25 Reasons the Phillies Should Not Blow Up Their Core at Trade Deadline

Greg PintoCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2012

25 Reasons the Phillies Should Not Blow Up Their Core at Trade Deadline

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    The 2012 season has kind of been like a game of poker for the Philadelphia Phillies.

    With the July 31 trade deadline just around the corner, they're sitting at the table already knowing that the other players (the contending teams) hold better hands. Ruben Amaro Jr. is using his best poker face, but it's just one of those hands. The other players just seem to know.

    But there's no shame in admitting that you've been dealt a bad hand. The fact of the matter is that any team would struggle after missing their third and fourth hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, respectively, for most of the season.

    Then you lose your ace, Roy Halladay, and the plan of action suddenly becomes pretty clear: Fold. Don't lose anything else. There will always be another chance.

    But not for the Phillies. The Phillies are the game's high rollers. They have the luxury of staying in the game until the last moment, waiting out some stroke of good fortune that seems to have evaded them since the first card was dealt.

    For the Phillies, that means waiting out the trade deadline until the last possible moment. They'll watch the dealer turn over cards until there is absolutely no way that they can win.

    Of course, at that moment, the Phillies will begin to dismantle their "core" of players—the players that the entire roster is built around for now and for the future.

    That could mean dealing obvious names like Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, but it could mean so much more.

    Cliff Lee. Jimmy Rollins. Vance Worley. Ryan Howard. Are any of them really safe?

    If the Phillies go into an all-out sell-mode, all hell could break loose here in the city of Philadelphia, but I'll be the one to tell you why it shouldn't.

    With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, I'll give you 25 reasons why the Phillies shouldn't blow up their "core."

Howard Still Recovering

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    Anyone who's seen Ryan Howard hobble around the base paths since returning from the disabled list knows that this isn't the same guy that has manned first base for the Phillies in the past.

    That's not unexpected. The man is recovering from a serious injury that, in all reality, he returned from much faster than other athletes who have experience torn or ruptured Achilles tendons in the past.

    For that reason alone, until you fully know what you can expect out of Howard in the future, it would be unwise to give up on him.

    You can say that about most members of this "core."

Howard's Run Production

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    Say what you will about Ryan Howard, but one thing that the man has done time and time again since his rookie season in 2005 is produce runs.

    Of course, that isn't something that can be credited to the slugger entirely, but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, few middle of the order hitters have been able to accomplish what the "Big Piece" has.

    Howard has hit at least 30 home runs in every season since 2006 and driven in at least 100 runs in that same span. That's run production. You don't blow up run production.

The Contract, the Albatross

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    Take those first two slides into account and think about them long and hard. You have the severe injury and though there has been run production, there is no doubt that it is on the decline.

    While Ryan Howard is one of the most essential members of this Phillies' "core"—the anchor that holds the middle of the lineup together—there's little doubt that his game could be changing, and quickly.

    The rest of this slide should be self explanatory.

    You're not going to blow up the part of the core that is Howard because of the simple fact that you can't. The man is owed at least $115 million through the 2016 season, including an estimated, pro-rated portion of his 2012 salary.

    To me, that seems like an investment that even the luxurious Los Angeles Dodgers would be wary of making.

Utley's Progress

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    It may seem a bit irrational to do so, but at least in my opinion, every aspect of keeping this "core" of Phillies players together hinges on the future of Chase Utley. If his chronically bad knees are going to keep getting worse, it may be time to move on.

    But I think that Utley's knee condition, and his knowledge on how to handle it, is now at the point where the second baseman can be on the field—and at least somewhat productive—for most of the season.

    Sure, he's going to need days off here and there. It's an inevitable fact that his condition presents to him. However, if you look around the league, a less-than-100% Chase Utley is better than most other options.

The Leadership Aspect

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    One of the reasons that a lot of people would be able to go with a Chase Utley that is even a fraction of his former self is the simple leadership aspect that he brings to the clubhouse.

