It’s time to face the music, true Phillies fans (all couple-thousand of that rare, pre-’08 vintage out there). There will be no joy in Mudville this fall. The Phillies, hobbled by injuries, decimated by veterans in decline, aren’t even the best team in the state right now (last night’s 8-3 thumping of the Pirates notwithstanding). The problems are myriad.
On the pitching side: Cliff Lee is winless; Doc Halladay is on the shelf with a bum shoulder; Joe Blanton pitched a gem to bring his ERA under 5.00; Vance Worley is gutting it out with a bone chip in his elbow; and Kyle Kendrick, good god, Kyle Kendrick is taking the hill every fifth game. Sure, Cole Hamels is pitching like it’s 2008, but his contract talks have fizzled, and he’s every bit like a guy champing at the bit to enter and win the offseason free-agent derby—yet another contest in this season of woe the Phillies are ill prepared for. The bullpen is a shambles in front of overpaid, and, at present, barely necessary, closer Jonathan Papelbon.
At the plate: Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have yet to step on a major league field (though Utley’s expected tomorrow); beyond the expected solid first half of Hunter Pence and the unexpectedly stellar performance Chooch Ruiz have turned in, the offensive stars have not been Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, John Mayberry Jr. or Placido Polanco’s creaking ghost ship, but rather guys like Mike Fontenot, Gimpy Nix, Juan “Benjamin Button” Pierre and Hector F. Luna. Perhaps the most fitting metaphor is that the guy who has provided the most excitement in the last month, Gentleman Jim Thome, can barely run the bases, let alone take the field, rendering him a burly Faberge Egg in all but interleague games played in American League parks.
In the field: Ty Wigginton has allowed more runs than he’s created, and the team’s defensive standout, Freddy Galvis, just got rung up for 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs right after going on the shelf with a broken back.
The thing is, this could actually be good news for the team (if not for their 2012 season). Since Chase Utley uttered those three magic words following the 2008 World Series parade, newly minted GM Ruben Amaro has spent four years decimating the verdant farm system he inherited in order to prop up the core of that 2008 team. Prospect after prospect has left the organization for the latest stretch-run patch, yielding exactly zero additional championships and progressively quicker playoff exits.
As the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the Phillies will likely be, for the first time since 2007, sellers rather than buyers. In fantasy baseball terms, this is known as dumping. The good news is that the Phils have got lots of dumpable commodities with which they could restock the farm system, and fast. Here’s are six players the Phils should make very available very quickly:
Shane Victorino: We all love the Flyin’ Hawaiian, but his contract is up at the end of the season, and while most players respond by putting up big numbers in their walk years, Victorino, who’ll turn 32 at the end of the year, has seen his productivity flag in almost all offensive categories. But coming off his best offensive season, any contender looking for a quick dose of speed—not to mention a burst of enthusiasm—would do well to acquire the centerfielder. His expiring contract will limit the return in trade, but he very much has the kinds of tools—power, speed, defense, intensity—that can change a pennant race.
Jim Thome: With the Thome-afield experiment a bust, the only humane thing to do would be to deal Jim, who’s proven his bat remains plenty potent, to an American League contender with a need at designated hitter. The Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians come to mind.
Juan Pierre: Pierre’s 2012 will likely prove a mirage, but he’ll look like an oasis for some unlucky pretenders. Young teams that find themselves in the hunt go completely catnip for the “intangibles” a guy like Pierre, a veteran of three post-seasons, can provide. If teams like Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore remain in the hunt, they’ll be likely marks potential trade partners.
Ty Wigginton: See Juan Pierre, subtract post-season experience.
Chad Qualls: The setup man has been a disaster since moving from the pitcher-friendly confines of San Diego’s PetCo Park. But experienced bullpen arms are the coin of the realm come the stretch drive, and Qualls, who has pitched in three postseasons (poorly) will be attractive to anyone with a tired bullpen which, come August, is just about every team still in contention.
Cole Hamels: This will be unpopular, given that Philadelphia hates that it loves “Hollywood” and hasn’t yet come to terms with the fact that he’s more likely than not to be wearing another team’s uni next season. The Phillies should rip the Band-Aid off now. Deal him now while his value’s at its highest—as close as a guarantee of post-season success to the acquiring team as you’ll find—and bring back a package of prospects that could go a long way toward restocking the farm system. The Rangers, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers and, gulp, Yankees are among the contending teams with the right kind of young talent, and whose location and/or finances might make them feel like they’re contenders for Hamels services in 2013 and beyond as well.
Placido Polanco: Polly’s given several good years to this city. This year is not one of them. Nor was last. Increasingly fragile and a non-factor at the plate, Polanco’s trade value is the type of low blind guitar players write blues songs about. In the right situation—Polanco could be valuable to a contender and could net a middling prospect in return. Otherwise, if anyone will take him in exchange for, say, a bucket of warm tar, do the deal.