It is about that time of the Major League Baseball season.
Despite having played only a little over a third of their season, the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders. And with that separation comes speculation of whether certain teams will be buyers or sellers come the MLB trade deadline at the end of July.
One team that faces a particularly tough decision this year is the Philadelphia Phillies.
Currently sitting seven-and-a-half games back of the National League East-leading Atlanta Braves and seven games back of the second wild-card spot, the Phils are slowly starting to see their season get out of hand.
Now, this is not to say that the Phillies are totally out of the playoff hunt. After all, it is only the beginning of June. And of course, it was less than six years ago when the "Fightins" erased a seven-game deficit with 17 games remaining to snatch the division crown from the New York Mets.
However, this is a completely different team than what we saw back in that memorable fall of 2007. Gone are the days of seeing a healthy Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins take the field on a daily basis. The core of this team is six years older, and while they may still have some gas left in the tank, it is safe to say that the best years of their careers are behind them.
Before I go on, I must say that it is simply too early to say that Philadelphia will definitely be sellers come the July 31 trade deadline. Only the next six weeks will tell us whether the Phillies will look to start building for the future or add big-name talent in hopes of a last-gasp playoff run.
However, the obvious must be stated: The Phillies are a team on the decline. Howard, Utley and Rollins are all on the wrong side of 30 years old. None of the three can be guaranteed to stay healthy or contribute regularly. Formerly the core of this franchise, the heart and soul of Philadelphia's beloved baseball team, these three can no longer be counted on to lead the Phillies to the playoffs and beyond.
Even the starting pitching, which was said to be the bright spot on this Phillies roster, can no longer be trusted. Roy Halladay cannot seem to stay healthy, Cole Hamels is having one of the worst years of his career and the back end of this rotation simply does not have the experience to take over the reigns just yet.
Despite positive performances this season by Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone, the Phillies are simply not getting consistent outings from their starting rotation.
All in all, the outlook is not bright for Philadelphia.
So, what does this mean for the team's trade deadline plans?
Although Philadelphia may not have the best chance to make the playoffs this season, this does not silence the fact that this team still has plenty of talent on its roster.
Namely, Cliff Lee, who has been having an outstanding season compiling a 7-2 record with a 2.45 Earned Runs Average, may in fact be one of the players that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. decides to deal by the July 31 deadline.
At age 34 and set to earn $75 million over the next three seasons, the time is winding down for Lee to win a championship in Philadelphia. Amaro Jr. may well decide that if Lee's age and money is too much for him to stay in the City of Brotherly Love, then it could be his time to go. Apparently, even Lee is preparing himself to be in another deadline trade.
However, Lee is not the only one who could find himself out of Philadelphia before the end of the summer. Chase Utley, the beloved second baseman for the Phillies, may be playing in another uniform later this season.
At 34, Utley is in the final year of a seven-year, $85 million contract and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. While Utley has been cursed with injuries throughout his career, he is still producing at a level that may interest teams who are looking to be contenders later this season.
With seven home runs and 25 RBI to go along with a .272 BA so far this season, Utley may be the missing piece for some teams who are looking for depth come the postseason. Moreover, Amaro Jr. may feel that he might not be able to re-sign Utley to the terms he may be looking for in the offseason. This might force Amaro Jr. to try and get some value for Utley while he still can.
However, the single biggest reason why the Phillies will turn out to be sellers come this year's MLB trade deadline is their farm system. Or, shall I say, lack thereof.
According to Baseball America, the Phillies have the seventh-worst farm system in all of the major leagues. While fans love to see the big-name players such as Lee, Utley and Howard play at Citizens Bank Park on a regular basis, most would probably agree that it is time to restock the farm.
It is clear that the Phillies' window of opportunity is closing quickly. After a run of success from 2007-2011, Philadelphia's record has tailed off significantly over the past year-and-a-half. One way to regain this success may well be to start from scratch and build for the future.
Becoming sellers at the trade deadline and dealing the likes of Lee, Utley and Rollins may be the best way to do so.
Only time will tell whether or not the Phillies become buyers or sellers in late-July. If, six weeks from now, the Phillies were to be right in the midst of the playoff hunt, then you can put money on this team staying together.
However, as the age and the health of this roster is undoubtedly on the decline, the chances of this happening certainly seem bleak. While it is unlikely that the entire core of the Phillies roster will be traded, it is safe to expect that certain ballplayers will find themselves cleaning their lockers at Citizens Bank Park come later this summer.