How to Successfully Rebuild the Philadelphia Phillies by 2014
It won't be easy, but they can be rebuilt. They have the technology. They have the capability to make the Philadelphia Phillies the world's first bionic baseball team.
Okay, maybe not. But with all of the injuries over the last couple of years, I'm sure the Phillies front office has dreamed about giving Chase Utley bionic knees, or Ryan Howard a bionic Achilles tendon.
Those are the kind of things teams think about as they're getting older. You don't have to be a genius to realize that this isn't the same team that won the World Series in 2008. Sure, some of the names are the same. In fact, I'd say the roster looks better.
But when you challenge Father Time, you lose. It's just a battle that can't be won. The Phillies are slowly but surely crossing the threshold from "experienced veterans" to "one last shot," and fast.
If this club wants another shot at the World Series with a majority of its core intact, sacrifices are going to have to be made. Some of those "experienced veterans" are going to have to be traded for younger players with that intense fire to win their first title. It's just the circle of life in baseball.
The Phillies could be better than they were before. Better. Faster. Stronger.
But it is going to take a lot more than one "$6 million man" to fix the Phillies. Of that much, I am certain.
The Trade Market
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There are a couple of ways to rebuild a club.
Small market teams have a tendency to take the "slow but steady" approach, building through the draft and taking several years to build a sustainable core of players.
The Phillies don't have the luxury of using that approach.
They're a big market team with big market resources. That's why they can afford to trade some of their big-name players for top-tier prospects and then complement them with players signed in free agency.
If the Phillies do take the "sellers" approach at this year's trade deadline, you can expect to see them implore a "big market" strategy.
Here are some of the players that are going to be on the block.
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Any teams hovering over the Phillies like a vulture undoubtedly have their eyes fixed on this man, Cole Hamels.
The reason is simple: He's a game-changer. One of the top left-handed starters in the game, Hamels has the potential to make any team that is a would-be contender into a bona fide threat, and teams will pay a hefty price for that at the trade deadline.
But the price has to be right.
Any team that wants to acquire Hamels is going to ask for a negotiating window, and now that he is so close to free agency, why would Hamels give up that luxury?
You also have to wonder if the Phillies will approach the situation in the same way that they pursued Cliff Lee: Flip him for prospects and bid for him in free agency.
If the Phillies are going to commit to selling, however, there is little reason to keep Hamels.
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With talk of the Phillies being potential sellers at the trade deadline, two names that you will hear a lot (and have already heard a lot) are Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino. While rumor has it that they would be hesitant to do so, don't be surprised if the Phillies gauge interest in Hunter Pence.
Of the Phillies' potential trade chips, Pence is among the most appealing. Any team that acquires him would have a bit more flexibility, since he is under team control for the 2013 season.
From a Phillies' perspective, he'd also bring in a bigger haul than Victorino. Nine times out of 10, teams are more willing to part with valuable prospects when they are receiving a player who is under their control for more than half a season.
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If the Phillies are forced into becoming sellers, Shane Victorino is a guy who probably won't survive the trade deadline.
He's the type of player that contending teams love to acquire to push them over the top. He's not overly expensive, a free agent following the season and the kind of player that makes a difference.
That Victorino is a switch-hitter and can be a legitimate, five-tool player makes him all the more valuable.
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I still don't buy it, but a lot of pundits believe that if the Phillies fall way out of the race, they'd consider moving Cliff Lee.
It's a move that makes some sense on some levels. Lee's contract is going to be a massive burden moving forward, and there is no doubt that the Phillies, currently strangled by the payroll, would love a little breathing room under the luxury tax.
But in my opinion the risk does not outweigh the reward. Sure, he is winless in a strange season, but there is no doubt that Lee is one of the best starters in the game.
Even if the Phillies fall out of the race this year, they'll be right back in the mix in 2013. Do you gamble the future by moving Lee for prospects, presumably to make space for a new Cole Hamels contract, or do you open up the wallet and keep both?
It's a tough decision.
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To say that Joe Blanton has been "frustrating" this season would be a drastic understatement, both for Blanton himself and for the organization.
Blanton, a free agent at season's end, would be doing himself a huge favor by having a solid 2012 season. He's not a great starting pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, but this offseason's class of starting pitchers is relatively weak and teams love that "veteran experience."
The Phillies were hoping that Blanton would have a solid season for one of two reasons: He'd either be helping them by competing or helping them by becoming a trade chip.
Regardless, Blanton isn't doing anyone any favors by pitching poorly.
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A move like this would probably be entirely in the hands of Jim Thome, but there's no doubt that the future Hall of Famer would represent an upgrade at the designated hitter's spot on a couple of American League teams.
