The Phillies, who came into the season with a healthy roster, have failed to live up to their initially middling expectations, and currently sit at 9-11. They are fourth in the NL East, ahead of only the 4-15 Miami Marlins, who are the worst team in baseball.
While it is certainly early to be thinking about realistic outcomes at the July 31 trade deadline, it's never too early to speculate on who may be dealt by Philadelphia.
At this point, should the Phillies' mediocre trends continue, they are bound to be sellers at the deadline. In fact, with players coming off the payroll like Chase Utley, Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz and most likely Roy Halladay, the fire sale could be even bigger than last year's when Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton were ushered out of Philadelphia.
Not only are impending free agents potential trade chips, but established veterans under team control for a few years are also appealing.
Headlining this distinction of Phillies is Cliff Lee. Although under contract for three more years at a minimum of $87.5 million, including this year, Lee has value and could be worthy as a legitimate ace for a team in need of one.
Here's a list of five players and the team that, at this point in the season, would be the best fit, both from the perspective of positional need and valuable assets to trade in return.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. All prospect rankings and information courtesy of Baseball America Prospect Handbook unless otherwise noted. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Carlos Ruiz, affectionately known by Phillies fans as "Chooch," has steadily grown to become one of the best all-around catchers in the game. His offensive breakout in 2012 led him to earn his first All-Star nod, his defense has been superb throughout his career and most members of the Phillies' starting staff continually commend his game-calling.
Currently making $5 million in an option year of his three-year, $8.85 million contract extension signed before the 2010 season, Ruiz is positioned to enter the free-agent market for next season when he will be 35.
Whether or not he'll make it to free agency and how much he'd be poised to collect from a contract remains to be seen. It is even more unpredictable due to Ruiz's current 25-game suspension for Adderall usage.
Suspension aside, Ruiz would be one of baseball's best catchers in a deep free-agent pool of catchers after the season. However, the fact that Ruiz was suspended means he has tested positive for use on two separate occasions.
Can he prove that he can hit, defend and call games as well as he did without needing a stimulant?
If Chooch can prove that the answer to that question is "yes" upon his return to the field on April 28, he could be a hot commodity come the trade deadline. One team that would be a perfect match for his services would be the Tampa Bay Rays.
Despite possessing baseball's fourth-best farm system, the Rays lack any catchers among their top-30 prospects and the best they have at the major league level at the moment is Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton.
Neither Molina nor Lobaton are better than average, and for a Rays' team currently having trouble providing offense, Tampa Bay could use an upgrade anywhere they can get one.
While it may be too late by July 31 depending on the standings, Chooch is ideal for Tampa Bay for a few reasons. First, the Ruiz's offense would be an upgrade over anything the Rays have now. Second, his defense would also be an improvement. Third, the Rays' strength is pitching, which would be able to utilize Chooch's game-calling abilities to the fullest.
The Rays have the prospects to offer in a trade, even for a two-month rental like Ruiz. With the Rays playing in a poor market with low attendance, an impending and inexpensive free agent like Ruiz is ideal since he's not a long-term commitment.
It's a match made in trade heaven.
Chase Utley has been a Phillies' leader for years.
Since his grand slam for his first MLB hit, Utley has become one of baseball's best and most respected second basemen as well as one of the league's classiest players.
For a stretch of four or five years, Utley was unquestionably baseball's best second baseman and among its best hitters. A five-time All-Star, Utley then fell off the face of the earth in 2011, when nagging knee ailments seemingly derailed his career.
However, Utley has returned with a vengeance in 2013 and is hitting like his former self.
He's batting .294 with an .876 OPS, three home runs, 15 RBI, three doubles, two triples and three steals. All-around, Utley's been the Phillies' best and most dynamic hitter of this season so far.
If Utley can keep his production up, he may even regain some trade value.
Playing in the final year of the seven-year, $85 million contract extension he signed before the 2007 season, Utley may be able to bring back a solid prospect or two in a trade should his desire to play for a contender outweigh his desire to remain a Phillie for life.
One team which could be interested in Utley's services is the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While the Dodgers have Mark Ellis as their starting second baseman, Utley is an immediate improvement and would be a great option to have on the bench as well. Hailing from nearby Pasadena, Utley would be able to play close to home—a dream come true for any baseball player.
There are a few obstacles, though. For starters, Utley has a no-trade clause that allows him to block trades to 21 teams. If the Dodgers are on that list, that could present some problems.
In addition, the Dodgers' farm system only ranks 19th in baseball. Even though that's an improvement over the Phillies, who rank 23rd, it isn't ideal in a trade scenario, especially one for a player like Utley.
Ultimately, this isn't a deal that is necessarily ideal for both sides, but it isn't impractical either. Iif the Dodgers fail to do better than their opening 8-10 record down the stretch, Utley could be the impact player they need.
After suffering from years of torturous lack of offensive production at third base, the Phillies made a move in the offseason to fix that, acquiring the face of the Texas Rangers in Michael Young.
Young had gradually seen his role, and ultimately his presence, on the Rangers decline after numerous mandatory position switches and decreased playing time. He embraced the opportunity to play every day again in Philadelphia.
