Philadelphia Phillies Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint: Pull Triggers Wisely

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Philadelphia Phillies Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint: Pull Triggers Wisely
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Trading Chase Utley sounds like a great idea until you learn just how little you will probably get back in return.

"Trade everybody!" the masses cry.

"Blow it up!" say the fantasy baseball aficionados who pull the plug on every season that does not find them in first place on June 1.

"Clean house!" bleat the disillusioned, disenfranchised Phillies fans who, after being absurdly spoiled by five straight division titles, a world championship and a pennant they found disappointing, want to win again—NOW.

Yeah, well, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble...but it doesn't work that way.

This morning in my office one of my colleagues was insistent that the Phillies need to deal Jonathan Papelbon to the closer-starved Detroit Tigers for uber-prospect Nick Castellanos. "You put him right in at third base," he said.

I don't mean to pick on my colleague. To be fair to him, this is what passes for "analysis" on sports talk radio and in many media outlets. Find a team with a need, match it with something you have, pick out their best prospect and there's your deal.

Again, it is just not that easy.

As I pointed out to my co-worker, the Tigers know what they have in Castellanos. They know he is a terrific young player with enormous upside who just happens to be stuck in an organization where Miguel Cabrera plays third base and Prince Fielder plays first base.

It is no coincidence that Castellanos has spent all of 2013 in the outfield.

Regardless, just saying "Papelbon for Castellanos straight up" is not a trading deadline strategy. It's a pipe dream.

Because, as I reminded my colleague today, 30 other teams outside Philadelphia have a shot to trade for Castellanos (if he is even available), and at least 20 of them need him as badly as the Phillies do.

All of the foregoing is a somewhat protracted means of breaking Rule No. 1 of sports writing, which is not to bury the lede, which is this: the Phillies should only start trading off players at the deadline as a last resort.

And it is not because there is a great hope that the Phillies will sneak into the playoffs. As of this writing, it took them a spurt of five wins in seven games just to climb back to within two games of .500.

Rather, it is because, if we are being honest with ourselves, the pieces the Phillies have to trade are just not particularly apt to fetch the likes of Castellanos in a deadline deal.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
You can have good prospects and pay the money, or you can have iffy prospects and have the new team pay the money, but you probably can't have both.

Cliff Lee would probably bring the biggest haul. But there are still two more years, $50 million and a reachable $27.5 million vesting option for 2016 left on his deal.

Any team that trades for Lee is going to figure that sopping up all that cash is more than ample consideration and is thus unlikely to part with great prospects too.

To a lesser degree, that is the story with Papelbon, too. He is a "proven" closer, but his earned run average keeps creeping up, as does the number of blown saves.

Will some other team really absorb that contract (at least two more seasons at $13 million per) and come across with great young players? Come on.

Beyond those two, it gets really murky.

What is the value of 70 games of Chase Utley or Michael Young or Carlos Ruiz? The days of "Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz" are long gone in a savvier baseball era like today.

Will you really be all that happy if the Phillies trade local legend Utley for a "kinda maybe" prospect who ends up out of baseball in three seasons? Of course you won't.

Ultimately, then, the Phillies should hold this group together as long as possible, up to hours before the deadline if the circumstances dictate.

Not because the team they have is great (it's not) but because the haul they are in line to get in trade is even less valuable than a probably damned chase for the National League East crown—a division where 87 wins just might be enough.

Whether Utley and Young and Ruiz are traded or just not re-signed, their money comes off the books either way. It can (should) be spent on younger, better players in the offseason.

So unless a Castellanos, or a Mike Olt or a Jameson Taillon falls into the Phillies' lap, the wisest course is probably just to see this season through with the team they have.

Patience, like baseball, is supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.

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