Thome isn't making a lot of money and showed that he could still be an impact hitter by mashing AL pitching during interleague play.
The kicker is that the Phillies wouldn't get much of a return—probably nothing more than salary relief. So in the end, it all comes down to where Thome is more comfortable: Playing for an AL team or as the Phillies' pinch-hitter.
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This is entirely my opinion, but I think that it is an idea worth exploring.
One of the greatest needs on this year's trade market is for relief pitching. If the Phillies are out of it by the trade deadline, Antonio Bastardo would make a lot of teams happy. I'd certainly field offers for him.
The left-handed reliever has upside and several years of control and could probably land the Phillies a solid prospect. With relievers like Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont on the way, as well as guys like Jake Diekman and Mike Schwimer, Bastardo could be expendable.
Just a thought.
What to Target in a Trade
So now we know what the Phillies have to offer in a trade that could land them something of value in return—either in the form of salary relief or prospects.
But this isn't a team that is going to have a fire sale. More likely than not, they'll move a couple of pieces and "re-tool." That's not a bad idea for a struggling, big-market club. Sometimes trimming the extra fat and adding new pieces is the difference between making and missing the postseason.
When it comes to a trade, teams ideally strive for receiving the best available prospect. In a thin Phillies' system, the "best available prospect" is probably a more specific player.
The next few slides will illustrate what kind of players the Phillies should be targeting.
The AL East
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If the standings in the American League East are similar come the trade deadline, this is going to be the most interesting division as far as possible trades go.
At the end of June, all five of these are in contention and all could use different kinds of upgrades. If they Phillies do become sellers, they'll have plenty of conversations with their eastern counterparts because each of these teams has pieces to move.
The Phillies would love to have Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. But now that Kevin Youkilis has been shipped out of town, that's not going to happen. Another third baseman with huge upside in the Sox's system is Garin Cecchni, but the Sox probably won't part with him either. Outfielders Brandon Jacobs and Bryce Brentz and second baseman Sean Coyle would also be of interest to the Phillies.
The Yankees could add a top-tier starting pitcher and have had interest in Cole Hamels in the past. But they'd likely have to part with a nice prospect to get him. The Phillies would surely have interest in third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., as well as guys like Tyler Austin and Cito Culver.
The Blue Jays could be the most interesting team in this division come the deadline. They're on the bubble right now, but if they're still in the race come late July, a guy like Hamels could push them over the top. The Phillies are known to have interest in reacquiring catcher Travis D'arnaud, but would also check out players like Jake Marisnick, Anthony Gose, Jacob Anderson, Dwight Smith Jr. and Matt Dean.
The AL Central
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The American League Central could be interesting as well for the the simple reason that the division crown is still within anyone's reach.
Believe it or not, if the Phillies were to fall out of the race, it would be wise of them to hope that the Kansas City Royals are still within striking distance. They have one of the game's top farm systems and could certainly benefit from the postseason experience of guys like Cole Hamels or Shane Victorino.
But what would they be willing to part with? Assuming that most of their top pieces are off-limits, the Phillies would love to have a guy like third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, shortstop Christian Colon or outfielder Brett Eibner. The Royals have some legitimate pitching prospects too.
The Detroit Tigers would also be of interest. A rebuilding Phillies team would love to get its hands on a guy like Nick Castellanos, even though he isn't particularly close to being MLB-ready. Tyler Collins, Eugenio Suarez, and Tyler Gibson could be of interest.
While the Chicago White Sox seem tapped out and the Minnesota Twins won't be buyers, the Cleveland Indians could be a sleeper. They have some interesting pieces to offer, including Tony Wolters, Luigi Rodriguez, Ronny Rodriguez and Cord Phelps.
The AL West
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Don't expect the Phillies to be linked to many rumors from the American League West.
With the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics seemingly out of it and the Los Angeles Angels unable to take on any more salary, the Texas Rangers seem to be the only logical trade partner, and they're pretty much set.
If the Rangers want to take a leap of faith and add a guy like Cole Hamels, the Phillies would love to have third baseman Mike Olt. The Rangers have a ton of younger prospects and high-ceiling arms, any of whom could intrigue the Phillies in a possible deal.
The NL East
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Don't expect the Phillies to make any deals with a team in the National League East, especially not for a player with less than half a season of control on his contract. Even if the Phillies fall out of the race this season, they're a big market team. They'll create ways to stay competitive next year.
In fact, I'm so confident that they won't make a move inside the NL East that I'm not even going to list possible targets in a trade.
The NL Central
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The National League Central is looking a little thin as well.
