Remember just a few weeks ago when the Philadelphia Phillies traded two-thirds of their starting outfield, were 10 games under .500 and 12 games back in the National League wild card standings?
Well, since the start of August, the Phils have played a lot more like the team that has found themselves in the playoff race each of the past five seasons.
Whether or not the late season resurgence will extend the team’s postseason streak remains to be seen. But that’s not the only thing that is now uncertain following the Phillies’ 28-17 record since the first of August.
Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton were seemingly the first names on what was to be a lengthy list of players whom the Phillies would end up trading by the start of next season.
Instead, will a late season surge be enough to convince general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. and the rest of the Phils’ front office to keep the roster intact for 2013?
The Phillies may never have been on the verge of heading into full rebuilding mode this offseason no matter how poor the team’s play was at times during the first half. But in order to even re-tool, payroll flexibility would be crucial. Three outfield spots, third base and a bullpen spot or two are all up for grabs for next season, with a majority likely to be filled externally.
What better way to free up payroll then to trade a player whose current contract could potentially pay him over $100 million over the next four seasons?
As Jon Heyman on CBSSports.com reported following the non-waiver trade deadline, the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed Cliff Lee and based off of their eventual mega-deal with the Boston Red Sox, would have been willing to take on all of Lee’s salary if both the pitcher and the Phillies had consented.
Lee’s name had been mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the trade deadline, as shown by a tweet from Buster Olney, and his name was likely to appear in talks again during the offseason unless the Phillies managed a second half turnaround.
Well, here we are.
One of the biggest reasons for the Phils’ recent success has been the solid performances turned in by their pitching staff, and Lee is no exception.
After going 1-5 with a 3.98 ERA prior to the All-Star break, Lee has gone 5-2 with a 2.53 ERA in the second half.
Phillies’ starters are now tied for fifth in the National League in ERA, and lead the league in strikeouts.
With Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels still in the fold, and a number of starting pitching prospects gradually progressing through the minor leagues, starting pitching was the one area where it seemed the Phillies could deal due to depth.
However, the Phils’ recent surge has shown that pitching is still the backbone of the team, and that a rotation featuring Halladay, Hamels and Lee is still capable of leading the squad.
Has Lee and the Phillies’ recent success been enough to resist trading the former Cy Young winner this offseason?
What about Jimmy Rollins?
Few teams would be willing to take on Rollins’ contract, but the Phillies could still have been leaning towards paying a portion of the shortstop’s contract in order to free up the position and the leadoff spot in the batting order. Another tweet by Buster Olney said that the Phillies were at least offering Rollins to teams at the non-waiver deadline.
This season has seen Rollins post numbers that are the lowest of his career in certain areas, and consistent with his career averages in others.
His 90 strikeouts and .314 OBP are not what the Phillies are looking for from their leadoff hitter, while his 21 home runs, 62 RBI and .333 batting average so far in September have helped raise his average on the season to .253.
Although this average is well below his career average, Rollins still has the highest WAR value among NL shortstops with at least 250 plate appearances, according to fangraphs.com.
Furthermore, as John Gonzalez recently wrote on CSNPhilly.com, Chase Utley could be moving to third base in the near future. If the move worked out, Freddy Galvis could then play second base next season. Who would take over at shortstop then, if the Phillies traded Rollins?
If Rollins continues to improve, would the Phillies even offer him again this offseason in hopes of splitting his salary with another team?
The Phils' bullpen is another area that has slowly, very slowly, begun changing their reputation during the late season run.
After scattering disastrous performances throughout the first half of the season, the bullpen has lowered their ERA to 3.86 on the season, good enough for eighth in the NL. The Phils even have six relievers who currently have an ERA lower than 2.08 in September.
While one or two additions should still be on the to-do list this offseason, a majority of younger pitchers have now pitched themselves into contention for a spot in the 2013 bullpen.
When a team has another deep postseason run as their goal at the start of the season, and must adjust this goal to simply having a .500 record by the halfway point, few players can be considered sure bets to return to the team next season.
However, deciding against pressing the detonate button has paid off for the Phils as they try to continue with their late season run.
But has the run been enough to re-tool primarily through additions during the offseason rather than through subtractions?
The Phillies still clearly need improvements this offseason in order to make another postseason run more of a guarantee. However, this just might take place through current players improving their performances, rather than sending them on their way to new teams.