People who know me will probably tell you I tend to be a pretty optimistic guy when it comes to talking about my favorite teams. I live by the philosophy that baseball gives you 27 outs for a reason and will tell you every game in a 162-game schedule counts equally from start to finish.
As we wake up this unusually, yet somewhat relieving, chilly day in the Philadelphia region we see our beloved Phillies on a four-game losing streak after getting pounded by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Phillies are now eight games out of the top spot in the NL East, led by an Atlanta Braves team that appears to be falling apart at times and trying to hand off the division lead to the next closest competitor, but nobody is willing to take it off their hands. I am not naive enough to tell you it is impossible for a team to come back and take control of this division (the worst overall division in baseball?) by the end of September. I am just suggesting it will be impossible for THIS Phillies team to do that.
For a month now I have heard fans saying the Phillies still have a chance because nobody is running away with this division the way the Washington Nationals did last year. Heck, I have been one of those fans. Yet, here we are with the Phillies actually losing ground in the division race over the last month at a time when the Braves are cracking. With the trade deadline now just days away I find myself saying once again it is time for the Phillies to sell.
The Phillies should be in the position to sell, but it is not time to put out the clearance sign and advertise that everything must go. Not yet at least.
The Players That Should Be Moved
Jonathan Papelbon: There is one reason a team should spend big money on a closer of the caliber of a guy like Papelbon. That reason is because your team is one final piece of the puzzle away from getting over the top. Locking down games in the ninth inning is a big deal but ultimately only really matters when your team is frequently in a position to close down games in that situation. As currently constructed, the Phillies are not getting nearly enough bang for their buck with Papelbon. Blown saves aside, if the Phillies struggle to even get to the ninth with lead, that is a lot of money that could be going elsewhere to improve your team that is sitting in the bullpen for nine innings on most nights.
Unless you believe this Phillies team can make a serious run this year or next, the time to move Papelbon to a contender looking for relief is absolutely right now.
Michael Young: Michel Young has been OK at the plate but his defense is often deplorable. Near the end of his career, Young could be a nice fit on a team looking for a little more consistent bat without having to deal with the deficiencies in the field. Young may not be the kind of hitter some clubs will look for in a designated hitter (he lacks power) but he can fill a spot in a weak part of a line-up nicely. Finding an American League team in need of a veteran bat should be a priority here, and you can probably get at least a little something in return, although we're not talking about top prospects here.
Moving Young now could allow for prospect Cody Asche to get some more playing time at the major league level this season, giving the Phillies some time to evaluate his abilities before heading in to the off-season. If Asche plays well, groom him to be the team's third baseman now. If he struggles, weigh your options in free agency. There could be some options worth exploring in the off-season, including Mark Reynolds.
The Players That Should Be Kept
Cole Hamels: If there is one pitcher on the roster I think the Phillies should refrain from moving, it is Cole Hamels. Sure, he has struggled this season but Hamels is signed through 2018 with an option for 2019. Even if the Phillies have to undergo a complete rebuilding process, Hamels could still be the front man of the rotation through it all.
Domonic Brown: In terms of offense, if there is one player currently on the roster that the offense could be built around three to five years down the road, it appears it would be Domonic Brown. I fully expect Brown to sign a solid contract in the off-season (he's only making $500,000 for this season) and become the player the future roster is centered around. Ruben Amaro has held on to him for this long and although I don't take Amaro to be a guy to hesitate moving anybody, I don't think he will be moving Brown any time soon.
The Players We'd Hate to See Leave But Make Sense to Move
Chase Utley: The greatest second baseman in franchise history, Utley is a fan favorite. He's also having a nice season as his contract runs up. I would be perfectly fine bringing Utley back on a contract extension, which Jim Salisbury reports appears to be a possibility. If the two sides are talking, then I'll roll with taking the chances they work out a deal. However, as much as Utley has meant to this franchise, moving him in exchange for prospects to help the future of the franchise should certainly not be left off the table.
Cliff Lee: Like many of you, I love Cliff Lee and I would hate to see him leave town… again. However, he appears to be the best trading chip on the roster right now because everybody loves being able to add a proven starter to their rotation to make that playoff push. Though he is signed through 2015 and has an option for 2016, I would seriously consider moving him for the right price. If teams are competing with each other to acquire Lee, then Amaro could do just that once again and it would be a good move. Freeing up $25 million each season allows for other improvements on the roster moving forward, perhaps in more than one area.
Jimmy Rollins: I have long been one of the biggest supporters of Jimmy Rollins and he will always be the spark plug for the most successful era of Phillies baseball I have followed in my lifetime, no matter what. That said, if a team comes calling in need of a shortstop, I would give it serious consideration. Rollins has a contract through 2014 with a vesting option for 2015. this decision would be a lot easier to make if the Phillies had any confidence that Freddy Galvis could offer anything offensively. Not that Rollins has been great with his bat, but having a switch hitter might still be preferable over a bat with holes all over it.
Carlos Ruiz: I'm not sure the value for Carlos Ruiz is all that high with the kind of season he is having after an enhanced 2012 season. But Ruiz has a contract that expires at the end of the year and the future stock of catchers in the farm system is relatively deep. If the Phillies are not going anywhere this season, the decision needs to be made on whether or not they are including Ruiz in the 2014 game plan or not. I suspect if the Phillies are interested that they will be able to retain Ruiz in free agency. But if the club feels they can move on with a younger catcher soon enough, the right move may be to see if anyone will trade anything for him. If that is the case an the Phillies are going nowhere, they can manage a couple more months with Erik Kratz behind home plate.
Cole Hamels: Wait, what? I thought I said Hamels was off the table? This is me playing both sides of the argument, as I tend to do sometimes. As I mentioned above, Hamels has a solid contract that secures him in one place for a while. That means even though he has struggled this season, his return value may be pretty good if the right team is involved. Hamels is not a rented player with that contract, so a team making a serious push for him would have to give up something of note in return unless the Phillies decide to completely clean house in the offseason. I don't think that will be the situation, but it is one worth addressing.
If you feel the Phillies would be better off by hitting the reset button and startling largely from scratch, trading Hamels makes some sense. For his contract value you can get one or two players that might be able to contribute, perhaps on a more regular basis as opposed to every five days. Also keep in mind that if you are entering a full rebuilding mode with the franchise, you have to ask how long it will be until the Phillies are a legitimate contender. If that process is going to take four or five years, does it make sense to hold on to Hamels with the hope he is still a top-of-the-rotation quality pitcher? Personally I think if this is the path the Phillies end up taking then it makes plenty of sense to move Hamels.
I'm not sure that is the smart option, and it is not the one I am advocating for. I'm not ready to hit any reset buttons, but it is time to put the Game Genie in and start editing this roster a little bit. The Phillies should be in sell mode, but keep some of the best sellers available on the shelves.