It's been a weird season for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've had their share of highs and lows, good times and bad times—an indication of just how inconsistent they have been.
After embarking on a season-high five-game winning streak in early June, the Phillies proceeded to lose five straight and have sat a few games below .500 ever since.
Standing at 38-41 as of Thursday, June 27, the Phils are stranded in third place in a dispirited NL East and have only flirted with second place on a couple occasions.
As a result, the Phillies aren't defined buyers or sellers heading into the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. It's a good thing because it means that the team still believes it has a shot at climbing in the standings.
However, if things don't change quickly, the Phils will likely go the latter route and trade off some veterans.
If the Phillies do end up going on a hot streak to find themselves locked into a division battle, there are three main areas of concern that need to be addressed, even if only slightly. The bullpen, right field, and starting rotation are what have troubled the Phillies the most, and any acquisitions should focus on those areas.
In light of that, here's what the Phillies' shopping list at the 2013 trade deadline should look like if the Phillies are indeed poised to be buyers this season.
Undoubtedly the Phillies' biggest weakness in 2013, the bullpen has caused nothing but trouble for the team this season.
Phillies' relievers are last in the National League and second-to-last in the majors with a 4.66 bullpen ERA. In the seventh inning or later, the Phils' bullpen is dead last in all of baseball with a 4.49 ERA.
The Phillies are no stranger to bullpen woes. They struggled for the first half of the 2012 season before seeing relievers such as Jeremy Horst and Phillippe Aumont break out for the second half of the season.
However, with closer Jonathan Papelbon blowing four of his past five save opportunities and setup man Mike Adams—the Phillies' prize of the offseason—probably out for the rest of the season with three shoulder tears according to Matt Gelb of Philly.com, the presumed certainties in the team's relief corps have created even more question marks.
With Phillies starters pitching well enough to rank them 16th in the majors with a 4.02 ERA, the clear problem is the bullpen.
Jim Salisbury, of CSNPhilly.com, reported that in spite of Adams' injury, GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. plans at this point on standing pat at the trade deadline concerning bullpen help.
If the Phillies do manage to turn things around, it may force Amaro's hand to pursue some relief help. Given the team's barren farm system and repeated desire to become younger, high-ranked prospects probably won't be in Amaro's plans to trade away.
A couple fits Amaro could consider are Jesse Crain of the Chicago White Sox and Francisco Rodriguez of the Milwaukee Brewers. Both teams are primed to sell at the trade deadline this season and both have pitched incredibly well in 2013.
Crain has a 0.52 ERA in 36 appearances while Rodriguez, familiar to Phillies fans as former Mets closer K-Rod, has a 0.59 ERA in 16 appearances. Someone who may be more easily obtainable is Chicago Cubs left-hander James Russell, who has a 2.22 ERA in 35 appearances this season.
None of the three options mentioned will be older than 32 years of age by July 31 (Crain turns 32 on July 5), although Russell is more appealing as he would be under team control through 2015.
While Cain and Rodriguez have been the better pitchers in 2013, they are also free agents after the season. If the Phillies are set to make a playoff push, they could brush free agency aside and go for the best option, but if they are set on looking to the future, Russell could be an intriguing option.
The good news is that Phillies outfielders, on the whole, haven't been terrible.
They've combined to hit .255 with a .715 OPS for the season, good for 17th and 21st places around the majors, respectively. Part of the reason why the Phillies aren't higher on this list is because of the inadequacy of the team's right fielders, primarily Delmon Young.
In 2013, Phillies right fielders have batted just .224 to rank last in the NL and second-to-last in the majors, ahead of only the Oakland Athletics. Their right fielders' combined .668 OPS has the Phillies ranked 27th in baseball in that department and second-to-last in the NL.
That does not suffice for a team that hopes to win.
Whether or not Young's .224 average and .674 OPS should result in his release is a debate for another time, but the point is that the Phillies need an upgrade in right field. While there aren't many available around the majors, there are a handful who just might work for the Phillies.
Perhaps the most obvious trade candidate within the Phillies' reach is Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios.