    Since becoming a winning organization back around the mid-2000s, one of the things that the Phillies have prided themselves in doing is building a "winning culture." For the most part, that means developing players suited to play in the city of Philadelphia and bringing in some of the same characters.

    When you look around this ball club and try to define Philadelphia's brand of baseball, look no further than Chase Utley.

    He may be a "silent leader," but he's a good leader. He's the type of player that you want in your clubhouse as some of your younger players come up, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is something the Phillies know.

A Different Kind of Leadership

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    But one of the things that has made this club, and its clubhouse, for that matter, so successful in recent seasons is the unique leadership that some of its veteran players bring to the table.

    So while you have the silent, lead-by-example type of guy in Chase Utley, his polar opposite would be the club's "vocal leader," Jimmy Rollins.

    For years now, Rollins has been the person to stand before the media and address the club's situation, a job that has, without a doubt, earned him the respect of his teammates.

    With Rollins and Utley at the helm, and certainly a number of other players, you want to keep this "core" together for the simple facts that they know how to lead and they know how to win.

Still the Spark Plug?

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    The real question about Jimmy Rollins is whether or not he can still be the "spark plug" that most Phillies' fans believe makes this team go.

    If you're looking for a prime example of what that means, look no further than the club's most recent six-game road trip coming out of the All-Star break. Rollins went 7-for-24 (.292 batting average) and the Phillies won four of their six games.

    That's the kind of "spark" that this club needs to make an improbable run down the stretch. They have the talent to do it, but need the right players to produce in the right situations.

    You don't want to blow up this core if Rollins can prove that he can still be a table-setter at the top of the order.

Pitching in Bunches

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    If there's one area of the club that has to excel down the stretch, especially leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, to avoid the club's core being blown to smithereens, it's the pitching. And the Phillies certainly have plenty of pitching.

    The return of Roy Halladay is only a small portion of what needs to go right for the Phillies' pitching staff in the second half.

    They need Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, and Joe Blanton to produce. They need Cole Hamels to be the guy that rightfully deserves a massive contract extension. They need the bullpen, anchored by Jonathan Papelbon and largely inexperienced, to come up big in the clutch.

    If those things can happen, the Phillies can win. They can make a run. But don't be mistaken: If this core is going to survive, it will be on the back of elite pitching and not stellar offense.

The Ace, the Anchor

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    Want to narrow that "Pitching in Bunches" slide down a bit? That's not a problem. Just look in the general direction of Phillies' ace Roy Halladay.

    The club's right-handed ace has been a rock for the Phillies ever since they acquired him from the Toronto Blue Jays prior to the 2010 season. That was none more apparent than when he hit the disabled list this season.

    The Phillies were absolutely dreadful without him.

    But there's hope for this club in the fact that Halladay's name is even back on the roster. He made his return against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and while questions about his velocity remain, he got a ton of movement on his pitches and pitched very well.

    The Phillies will need Halladay to be more of the pitcher that won the Cy Young Award in 2010 and less of the man that sputtered out of the gates in 2012.

    If this core survives the deadline, he'll have a huge part in it. There's no reason in the world to blow it up before you see what Halladay can contribute in the second half.

The Silent Assassin?

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    The Phillies definitely need Roy Halladay to be himself in the second half of the season, but you can make a strong argument that they really need Cliff Lee to have a dominant second half.

    He didn't pitch overly well against the Colorado Rockies after the All-Star break, but came out very strong against the Los Angeles Dodgers and will hope to get on a roll in his next outing.

    What the Phillies need out of Lee is simple: They need him to pitch up to his talent level and start earning his salary.

    One win in the second half of the season is basically like kissing the "core" goodbye.

Homegrown: The Young Ace

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    If the Phillies have legitimate in keeping their core together, they'll realize that there is one player that they can absolutely not afford to let go, and that man is Cole Hamels.

    First and foremost, you have to look at this situation from a baseball perspective. He's the future of their starting rotation. Roy Halladay is 35-years-old. Cliff Lee is 33-years-old.

