While the Phillies didn’t have an all-out “fire sale” in 2012, they obviously felt their chances for a playoff spot were slim when they traded away starting outfielders Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino on July 31st.
And who could blame them? At the time of the deal, they were in last place with a 45-57 record and 13 games out of a wild-card spot. They did receive some much-needed bullpen help with Josh Lindblom coming over from the Dodgers in the Victorino trade, but it was evident that both trades were part of a movement toward the future.
In the Pence trade, the Phillies landed prospect Tommy Joseph, who could be the team’s next starting catcher with Carlos Ruiz set to become a free agent after the season, and right-hander Seth Rosin, who has a 3.24 ERA with three walks and 25 strikeouts in 33.1 Double-A innings this season.
In addition to Lindblom, pitching prospect Ethan Martin also came over from the Dodgers. The former first-round pick is struggling in Triple-A (6.35 ERA in six starts), but he was ranked the No. 6 prospect in the organization by Baseball Prospectus prior to the season and allowed just one earned run in six innings on Monday.
A funny thing happened, though, after Pence and Victorino were traded. Someone forgot to tell the remaining Phillies players that the season was over. They went 36-24 the rest of the way and were back in the playoff hunt late in the season.
The front office was hoping the momentum from the last two months of 2012—along with the offseason additions of setup man Mike Adams, third baseman Michael Young and outfielder Delmon Young and the health of their veteran core of players—would push them back to the top of the division in 2013.
It’s still too early to count them out, but it’s going to be tough to surpass the Braves and Nationals—Philly is in third place with a 15-18 record and five games out in the NL East. A healthy Chase Utley (.798 OPS) and Ryan Howard (.783 OPS) help, but with one of the three aces, Roy Halladay, on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, their NL East challenge just got much tougher.
The biggest question surrounding the club at this point is whether it will allow its strong finish to the 2012 season affect how it operates at the trade deadline. Do the Phillies think they have another late-season surge in them, or is this the right time to start cashing in on some valuable trade chips with an eye on adding some young talent to an aging ballclub?
For now, they are expected to fill Halladay's rotation spot with another young pitcher from the farm system. Still focused on the 2013 season, though, they'll look externally for a long-term solution.
Amaro said Phillies will go internal for call-up to fill Friday’s starting spot. Also looking outside org for long-term answer.— Matt Gelb (@magelb) May 6, 2013
At some point, they could start to look ahead if they feel like their roster is simply not good enough to stick around and then make a run as they did last season.
Here’s a look at their projected 2014 roster if they stand pat and hold on to Cliff Lee and all others that won't become free agents after the season.
1 Ben Revere, CF
2 Freddy Galvis, 2B
3 Jimmy Rollins, SS
4 Ryan Howard, 1B
5 John Mayberry, RF
6 Domonic Brown, LF
7 Tommy Joseph, C (pictured)
8 Cody Asche, 3B
1 Cole Hamels, LHP
2 Cliff Lee, LHP
3 Kyle Kendrick, RHP
4 Adam Morgan, LHP
5 Jonathan Pettibone, RHP/Jesse Biddle, LHP
CL Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
SU Mike Adams, RHP
SU Antonio Bastardo, LHP
MID Phillipe Aumont, RHP
MID Justin De Fratus, RHP
Regardless of who the Phillies trade and acquire at the trade deadline, it’s very likely they head into next offseason with a young lineup that features as many as five players 26 years old and under and a projected rotation that could feature two young pitchers who could still have rookie status, depending on how many big league innings they pitch in 2013.
The money coming off the books after the season is substantial ($46 million between Halladay, Ruiz, Utley and M. Young), so there is a chance they go with what they have and try to add another impact bat or two to the lineup.
Trading away Cliff Lee and/or closer Jonathan Papelbon while strengthening the farm system would only create more holes heading into the offseason. A mini-fire sale, focused on the team’s free agents-to-be, would allow the Phillies to add a few more good prospects to the farm system, however, and possibly some more financial relief to go into the free-agency period. And they wouldn't be as focused on trying to replace Lee at the top of the rotation.
That “free agents-to-be” list includes Halladay, Ruiz, Utley, D. Young and M. Young.
Carlos Ruiz, C: Trying to trade Ruiz right now would require the Phillies to direct as much attention as possible to his breakout 2012 season (.934 OPS). Since then, he’s had a 25-game suspension for a positive test for amphetamines and two hits in 20 at-bats since his return. They’ll hope he can return to his 2012 form, which would make him a highly sought-after starting catcher at the trade deadline.
Chase Utley, 2B: A second baseman who could hit anywhere from the No. 2 spot through No. 6 spot on a good team, Utley (pictured) will be a popular man if the Phillies put him on the market. He has a partial no-trade clause that would allow him to block trades to 21 teams, although it’s possible he’d waive it for a chance to go to a playoff competitor down the stretch.
Some very interesting potential destinations are already being thrown around the Twitter-verse.
If PHI doesn't turn it around, Chase Utley could be one of the most interesting players on the trade market. KC, BAL great possible fits.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) May 6, 2013
Delmon Young, OF: Even if Young puts up his typical mediocre numbers during the regular season—he’s already on his way (3-for-20)—the Phillies can point at his postseason production over the last three seasons (27-for-94, 8 HR, 2 2B, 3B, 15 RBI) and try to convince a contender of his potential value in October and November.
Michael Young, 3B: A few teams, including the Dodgers, could use a veteran like Young as their starting third baseman. Several others would find the 36-year-old, who is a career .302 hitter in over 7,500 big league at-bats, to be a valuable role player who can play both corner infield spots or designated hitter in the American League.
Young isn’t showing much power this season (30 of his 37 hits have been singles), but he’s hitting .333. They won’t get much in return but could probably get a live arm with upside to add to the lower minors.
Roy Halladay, SP: If his shoulder injury is serious and requires more than a few weeks of recovery time, his trade value would all but disappear. A mid-June return would ensure teams get a good look at him to determine if he can help down the stretch. We'll know more soon. He'll visit Dr. Lewis Yocum for further evaluation.
An all-out “fire sale,” however, would likely involve the shopping of Lee (pictured), who is owed $75 million, including this year, and as much as $27.5 million more in a vesting option for 2016. Trading the 34-year-old would likely ensure the team gets another elite prospect added to the farm system, at least one more very good prospect, a lot of money off the books but a huge hole in the rotation for 2014.
A look at the organizational depth shows that some help is on the way, but there are a ton of holes on the roster, especially the lineup, heading into 2014. I'd expect the Phillies to look ahead to 2014 at some point during this season, but I think they'll pass on trading every single player of value in the process.