So far, Young has done just that, batting .333 with an .828 OPS, a home run, five RBI, two doubles and a triple. His OPS is comprised of a .389 OBP, which is above his .347 career total. In addition, his usually lackluster defense has looked solid and has not been a black hole in the slightest.
Such production could cause other clubs to inquire about Young. However, as part of waiving his 10-and-5 rights no-trade clause to come to Philadelphia, Young was given a full no-trade clause this season by the Phillies in addition to a $1.2 million assignment bonus since the tax differential is significant between Texas and Pennsylvania.
With the Rangers already covering $10 million of his $17.2 million salary, any team that would take on Young in a trade would only have to worry about the remainder of the $6 million he's owed by the Phillies, excluding the bonus.
A team that could potentially use a third baseman is the Oakland Athletics.
The A's employ Josh Donaldson at the hot corner as Scott Sizemore is still recovering from a torn ACL. As a result, it's likely their weakest position offensively, and Young could fill that void. Not only that, but he could provide veteran leadership on a team that lacks anything of the sort, unless you count Bartolo Colon.
While the Athletics may not be the most appealing trade partner for the Phillies—their farm system ranked 25th entering the season and that was before the Jed Lowrie trade—the Phils can't expect that much in return for someone of Young's age and contract status.
Even though he'll only be owed one-third of his 2013 salary by the trade deadline, Oakland is a team that operates on a small budget, so the Phillies would likely have to eat some salary either way.
Overall, if Sizemore doesn't recover in time for the end of the season and Donaldson fails to impress, Young could be the right guy for a competitive Oakland team.
Roy "Doc" Halladay had the reputation of being one of baseball's best, most durable starting pitchers.
His finesse in his craft was unparalleled across the sport, as was his work ethic. However, it's now 2013, and things have changed.
While his work ethic remains strong, Halladay has had issues with velocity, control and eventually injury since spring training of 2012. He's been as inconsistent as they come after pitching for years with the big boys.
While he's had a couple bounce-back starts over the last couple of weeks, he's just as prone to dropping off quickly.
After suffering a couple of shaky outings in his first two starts of the season, Halladay showed promise once again when he fended off the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. Granted, the latter was a rain-shortened outing, but Doc still pitched six innings of two-run, two-hit ball (both hits were solo home runs), which is solid by any stretch.
If Halladay continues on his current successful path—and it's a big "if"—he could be worth something in a trade.
With a vesting option that's unlikely to be met, Doc's on track to hit free agency for the first time in his career after this season. He opted out of free agency just over three years ago to stay with the Phillies in hopes of winning the World Series, but a championship ring has eluded him and there are no signs that this year will be any different.
Pitchers like Halladay deserve to get another chance at postseason glory. Although that may not still be the case for the Phillies any longer, other teams may be able to fit the bill.
Surprisingly enough, the New York Yankees may be that team.
When Halladay accepted his trade to Philadelphia, one of the only other teams he considered was the Bronx Bombers.
Would he consider them yet again?
The Yankees could use starting pitching, and a healthy Halladay would make a solid second or third starter behind CC Sabathia and possibly Hiroki Kuroda.
The Yankees possess baseball's 11th-best farm system, but in a deal like this where the Phillies would be eating salary, that's relatively unimportant. Maybe the Phillies would get a middling prospect in return at best, but Halladay would get a chance at postseason glory once again, assuming the Yankees continue to be playoff contenders.
The thought that probably entered your mind was "not this again!"
While the idea of trading Cliff Lee back to the Texas Rangers has been beaten into the ground over the last few seasons, it may be more realistic in 2013 than it has been since Lee rejoined the Phillies.
Lee has arguably been the Phillies' best starting pitcher this season. Until his 5-0 loss to Cincinnati last week, he was unquestionably the top dog. Now in the third season of his five-year, $120 million contract, Lee has yet to falter.
Although 2012 wasn't a year to remember for him, it was more of a year for Lee not to remember the Phillies.
Due to lack of run support, Lee finished the season with a 6-9 record, although he did record a 3.16 ERA. Nevertheless, despite what the win-loss record might indicate, Lee remained among baseball's elite last season.
As a result of his continuous success, Lee has been one of the oft-mentioned names at trade deadlines in years past. Whether he was actually dealt, as he was in 2009 and 2010, or just speculated upon like last year, there's never a shortage of chatter surrounding Lee.
Llast year in particular, Lee was on the radar of other teams, specifically the Dodgers who claimed him on trade waivers in August, and the Rangers.
A Lee-Rangers reunion isn't out of the question either. The Rangers have prospects the Phillies would drool over, and unlike last year, it isn't unreasonable to think that Texas would consider dealing top prospect Jurickson Profar, especially for someone of Lee's caliber.
Third-base prospect Mike Olt has also fallen from grace to the extent that he's likely no longer an untouchable.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal speculated that Lee could be dealt if the Phillies don't get the job done this year, and given the circumstances, it's hard to disagree.
With the amount of money that Lee's still owed and the downward direction the Phillies are presumably headed in for the long haul, it would only make sense to deal Lee, especially since Cole Hamels is under contract through at least 2018.
Texas lacks the pitching it so desperately needs with both Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis on the DL. Even though Yu Darvish may soon acquire undisputed ace status, he's not quite there.
Lee's got what it takes to push the Rangers over the top and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he finds his way back to Texas this season.