    Cole Hamels? Well he's just hitting his prime.

    The left-handed, homegrown ace is definitely the future of the Phillies' starting rotation. If he exits via trade or free agency, that's something that you're leaving in the hands of Vance Worley or Trevor May. Not exactly of the same caliber.

    Keeping the core together begins with signing Hamels to a new deal. Blowing it up also involves moving first. The Phillies are on the fence right now and starting to teeter, but on which side will they fall?

The Bullpen's Anchor

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    I wouldn't necessarily call Jonathan Papelbon a "core" player.

    That's not a knock against Papelbon. I just don't think that any closer is. How can you build a club around a pitcher that throws no more than 75 innings a year. (How do you commit $50 million to him? But that's another debate). 

    But while Papelbon may not be a "core" player, he's definitely one of the roster's most important pieces. Over the last few slides we've determined that the Phillies need their core players to play in unison to keep the aging heart of this club together.

    Then they need Papelbon to seal the deal. That's what they signed him to do.

    Getting the ball to Papelbon should be the final nail in the coffin, not new life for the opposition, as was the case in last Wednesday's extra-innings loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    To keep the core together, the Phillies have to sharpen their use of Papelbon. If not, blowing the roster up may be wise.

The "Core's" New Member?

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    You don't often get a chance to add to a roster's group of "core" players, so when you do, you better capitalize on that opportunity.

    It's my opinion that the Phillies had an opportunity to make that sort of acquisition when Hunter Pence became available, and they did. But is he a core player?

    Well, that's tough to answer. A lot of people will call Pence a "complementary piece." He isn't going to be this club's star, but one hell of a valuable player.

    In fact, I think he's a perfect fit for that role and that makes him invaluable to this club. As important as it is to keep Cole Hamels around because of the pitching staff's future, it may be even more important to keep Pence around for offensive purposes.

The "Core's" Most Underrated Member

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    You can make the argument for a couple of players as the Phillies' most valuable, core player, but in my opinion, it's really hard to argue against Carlos Ruiz. You have to look at his contributions from at least two standpoints.

    First is defensively, where Ruiz's true value had been for so many years. One of the game's best defensive catchers, he made the pitching staff better by just being behind the plate and controlled the game with ease.

    Now you look at 2012 and wonder where the Phillies would have been without his bat in the lineup. He's the club's leader in OPS at .998 and is already on pace to more than double his high for home runs in a single season.

    As long as Ruiz is on this roster, I don't see a reason to blow up the core. He makes pitchers better and now, is one of the club's biggest threats with the bat.

Outside the Core: Expendable Parts

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    Of course, it would be impossible for the Phillies to keep their entire roster intact moving forward. They have a gigantic payroll, but the quality of players they have on this roster is also unbelievable.

    Without a doubt, keeping this core intact will involve moving some of the pieces that exist outside of it. In my opinion, that means parting ways with players that don't have a huge impact on the club right now and certainly won't in the future.

    For a short list, here are some guys that I think fall under that category: Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton, and John Mayberry Jr.

    Obviously, in any trade involving those names, you're looking at different packages. But if the Phillies fall out of contention this season, they can certainly do an interesting bit of re-tooling by moving those players, especially Victorino and Blanton.

    Part of the reason they'd be able to do so is because of the information contained on the following slide: The replacements.

Thin Farm System, but Help Is on the Way

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    The Phillies' farm system is thin. Not bad, but definitely thin.

    That's what happens when you roll the dice on big time trades. Over the last few seasons alone, the Phillies have acquired several All-Star players in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. That will thin out your farm system in a hurry.

    But the Phillies were able to hang on to a few players that should be able to help out, and maybe even join, their existing core of players within the next few seasons.

    The big name is Domonic Brown.

    If he were still eligible for prospect-status, he'd be number one in the Phillies' system without a doubt. In the even that the Phillies' move Shane Victorino, he'll step into either left or center field and realistically, the Phillies wouldn't be losing much offensively.

