While the status of contract negotiations with Cole Hamels have dominated the headlines and airwaves over the past couple of months, the star lefthander's fate is not the only issue the Phillies must resolve between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
While the temptation is to classify the team into one of two modes - buying or selling - the reality could very well be some combination of the two, the exact mixture of which will be decided by their performance over the next week. The mindset of manager Charlie Manuel and his clubhouse is exactly what you would expect: Now that most of their key performers are healthy, the Phillies deserve a chance to play their way back into postseason contention.
But even Manuel acknowledges the Phillies could improve themselves by trading away players on his current roster.
"I think change is good, especially when needed," Manuel said last week while sitting in the visitor's dugout at Dodger Stadium. "That includes everybody. I think you've got to be able to see what's going on, and I think that you address things that you have to. And I'm sure that's what we're basically trying to do."
Among the pertinent issues:
Regardless of the statuses of such newly returned stars as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, the Phillies have no shot at the playoffs without a drastic improvement from their corps of relievers, who entered the weekend with the second-worst ERA in the majors (4.87, leading only the Mets). Their top option for the eighth inning of tight games is lefthander Antonio Bastardo, who entered Friday having allowed 14 runs in his last 15 innings dating back to June 1. While Bastardo had 24 strikeouts during that span, he also allowed five home runs and 10 walks. The next best option, rookie lefty Jake Diekman, allowed at least two runs in three of his previous four outings to swell his ERA to 5.03 on the season.
Even if the team gives up on competing in 2012, it still must address the bullpen for 2013, which is why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could target major league-ready arms if he does decide to deal away some of his veterans.
Pence and Victorino
The Phillies need to decide whether paying Hunter Pence $14 million to $15 million for 2013 is cost-efficient. That decision will require them to ignore everything that has happened before 2012 and focus on what makes them a better team in 2013 and the future.
Aside from Hamels, whom we already have discussed at length, Pence is the player on the roster with the most trade value. Anybody who considers his 2012 season a disappointment was not paying attention to his first 4 years in the majors. While he is not a centerpiece player, he is a bat who would help a lot of teams. And the market could be a good one for his services, since the second wild card enables teams such as the Pirates and the Indians to maintain serious hope for the playoffs. Both of those teams could be in the market for a corner outfielder. Same goes for the Reds and the Orioles.
The biggest mistake the Phillies can make is allowing the players they traded for Pence to factor into their thinking. Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart were among the organization's top prospects, and outfielder Domingo Santana had some serious upside that he appears to be starting to realize in Houston's system. Trading Pence could be interpreted as a wasted investment. In reality, though, if the Phillies can nab a top-level prospect in exchange for Pence, it will make the package they dealt for him appear more reasonable, because that prospect would cancel out the loss of a guy such as Cosart (it is hard to imagine them landing somebody with the pedigree of Singleton).
Victorino went 9-for-24 with five extra-base hits on the recent road trip through Colorado and Los Angeles. A free agent at the end of the year who had a disappointing first half, the centerfielder does not have nearly the trade value of players such as Pence or Hamels. But he might be able to land a reliever who can bolster the bullpen.
While Jimmy Rollins' name has been floated as a potential trade candidate, the size of his contract and his ability to veto any trade make it unlikely that he will be dealt. Instead, the Phillies could focus on marketing some of their role players who might help a contending team.
Topping that list might be Juan Pierre, who has produced one of the best seasons of the current chapter of his career while making less than $1 million.
Some team could have interest in Placido Polanco's glove, and the Phillies certainly would have interest in trading him if a team was willing to eat a chunk of his remaining salary.