MLB Rumors: Philadelphia Phillies Could Be Fated for Fire Sale at Trade Deadline

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 10, 2012

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 9: Center fielder Shane Victorino #8 of the Philadelphia Phillies bobbles a ball during a game against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park on May 9, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Mets won 10-6. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Hunter Martin/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Phillies are floundering at the bottom of the National League East and may find themselves among the sellers at the MLB trade deadline on July 31 if their fortunes don't shift soon.

According to Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is acutely aware of the team's struggles and will strongly consider offloading big-name players to replenish a depleted farm system should the current pattern of impotence continue:

"July is so far ahead. We just have to get on track. But if July comes and we're playing like this, we'll be sellers. How we play now will determine whether we'll be buyers or sellers in July."

At this point, the prospects for improvement aren't exactly promising. The starting pitching is still phenomenal, as one might expect from a rotation that features Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top, and the defense is still relatively strong.

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 01:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Philles poses for a portrait at the Bright House Field on March 1, 2012 in Clearwater, Florida  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

But the offense has been subpar, to say the least.

The absences of swinging stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the everyday lineup have considerably hurt Philadelphia's production at the plate, to the point where they now rank as a merely middle-of-the-pack offense in the NL. Utley is due back soon but, as ESPN's Buster Olney points out, he shouldn't be counted on to save the day, especially at the age of 33 and given his lengthy history of injuries.

Howard, on the other hand, could prove to be a bigger help to a Phillies team that's slugging just .370 so far, with all of 22 home runs in 32 games. Unfortunately, Howard's timetable for a return is much more uncertain than Utley's, given the more severe nature of the Achilles injury he suffered in the final at-bat of last year's NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the meantime, the Phillies should be able to skate by, so long as the likes of Hunter Pence, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco can continue producing at the plate.

The bigger concern for Amaro and the Phils rests with their bullpen, which has thus far compiled a worst-in-the-majors ERA of 5.47. Jonathan Papelbon has settled into the closer's role as expected (3.00 ERA, nine saves), but has seen the rest of the reserve arms—Jose Contreras (8.59 ERA), Kyle Kendrick (7.32 ERA), Mike Stutes (on the DL) and Chad Qualls (three blown saves in his last four outings)—crumble around him.

Bullpen arms are a dime a dozen, but with their minor league system devoid of quality prospects and a payroll pressing up against the upcoming salary tax threshold, the Phillies may not have the flexibility or the leverage to pursue many options, if any.

That's not to say that the Phillies are necessarily doomed for a fire sale just yet. As bad as a 14-18 start and a five-game deficit in the division may seem, it's still only May and the NL East, while seemingly replete with quality teams, lacks a single dominant force capable of running away with the crown.

Still, if the Phils don't get their act together within the next month or two, don't be surprised if names such as Hamels, Victorino, Pence and Joe Blanton start popping up amidst the rumor mill more frequently, with an eye toward a fresh start in the City of Brotherly Love.