    When you look at some of the players ready to join the MLB club, like their slew of relievers or standout Triple-A starter Tyler Cloyd, you can see why the Phillies could look to add to their existing core, as opposed to subtract.

$$$

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    At the end of the day, money talks.

    The Phillies definitely have the money to keep this core together. They're practically printing their own currency after their run at the top over the last five or six years.

    Spending some of that money on their current group of core players is an absolute must. Otherwise, they might as well blow it up right now.

    It's not a group of players that come cheap, no doubt, but few All-Stars do over the long term. The risk outweighs the reward—Pay the proven players.

    This is a club that is in a position to take a risk and pay some of their non-core members cheaply in the future. You can still build a winner out of this core, but you're going to have to take a gamble. That much is undeniable.

Reputation

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    When you look at this core of Phillies, saying that they're getting old and on the decline, though an undeniable truth, is also taking the easy way out of that conversation.

    This is still a group of players that can produce. You mean to tell me that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, and Hunter Pence can't lead an offense? You mean to tell me that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Jonathan Papelbon can't pitch?

    That's not the most direct argument, but that's definitely the point. These guys have a reputation for winning, and through my own estimation, there's only one way to get that reputation.

    You win ball games. Period.

    So while this core of players may be on the decline, they haven't run their course just yet. It's that same reputation that will continue to draw players to the city of Philadelphia.

    The Phillies win games. One bad season isn't going to change this club's reputation.

Confidence

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    It's one of the things that has been lacking this season, but has been there in full effect over the last few seasons: Confidence.

    Believe it or not, only so much of the game of baseball is physical. The rest is mental. When you win five straight division titles and appear in two World Series in a span of five years, you tend to get the confidence portion of the game down to a science, and the Phillies have.

    It's been one of their greatest strengths over the last few seasons—the ability to walk into a game against any club and feel like you're going to win.

    That's a state of mind derived through this club's core. If you break up the core, you lose the confidence, an it is as simple as that.

    This is a veteran club that can get on the right track. Whether or not they have the time to do so is an entirely different conversation.

Chemistry

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    Chemistry.

    How does a dreaded high school subject fit into the expanse world of baseball? Well, like anything worth taking the time to do in life, you have to break it down. Two of the definitions found on Dictionary.com made perfect sense to me in relation to the subject:

    3. the interaction of one personality with another: The chemistry between him and his boss was all wrong.

    5. any or all of the elements that make up something:

    Now look back at what's made the Phillies a great team over the last five or so years. Think about it. Of course, any answer other than "chemistry" would be kind of silly here, but it's true.

    When all of the smaller parts of a larger whole are working in unison together, the puzzle fits more smoothly. The engine runs cleaner. The gears spin faster, and so on and so forth.

    For the Phillies, the core's chemistry is something that's made them great. Look at the examples: The double play combination of Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley; Ryan Howard's run production after the top of the order sets the table; Carlos Ruiz's handling of the pitching staff. And that's just to name a few.

    Now riddle me this: How can the Phillies maintain chemistry and blow up their core?

    The answer is simple: They can't.

The Talent Level

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    Of course, there is more to any professional baseball than simple aspects like reputation, confidence, and chemistry. At the end of the day, you need to have the talent to run out on the field and produce.

    The Phillies have that level of talent and it starts with their "core."

    The kicker is that this is the type of club that has to be healthy. Losing their core players creates too big of a whole. This season is the perfect example.

    Chase Utley is replaced by Freddy Galvis and Mike Fontenot.

    Ryan Howard is replaced by Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and John Mayberry Jr.

    Roy Halladay is replaced by Kyle Kendrick.

    At some point, you have to point the finger at Ruben Amaro Jr., not for splurging with the ownership's collective wallet, but for failing to build a club with quality depth. The Phillies may be in an entirely different place right now.

    But that's also the reason that you need to be picky with who you consider a "core" player. It's why a guy like Shane Victorino should be expendable. Use that money to bring in quality depth options—not an eighth starting pitcher to contend for a Cy Young Award.

