A couple of weeks ago, we used this space to advocate the shopping of Ryan Howard to general managers searching for power. With Howard struggling and hurt, it would be surprising to see any team willing to part with any sort of talent even if the Phillies were to assume his entire salary. It doesn't hurt to ask. But here's a look at some more likely trade scenarios the Phillies could ponder if their season does not turn around over the next month.
1) Jonathan Papelbon - This would make the most sense because he is both valuable and expendable. The least of the Phillies worries for the future is at closer. If landing some legitimate position player prospects requires parting with one of their few dependable bullpen assets, the Phillies should not hesitate. Look no further than an hour or two down I-95 to see the potential reward. Two years ago the Orioles shipped Koji Uehara to the Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter.
Davis was scuffling in 2010 but was only 24 years old and carried a career batting line of .248/.300/.459 along with 39 home runs in 806 at bats. This year, he has 13 home runs and a 1.087 OPS. Both of those numbers would lead the Phillies, obviously.
The good news about shopping a closer is most teams think they need bullpen help, and history says they are willing to part with good prospects to do so. The Twins gave up Wilson Ramos as part of a package for Matt Capps. For Octavio Dotel, the Dodgers gave up James McDonald and Andrew Lambo, both of whom had been Top 100 prospects the season before. George Sherrill landed the Orioles Josh Bell, who would be named the No. 37 prospect in the game the following season.
None of those guys has the track record of Papelbon. He'll have about $32 million left on his contract at the trade deadline, but the Phillies should be in a position to eat whatever is necessary to maximize their return. A player like Davis -- young, close to the major leagues with plenty of upside -- would be ideal. A second solid piece isn't out of the question, depending on market demands.
2) Kyle Kendrick, RHP: Who knows how the league values Kendrick right now, and the Phillies will want to wait to find out until they are definitely out of contention. But if the Phillies are going to have a fire sale, Kendrick should be involved, both because his value is likely as high as it will get, and because he stands to earn north of $8 million next season in his final year of arbitration. In other words, he will no longer be a bargain. The Phillies' system has more starting pitching prospects than position prospects, so the idea would be to market Kendrick to a playoff team in exchange for some talent that can help the offense within the next year or two. You have to think he'd be as attractive as Joe Blanton was the year the Phillies acquired him from Oakland.
3) Cliff Lee, LHP: If the Phillies are willing to eat a sizable chunk of money, Lee would likely get them even more than Papelbon. Certainly, more than Kendrick. I have him at No. 3 because the goal here is not to completely decimate the talent base. In other words, the goal is retooling instead of rebuilding, and keeping Lee paired with Hamels remains their best way to contend. That being said, if somebody gives them an offer they cannot refuse, well, they cannot refuse it. Lee still has as much value as ever. The pressure to trade him is lessened by the fact that, as long as he stays healthy, he should still have that same value in the offseason, or midway through next season.
4) Chase Utley, 2B: Utley's numbers have started to slide downward, and there is always a risk that his knee condition flares of and kills his value. But the Phillies cannot compete this season without him, and trading away one of their most popular players is not an endeavor that can or should be taken lightly. Yet if the Phillies are out of contention the week leading up to the trade deadline, they'd be foolish not to market him. And as long as he is healthy, he could land them an important piece for the future, much the same way Carlos Beltran landed the Mets a marquee pitching prospect in Zack Wheeler a couple of seasons ago. Of course, Beltran was hitting .289/.391/.513 with 15 home runs in 419 plate appearances for the Mets. So it'd help for Utley to get hot before the trade deadline.
The Phillies still have about six weeks to go before they need to get serious about their overall strategy for the trade deadline. But they would be foolish to turn their phones off, particularly with regards to Howard and Papelbon.