The Phillies would absolutely love to get their hands on Cardinals' second baseman Kolten Wong, but he isn't going anywhere. You could make a case that they'd be more willing to move third baseman Zack Cox in the right deal, but I can't see that either.
The Cardinals have a relatively deep system with a lot of interesting names, and the Phillies could target some of their high-upside pitching as well.
After dismantling their system to land starting pitcher Mat Latos, I can't see the Reds making a huge deal, but they could part with some of their second-tier prospects like Didi Gregorious, Todd Frazier, Henry Rodriguez or David Vidal for a rental player.
The Pirates are the only team of the three known to be looking for offense, and even with Andrew McCutchen aboard, I'm sure they'd love to make a run at Shane Victorino. However, this is a team teetering between legitimate contention and rebuilding, so they won't part with much.
I can't imagine the Phillies being overly interested in what they'd offer, unless the Pirates surprised the world and decided to move one of their top prospects.
The NL West
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The Los Angeles Dodgers want Cole Hamels badly. But just how badly do they want him? Bad enough to make a play for him at this year's trade deadline, should the Phillies fall out of contention?
The Dodgers don't have the greatest farm system and the best prospects consist mainly of right-handed pitchers. Unless that right-handed pitcher is named Zach Lee, that probably won't get a deal done.
The Phillies love outfielders with great tools, so Alfredo Silverio could be of some interest, as could Joc Pederson. The Dodgers have the prospects to swing a deal, but they'll have to part with something of value to make up for their lack of quality.
The D'backs were mildly interested in Kevin Youkilis before he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox, so you know they're looking for help offensively. Would they be willing to take a shot with a guy like Shane Victorino?
You're not going to get any of the D'backs top pitchers. Any team in baseball would love to have Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley.
One guy that may be available that could interest the Phillies is outfielder A.J. Pollock. Matt Davidson and Bobby Borchering are a pair of third basemen who could interest the Phillies, and Ryan Wheeler is slightly below those two.
One guy I don't think the Phillies will have interest in is outfielder Adam Eaton. Bad mojo.
Given the way that Tim Lincecum has struggled, the Giants could theoretically have interest in Cole Hamels, but I struggle to see that kind of deal happening. Victorino would be a nice fit, but the history there isn't great.
It's really tough to see the Phillies and Giants striking a deal, but they do have some nice prospects to offer. Guys like Gary Brown, Joe Panik and Francisco Peguero would interest the Phillies.
Players/Prospects Ready to Rock and Roll
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Any team that is rebuilding is going to have to receive help from within. That is a statement that rings true for the Phillies whether or not they decide to rebuild.
It's time to face the music. The Phillies are getting older.
While I have no doubt that guys like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, etc. still have a few solid years left, they'll need to pass the torch eventually.
That's where you have to move away from envisioning yourself acquiring top prospects and move toward developing some of your own.
Though their farm system has take a big hit over the last couple of seasons, the Phillies still have players who can help out at the MLB level, and they're going to need the help to turn this thing around.
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There's no doubt that any talk of any Phillies' prospect saving the MLB club begins and ends with outfielder Domonic Brown.
Once upon a time, Brown was the organization's top prospect. He was ranked fourth in all of baseball by a few prestigious prospect gurus. Fast-forward just a short time and Brown is stuck in Triple-A limbo, without an MLB roster spot and battling the infamous Triple-A-itus.
Eventually, the Phillies are going to turn the reigns over to Brown, and that could be sooner than expected if they fall out of the race and wind up trading Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, or both.
One day, Brown is going to have to save the offense. It's a scary thought, but it's the truth.
John Mayberry Jr.
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John Mayberry Jr. isn't a prospect any longer, but if the Phillies are truly going to have to re-tool for the future, this is a guy that is going to have to turn it around and become a major league player.
A lot of people have given up on Mayberry, but the potential is there. He showed a glimpse of it in 2011 and little flashes of brilliance in 2012.
Maybe it's the playing time he has had to share with Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton, among others. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayberry is just your average "Quadruple-A" player.
But there is no doubt that the Phillies would benefit from having an above-average defense, right-handed, power-hitting outfielder who is under team control for the foreseeable future.
(Photo: Mike Feifel)
Tyler Cloyd could be an interesting pitcher for the Phillies.
He isn't a top prospect by any stretch of the imagination, but the right-handed starter has baffled Triple-A hitters this year and hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.
Cloyd has excellent control, easily one of his biggest strengths, and knows how to pitch. This guys isn't your average young "pitcher" who tends to be more of a "thrower." This guy knows what he's doing.
He isn't going to step into the MLB and develop into a top-tier pitcher, but with guys like Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick proving to be ineffective, I think Cloyd can step into the back of the rotation and help in short order.