    With a club like this, when it comes to "talent level," it's about avoiding knee-jerk reactions and spending wisely. So if you're looking to blow up anything, I'd have the front office in my sights first.

NL East Outlook: 1) Washington Nationals

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    When it comes to determining whether or not to blow up your core and start over, it all comes down to this one question, however: Can we compete with the teams in our division?

    For the Phillies, that's becoming an increasingly difficult question to answer. Can they compete with the young Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves? Will the New York Mets hang around? What's with the Miami Marlins?

    Those are all questions that need answering, so here we go.

    When you look at the Nationals, there is no doubt that the strength of this club is its starting pitching. Stephen Strasburg. Gio Gonzalez. Jordan Zimmerman. Gonzalez and Zimmerman are the oldest members of that group. They're 26.

    The pitching is going to be good for a long time in the nation's capital, but can they build an offense around it?

    I'm not so sure.

    Obviously, that's a conversation that begins with phenom Bryce Harper, but it takes more than one man to run this kind of show. They'll have big questions in the near future about players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mike Morse.

    But the Nationals can be dangerous. They have an owner that is willing to shell out big bucks and an aggressive general manager.

    Are they going to run away with the NL East for the foreseeable future? No. But they'll be very good for a very long time.

2) Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves are an interesting team, in regards to the future.

    On paper, they should be a lot better than they are. They have top notch pitching with Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and plenty of help on the way in terms of young prospects, and that's not to mention that electric bullpen headlined by guys like Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.

    It's the offense that leaves me shaking my head. Though they have great talent in guys like Dan Uggla, Freddie Freeman, and Brian McCann, the one thing they always seem to be lacking is some kind of consistency.

    Don't expect the Phillies to blow up their core because their afraid of the Braves. With a payroll like the Phillies boast, they'll always be neck and neck.

    Well, "always" is a strong word...

3) New York Mets

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    I'm not buying.

    The New York Mets are a fascinating team. In a year filled to the brim with fascinating stories, RA Dickey's is one of the best. He's managed to mold himself into a legitimate ace, but there are definitely question marks for the future.

    In fact, the rest of that pitching staff is a gigantic question mark. Johan Santana has been an ace in name only and while Jonathan Niese has been solid, the rest of the rotation has been anything but.

    Any bullpen that causes an entire fan base to shudder with a simple mention isn't even worth discussing here. The short story? It needs help.

    Offensively, the Mets have weapons. No one is going to doubt David Wright's talent level. He is legitimately one of baseball's best third basemen. But the rest of the offense?

    Nope. Still not buying.

    The only player on this roster with an OPS of greater than .800 and more than 90 at-bats is Scott Hairston.

    Yes, seriously.

    So while there is definitely some help on the way from prospects like Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and others, this isn't the strongest of farm systems.

    Call me a cynic, but I'm not too excited about the future of this franchise, and that's knowing that they can use a New York-sized payroll in a moment's notice.

4) Miami Marlins

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    It may seem a little overly critical, but at this point in time, the Miami Marlins' baseball franchise is nothing more than a facade.

    Sure, getting the new ballpark was great, but was it really for the fans. Was it really built to bring baseball back to Miami with a roaring passion, or was it to give off that appearance while the owners count their gazillions of dollars behind closed doors?

    The Marlins have always maintained that they want to be a competitive organization, and yet, it never seems like they are overly interested in winning.

    The fact that there even exists the possibility that they could go into a "fire sale" less than a full year after opening the doors to their brand spanking new ballpark is nothing short of ridiculous.

    At the end of the day, you're not going to open a new ballpark every year. That means no spending spree like the one prior to 2012 that landed them Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle.

    When you don't spend enough money to compete with the big dogs in your division or have success developing prospects with any kind of consistency, teams don't necessarily view you as a threat moving forward.

    So while guys like Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Jose Fernandez should be bright spots in the future of this franchise, they won't have much company.

    It's harsh. But it's also true.

    The Marlins aren't the kind of organization you blow up your core over.