The Phillies are supposed to be one of the major sellers in this season’s trade market. The club has declined steadily in recent years. They currently sit in the cellar of the NL East with a 42-54 record. The decision makers in Philadelphia have talked about trying to climb back into the race, but it’s probably too late to escape the inevitable – the glory days have passed.
Despite a poor record, the team possesses plenty of veteran talent to sell as mercenaries to the highest bidder. Cliff Lee returns from the disabled list on Monday. A.J. Burnett may be headed to the Orioles. Cole Hamels is perhaps too valuable to trade – just in case a rebuild goes faster than expected. Jonathan Papelbon wants to play for a competitor, but Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins prefer to exercise their 10-and-5 rights to remain in Philadelphia. Carlos Ruiz is recovering from a concussion. Marlon Byrd can block trades to four teams, one of which is the team that wants him. Those are just the most notable names among a plethora on offer.
As outside observers, we’re trained to look at this situation through a very simplistic lens. A bad team is supposed to trade it’s veterans for young players. A good theory, but it’s not always easy to put into practice. As we discussed earlier tonight, a guy like Lee might be hard to trade given his recent injury and contract status. The Phillies have to decide if a prospect package is worth more than Lee in a Philadelphia uniform. Even though the club isn’t competitive in the general sense, they’re still playing for a slice of their fans’ attention. Ratings and attendance will be better with Lee (and Hamels) on the roster.
With the exception of Hamels, none of the Phillies assets appear capable of returning the Grade-A type prospects needed for a quick turnaround. Mostly, they’ll have to acquire upside plays – guys who have potential, but haven’t yet actualized their skills. The front office has an iffy track record with such players; see the returns from Lee and Hunter Pence as examples.
Most of the veterans will still be Philadelphia property in the offseason, so the club isn’t under extreme pressure to make a deal. Their players will only be depreciated another half season. In some cases, a shorter contract could help their trade value. It’s probably a bad idea to play it fast and loose with players over 30, but it might be necessary if the right return isn’t out there.
Ultimately, trade talks are an issue of supply and demand. If those factors align, the Phillies will probably make at least one trade. If not, they may choose to stand pat, if only so some fans will continue to watch their few remaining stars. So…