expensive" part goes without mentioning.
There comes a time when teams are forced to trim the proverbial fat. Aging, expensive players are traded for inexperienced, cost-efficient prospects, often ending any hope of winning a World Series in that given season. It's called "selling."
"Buying" is the exact opposite. It's the acquisition of players—reinforcements for a run at the postseason.
Given their slow start to 2013, the Phillies have been labeled as sellers quite frequently. However, after three consecutive series victories over legitimate contenders like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, the Phillies are now considering becoming buyers.
The Phillies are now a team on the fence. The age of their roster and size of their payroll alludes to a deadline seller. Their position in the National League East—7.5 games behind the first place Braves—suggests that they could still pull closer.
Buy or sell? That's the million dollar question right now, but the Phillies are in a very good position to dabble in both.
The first thing that the Phillies should do at the deadline is move pieces that are truly expendable. In the following few paragraphs, I'll explain how trading Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz and Michael Young could actually make the Phillies better.
The Phillies are in the unique position of having valuable commodities on the market. For example, Papelbon would easily be one of the most coveted relievers availabe this summer, not only because of his numbers, but because of his postseason experience as well.
While the Phillies would likely have to chip in some salary relief anyway, teams with deep pockets and strong farm systems like the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers would love to have a guy like Papelbon on board. They're legitimate contenders and a closer is the final piece.
Teams that are "on the fence" don't need $50 million closers.
What's that you say? The Phillies don't have anyone ready to step in and replace Papelbon? Consider this:
Player A: 2-2, 2.78 ERA (3.44 FIP), 34 SO, 17 BB, 0.2 WAR
Player B: 2-0, 2.21 ERA (3.37 FIP), 31 SO, 6 BB, 0.4 WAR
Player A is Antonio Bastardo. Player B is Papelbon. While the Phillies would be taking a step back in the ninth inning by naming Bastardo as their closer, trading Papelbon would allow them to free up salary and add a decent prospect or two.
While the theory is similar, trading Ruiz would be a much riskier proposition. If made available, Ruiz would be the best catcher on the market. Teams like the Tigers and New York Yankees, who are desperately in need of catching depth, would part with a decent prospect to rent him.
The Phillies then face two serious questions.
The first pertains to this season. Can Erik Kratz, currently rehabbing from a knee injury, return as the starting catcher after hitting .229/.290/.436 before going on the disabled list?
The second is about the future. Who replaces Ruiz long-term? The Phillies had hoped that Tommy Joseph would take the reins, but a concussion has slowed his development this season. While he could conceivably be ready by 2014, the Phillies would likely rely on a veteran stopgap (Kratz? Humberto Quintero?) to play regularly at the major league level.
The easiest player to deal, at least from a conceptual standpoint, would be Michael Young. The Phillies could promote Triple-A third baseman Cody Asche to replace him, who is currently hitting .293/.351/.460 with 10 home runs for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Assuming the club feels as though Asche is ready, trading Young could land the Phillies a decent prospect.
Then again, the veteran third baseman also has a full no-trade clause, and naming Asche as his replacement would give the Phillies yet another left-handed hitter in the lineup, although both Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis represent suitable replacements.
This is where things get tricky for the Phillies. While their farm system is improving, it is not particularly deep. This is a club best suited to hang on to its top talents, which will undoubtedly be needed as soon as 2014.
Should they even consider buying, the Phillies should be making moves that will not impact their future long-term. That likely means smaller trades that will help the club win now.
As buyers, the Phillies would look for a corner outfielder and bullpen help. Here are some names that could be available:
A couple of former Phillies' outfielders—Raul Ibanez and Nate Schierholtz—could both be traded, but a return to Philly for either is unlikely.
Alex Rios, who is in town this weekend with the Chicago White Sox, is hitting .278/.333/.442 with 11 home runs this season, but is still owed roughly $19.75 million in guaranteed money through the 2014 season (including the $1 million buyout of a 2015 club option).
The Phillies had interest in Colorado Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer as a free agent a few offseasons ago. He is hitting .332/.395/.567 this season with 15 home runs. His road numbers should be a cautionary tale, but would still represent a sizeable upgrade for the Phils at .288/.388/.512 with six home runs.
The Tigers, who have decent outfield depth, could make Avisail Garcia available.
One interesting—if unlikely—possibility for the Phillies could be a reunion with Hunter Pence, who will be a free agent at season's end and looks like a serious Gold Glove candidate in right field when compared to Delmon Young.
Finding a decent bullpen piece, on the other hand, could be a challenge for the Phillies—especially if they decide to deal Papelbon.
The market is thin and two of its best names—Steve Cishek and Jesse Crain—will likely be out of the Phillies' price range in terms of prospects. Instead, they may be best served looking for a name that isn't widely reported to be available (in the same manner they almost landed Wilton Lopez last offseason).
There are two players, currently on the club's disabled list, that could really turn the Phillies into a contender: Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay.
While any trade deadline stance should not lean on either of those players, if both are healthy, both are sizeable upgrades for this club.
A Possible Post-Deadline Look
Still with me? Here's a look at what this scenario could produce (and what it needs to produce):
- Ben Revere - CF - (.304/.338/.353, 0 HR)
- Jimmy Rollins - SS - (.260/.317/.350, 4 HR)
- Chase Utley - 2B - (.275/.336/.500, 11 HR)
- Ryan Howard - 1B - (.266/.319/.465, 11 HR)
- Domonic Brown - LF - (.281/.325/.550, 23 HR)
- RIGHT FIELD - (N/A)
- Cody Asche - 3B (Triple-A: .293/.351/460, 10 HR)
- Erik Kratz - C - (.229/.290/.436, 8 HR)
Bench: Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, John McDonald, Humberto Quintero
Starting Rotation: Cliff Lee (10-3, 2.86 ERA), Cole Hamels (4-11, 4.17 ERA), Roy Halladay (2-4, 8.65 ERA), Kyle Kendrick (8-6, 3.75 ERA), John Lannan (2-3, 4.23 ERA)
Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo, SETUP MAN, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Phillippe Aumont, Mike Stutes, Jeremy Horst
The longer you think about the possibilities, the more a deadline combination of both buying and selling seems like a logical and productive possibility for this surging Phillies club.