There's definitely value in that.
One of the reasons that I'd explore trading Antonio Bastardo if the Phillies fall out of the race this season is knowing that the next three guys on this list are on their way, among them, Phillippe Aumont.
Aumont's numbers aren't pretty early in the season, but I'm willing to chalk up at least a portion of his terrible control to a nagging back injury that forced him onto the disabled list earlier in the year.
The tall, right-handed Canadian is a power pitcher, without a doubt. He is the owner of an explosive fastball and a filthy slurve, and projects to be a future closer.
The Phillies hope that he can settle in as their set-up man. Having Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon ready to pitch the last two innings could give the opposition nightmares.
Justin De Fratus
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Of course, Phillippe Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon could be just two of several high-end relievers the Phillies will have in their bullpen over the next several years.
A third is Justin De Fratus, a pitcher who has matched Aumont stride for stride throughout their minor league careers.
De Fratus is also a power pitcher with a good fastball-slider combination. His secondary offerings are toxic against right-handed hitters, and his fastball is good enough to get lefties out with ease.
He has a closer's ceiling as well, giving the Phillies one of the top closers in the game and two prospects who could easily settle in as set-up men, and soon.
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Jake Diekman gets better with each outing.
I may like him a bit more as a prospect than most people, but I suppose this is where that whole "gut feeling" comes into play. I just have a gut feeling that Diekman is going to develop into one of this club's best relievers, and that's saying something.
It isn't by chance that Diekman caught pitching coach Rich Dubee's eye this spring. The left-handed flame-thrower has an excellent fastball and slider, and a change-up that has made great strides, and fast.
He has the ability to strike out hitters from both sides of the plate. As soon as he learns that he does not need to strike out every batter and hones his control, Diekman is going to be a legitimate weapon for this club.
I really do believe that Diekman makes Antonio Bastardo somewhat expendable. But that's just me.
The Phillies' system is kind of thin on project-able position players. But as far as pitching goes, the Phillies have a ton of guys with some upside, none higher than the organization's top prospect, Trevor May.
Though it has been clear that pitching in the hitter-friendly FirstEnergy Stadium has been a difficult transition for May, his high strikeout rate has remained intact. He has used his fastball to dominate the opposition—and he doesn't trick guys. He blows them away.
Just when May will make his MLB debut is still unknown, but there is no doubt that he's getting closer. If the Phillies are going to have any kind of rebuilding effort, May is a guy they'll want on the mound.
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This season hasn't been kind to Freddy Galvis. Though he made his MLB debut and played most of the season as the club's starting second baseman, he later suffered a Pars fracture of the vertebra that will cause him to miss most of the season, then was slapped with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
But if the Phillies were to rebuild, Galvis would certainly be a part of their future plans. He's going to be a part of their plans either way. Though I struggle to imagine the club cutting ties with Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley just to give him playing time, Galvis did show signs of being more than a future utility player.
I wonder if the Phillies could talk Utley into playing left field if it came down to that.
New Club, New Manager?
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If the Phillies are going to rebuild, it is going to have to be a complete effort. More than a few people have suggested that the club has looked a little complacent this season, and that possibility exists after five straight division titles under a manager who wants to be your friend.
Charlie Manuel has been great for this club. You can't deny that when he has more wins than any manager in franchise history.
Then again, he hasn't been given many challenges. Even when he took over in 2005, he was given four of the most dynamic offensive players in baseball in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu.
His first real challenge has come in 2012, and Manuel has struggled to adjust.
If the Phillies are serious about rebuilding, it's time for a change in leadership. I don't think it's a secret that the Phillies want Ryne Sandberg to be the next in line. Given little to work with, he's done an excellent job as the manager of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
If the Phillies decide to rebuild, the manager will be an important factor, no doubt.
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In conclusion, rebuilding the Phillies won't be easy.
It is easy to say that the Phillies could trade a couple of their top players in exchange for a couple of top prospects, but baseball is much more complex than that. There are no guarantees in this sport. None.
But I've always maintained that the Phillies won't need to completely rebuild. They'll need to "re-tool." They'll need to do some basic math: Subtract some pieces to add new ones.
This is a big market team with big market resources. They won't have to operate like a small market club. Sure, they can trade Cole Hamels for a few prospects, but they also have the resources to re-sign him after the season.
They can claim to cut cost by moving Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino for prospects, then turn around and call up Domonic Brown and sign Josh Hamilton to a massive free-agent contract.
This isn't a team that has to cash in on the future. Even if one season is out of reach, the Phillies will have the resources to remain competitive.
Whether they actually have to "re-tool" should become clear over the next few weeks.