ST. LOUIS - A baseball lineup is a lot like a financial portfolio. The more diverse your assets, the less risk you assume in pursuit of your desired return. The Phillies' desired return is a World Series. And Charlie Manuel thinks that trading for a righthanded power hitter would greatly increase the likelihood of achieving that goal.
"Let me put it to you like this," the manager said. "I think our odds get better if we have one."
Manuel, who wasn't shy about his desire for starting pitching over the past few summers, now has similar feelings about the need to add a consistent run producer to bolter a lineup that drops off a cliff after Ryan Howard.
Heading into yesterday, Phillies five-hole hitters had combined to produce a .207 batting average, .292 on-base percentage, and .318 slugging percentage. All of those marks are among the worst in the National League.
After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to complete their star-studded rotation in the offseason, they expressed optimism in their offense, saying that they simply needed their star players to return to their usual production. Five weeks to go before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, they still have not returned. Leftfielder Raul Ibanez, hitting .240, with a .290 OBP and .395 SLG, with eight home runs, did not start last night despite the fact that the Phillies were facing a righty whom he has historically hit well against, Kyle Lohse. Ben Francisco, who was hitting .222/.343/.364, with six home runs, replaced him. Jimmy Rollins homered in the game against the Cardinals, but his overall power numbers are well down.
"I don't want something that we've got," Manuel said. "I want something better. Me, personally, I'd like to have something better. I want a hitter. If he's a singles or doubles hitter that knocks in 100 runs, then yeah, we'll take him. A consistent hitter. But the first thing [you hear] when you ask somebody is, well, those are hard to find."
They are also expensive. Oakland's Josh Willingham, a hitter who has long interested the Phillies, would be the perfect fit. But Willingham would be owed at least $2 million at the time of any trade, and the Phillies' payroll already sits around $175 million. Manuel acknowledged yesterday that money is a concern.
"That can be a huge problem," he said.
The Phillies would easily make up that kind of money with an extended playoff run. On the other hand, trading for a hitter would not guarantee that type of success. And not trading for a hitter would not necessarily prevent such a run.
The other question involves prospects. The Phillies have liquidated the middle to upper levels of their farm system over the last few seasons while acquiring such players as Lee, Joe Blanton and Roy Halladay. They have a ton of talent at Class A Clearwater. Is sacrificing potential for immediate impact - Willingham and San Diego slugger Ryan Ludwick are signed only through this season - a smart gamble?
"What's the object of the game?" Manuel said. "The Phillies win this year, right? Then what am I saying? But at the same time, everybody doesn't see it the way I see it."
The Phillies are built to win now. The offense isn't getting any younger. And it doesn't appear to be getting any more productive. Manuel said he thinks the Phillies can still win even without an upgrade on offense. But at greatly reduced odds.
In the postseason, power is imperative. It is tough to go station-to-station against the best pitchers in the game. You need a little luck, and you need to capitalize on the few mistakes you see. Juan Uribe is not Albert Pujols. But he hit 24 home runs last season. And when Ryan Madson made a mistake in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, Uribe hit another.
The Giants were hardly the 1927 Yankees. But they had a diverse collection of individual assets who had the potential to pay dividends. Two players hit at least 24 home runs, and five others hit at least 14. Three players finished the regular season with a slugging percentage above .500, two more finished above .440, and three more finished at .400 or above.
Heading into last night's game, only Ryan Howard seemed likely to reach 20 home runs. The only Phillies hitter with a slugging percentage above .500 was Shane Victorino. Only three other players were above .400: Howard (.493), Chase Utley (.453) and Domonic Brown (.404)
On Tuesday night, Roy Halladay held the Cardinals to one run in six innings, but was in position to take a loss when he left the game. The Phillies ended up scoring one run against Kyle McClellan, a righthander who would not have even been in the Giants rotation last postseason.
That doesn't mean the Phillies can't win with what they have. But, according to Manuel, a little help would improve their odds. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.
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