The Phillies have struggled to stay competitive this season and have been rumored to be a trade deadline seller for weeks, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn't plan on moving his most valuable pitching assets. Amaro told reporters (including ESPN's Jayson Stark) on Friday that he has "no desire to trade those guys. At all," referring to Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon.
"My job is to try and put a contending team on the field every year, and we have a much better chance to be a contending team with both of those guys on the club," Amaro said. "If we have those guys at the top of our rotation, we're a better club. … It starts and ends with pitching, as far as I'm concerned. So the more quality pitching you have, the better chance you have to build around that to win."
The general manager didn't draw the line at any midseason moves, noting that "We have plenty of people to trade" and that "four or five guys come off the payroll" after the season, which could give the Phils more flexibility. It could also seem to hint that four of Philadelphia's pending free agents (Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Michael Young) could be trade bait in July, though Young is the only one of the quartet who isn't on the DL, and Halladay's and Ruiz's injuries have greatly diminished — if not destroyed — their trade value.
Amaro didn't rule out bringing any of those free agents back in 2014 but noted that moves would still be made with an eye towards contending next season rather than beginning a rebuilding process.
"Whether you're talking about retooling or rewrapping or taking a different direction, I think there are ways we can do that," Amaro said. "But when you start talking about blowing it up, you're basically saying you're going to start from scratch. And that's not happening."
Dealing Lee (owed at least $78MM through the 2015 season) or Papelbon (roughly $33.6MM owed through 2015 with a $13MM vesting option for 2016) would count as sign that the Phillies were taking a step back to reload, and dealing Hamels (who just signed a six-year, $144MM extension last July) would count as the first step towards a major rebuild. Lee said yesterday that he wanted to play for a contender and that while his preference was to do so in Philadelphia, winning was his top priority. Lee has a partial no-trade clause in his contract that allows him to block a deal to 20 teams each season.