Batting .276 on the season with a .794 OPS and 11 home runs, Rios is appealing in that he has some pop, but he wouldn't come cheap concerning future contractual obligations.
If acquired, Rios would be owed the remainder of his $12.5 million salary from this season, $12.5 million in 2014 and he has a $13.5 million club option for 2015 with a $1 million buyout. However, those numbers would inflate slightly, as Rios has a clause in his contract which would increase his future salaries by $500,000 per season if traded between 2011 and 2014. That may be a buzzkill the Phillies refuse to ignore.
Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is also a plausible option, albeit one that would cost a slightly heftier prospect package.
Bourjos is an elite fielder with plus speed and has been for years, but the biggest concern with him has always been his ability to hit for average. Bourjos disappointed in 2012 following a breakout 2011 campaign, but his 2013 has put him back on track for success. In 36 games this season, Bourjos has hit .331 with an .842 OPS and has emerged as a fantastic fourth outfielder for the Angels.
Either Rios or Bourjos would be a nice get for the Phillies, but as mentioned, each comes with his own drawbacks. They're definitely the top two options the Phillies should consider as buyers, and if the price is right, it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see either one in Phillies' pinstripes come August.
Other Potential Trade Options: OF Josh Willingham, Minnesota Twins; OF Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs; OF Michael Morse, Seattle Mariners—all are left fielders which would move Domonic Brown to right field.
Although the starting rotation hasn't been the Phillies' biggest concern, it has been far from their biggest strength.
Better results were expected from a rotation consisting of aces Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. With an ERA of 4.02 this season, the Phillies' rank 16th among starting staffs in the majors.
Part of the team's rotation struggles can be attributed to injury, as Roy Halladay's and John Lannan's struggles led to their placement on the disabled list this season.
However, both were also ineffective prior to their injuries. Hamels joins them in that regard although he often has lacked run support. Probably the biggest disappointment on the Phillies, Hamels sits at 2-11 with a 4.58 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, leading the majors in losses.
Lee, on the other hand, has been stellar and is a possible NL Cy Young Award contender, but with an inconsistent Kyle Kendrick and possibly slumping Jonathan Pettibone rounding out the rotation, an upgrade is necessary should the Phillies be buyers.
And no, it shouldn't be Carlos Zambrano.
Depending on the front office's position, the Phillies may be more inclined to pursue a younger pitcher under team control for a longer period of time or a proven veteran under contract for a year or two. Luckily, both types of pitchers are bound to be available, but it's up to the Phillies to decide which route they will take.
Should the Phillies go the younger route, one option would be Houston Astros pitcher Bud Norris, who has a 3.60 ERA in 16 starts this season and has posted decent K/9 rates (6.25) and BB/9 rates (2.94). He'd be under team control through 2015 and is making just $3 million this year as the Astros' most expensive player on their roster.
If the Phillies chose to go with a veteran starter, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo could be an interesting fit.
While he hasn't been at his best in 2013, posting a 6-7 record with a 4.20 ERA, FanGraphs' advanced pitching metrics suggest he's been better, equating to a 3.93 FIP and 3.74 xFIP. Gallardo has also posted a 7.30 K/9 and a 3.28 BB/9, which would bode well for the Phillies.
He's also not overly expensive. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Gallardo is owed $7.75 million in 2013 and $11.25 million in 2014 with a $13 million 2015 club option and a $600,000 buyout. Cot's also shows that Gallardo has a 10-team no-trade clause, so if the Phillies were to be listed on it, Gallardo going to Philly may not be a possibility.
Someone else in the mold of Norris or Gallardo would be ideal for the Phillies, but even so, a rotation upgrade isn't a must. With prospects waiting in the wings to man future rotations, it wouldn't be in the Phillies' best interests to pursue a starter under team control for more than two years.
Buying can be a complicated position at the trade deadline, so if the Phillies were in a contending position come July 31, they may have a few questions to think about concerning their so-so 2013 rotation.
Other Potential Trade Options: RHP Scott Feldman, Chicago Cubs; RHP Ivan Nova, New York Yankees; RHP Carlos Villanueva, Chicago Cubs; LHP Joe Saunders, Seattle Mariners.