The Houston Astros arrive in Philadelphia on Monday as a team to watch only if you're wondering how all the young talent they have acquired from the Phillies in recent years is doing.
If the Phillies do not begin a turnaround from their dreadful start soon, more and more people are going to look at the young, developing players who were used to acquire Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence and wonder if standing pat (no Gillick pun intended) in some instances would not have been the more prudent decision.
Ruben Amaro Jr.'s tenure as general manager has been dominated by big-time trades like the ones with his former boss and current coworker Ed Wade down in Houston. With Oswalt no longer around and Pence fighting losing battles with baseballs in right field, it's natural to think the price was too high, especially with the hindsight of knowing there was no World Series trophy at the end of the tunnel.
As good as Lee - Chapters 1 and 2 - and Halladay have been for this team, the theme of no championship overshadows their personal performances, too.
It still says here that Amaro made all the right moves when he acquired the above players, even if the Jonathan Singletons and Anthony Goses of the world come back to haunt him.
As of right now, not a single player given up by the Phils from any of the trades has excelled at the big-league level, but that will change at some point.
The one move that still leaves us all scratching our heads is the Lee trade to Seattle, because it turned out the Phillies were able to pay for Lee and Halladay.
It's fair to wonder if that duo had been together whether the Phillies could have beaten the San Francisco Giants. It couldn't have hurt to have had Lee's bat in the lineup when he pitched.
It's also fair to wonder about the value of the three minor-leaguers the Phillies got in return for Lee, even with Tyson Gillies playing well at double-A Reading.
And, finally, it's fair to say that they never would have had to make a deal for Oswalt if they had kept Lee.
Once Lee was gone, however, the Phillies needed another starting pitcher at the 2010 trade deadline, and they got Oswalt. He was great after they obtained him and very good in the NLCS against the Giants, but severe back problems rendered him mediocre in 2011.
Amaro's other big-time moves were all made with the thought of winning the World Series. When that is your realistic goal every year, you cannot lament giving up prospects, even if the moves you make do not ultimately lead to a title.
Besides, the double-A Reading Phillies have enough quality prospects right now to supplement a team that should maintain one of the highest payrolls in the National League for the foreseeable future.
That, of course, is not going to help the Phillies now, and it's quite obvious that help is needed.
Manager Charlie Manuel's spirited postgame speech after the New York Mets completed a three-game sweep Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park may have been appropriate. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, words without talent never to the postseason go.
Talent is what the Phillies lack more than anything right now, and that's not entirely Amaro's fault, either.
Any team without its No. 3 and No. 4 hitters would struggle to score runs. See the Washington Nationals, who are in first place using the formula for success - great pitching - that the Phillies had hoped to implement while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were on the disabled list.
The Phillies bullpen is a bigger mess than the offense right now, and that's because Mike Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have not pitched to the same level they did a year ago. Stutes is on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and Bastardo has been wildly inconsistent.
The Phillies have to hope that recently recalled Jake Diekman can come to the big leagues and provide the kind of quality Stutes and Bastardo gave them last year. They also need Bastardo to step up and Stutes to get healthy.
Amaro made the valid point that everybody from the manager to the players to the general manager needs to be held accountable. Manuel did his part by trying to instill a sense of urgency into his players with Wednesday night's team meeting.
Players such as Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Pence must take that cue and play better.
The return of Howard and Utley will help, but at some point Amaro is going to have to make the kind of low-fanfare move that his predecessor seemed to make all the time.
Pat Gillick never made in-season deals as grandiose as the Lee, Oswalt, and Pence trades, but he did make trades for Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Scott Eyre, and Matt Stairs that were a lot bigger than they seemed at the time.
Amaro has never made any little in-season moves that ended up being that big, and this is the season he is going to have to do that.
With the Houston Astros coming to Philadelphia on Monday for a two-game series against the Phillies, it's a good time to see how the players they acquired for Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence are doing. All statistics are through Thursday's games.
THE OSWALT TRADE
Player Pos. Team
J.A. Happ P Houston
2-2, 5.24 ERA in 6 starts
Anthony Gose OF AAA Las Vegas (Blue Jays)
.232, 3 doubles, 3 triples, 2 HRs, 19 RBIs, 13 SBs
Jonathan Villar SS AA Corpus Christi (Astros)
.217, 3 doubles, 2 triples, 0 HRs, 10 RBIs, 11 errors
THE PENCE TRADE
Jonathan Singleton 1B AA Corpus Christi
.304, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 4 HRs, 15 RBIs, .418 OBP
Jarred Cosart P AA Corpus Christi
1-2, 2.84 ERA, 13 walks, 18 Ks in 19 innings
AAA Oklahoma City (Astros)
0-1, 6.00 ERA in 1 start
Josh Zeid P AA Corpus Christi
1-0, 5.23 ERA, 2 walks, 12 Ks in 101/3 innings
Domingo Santana OF High-A Lancaster (Astros)
.221, 4 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs, .295 OBP
- Bob Brookover