Perhaps no team in baseball is stuck in the middle more than the Philadelphia Phillies. The Fightin' Phils have plenty of high-quality veteran players, but they find themselves fading fast as their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. With that in mind, the Phillies have to decide whether they're buyers or sellers.
That decision could be a defining one in terms of where the franchise goes from here, as it is built to win now. If Philadelphia engages in a fire sale, though, it could enter into a rebuilding phase. Considering the high-quality players that they could deal, however, a rebuild may not take very long as some great youngsters would be coming back the other day.
Here is the latest buzz surrounding third baseman Michael Young, starting pitcher Cliff Lee and the Phillies' top bargaining chip as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.
After a disappointing 2012 season, the Phillies went out and made a deal that they believed would get them back to the playoffs, as they acquired Michael Young from the Texas Rangers. Young was a seven-time All-Star at multiple positions for the Rangers, and he helped them reach the World Series twice. The Phillies' front office hoped he could help do the same in Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, that seems highly unlikely at this point. The Phillies are nine games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East and 9.5 out in the wild card race, so they would need to make an improbable comeback. If Philly decides that it won't be able to make it happen, Young is a top trade candidate, as his contract expires at the end of the season. According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, there has been discussion about trading Young back to Texas.
Although the Rangers are more in the market for a right-handed hitting outfielder, they are very familiar with Young and could use him both at first base and designated hitter. The Phillies probably wouldn't get a ton out of the Rangers for him, since he is 36 years of age and his skills are eroding to some degree, but it would be better to get something for him than to let him leave via free agency.
It can be argued that starting pitcher Cliff Lee is now the biggest name on the market as the Phillies' current state could prompt them to entertain offers. According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, Lee was scratched from his start on Saturday due to neck stiffness. With the trade deadline just days away, it is certainly a suspicious move, as it feels like the Phillies are protecting their asset rather than making a routine decision.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. didn't elaborate on what type of interest there is in Lee, according to Crasnick, but he didn't rule out anyone on the roster. Crasnick listed a number of teams who could potentially make a run at Lee, including the Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lee has been one of the few bright spots for Philly this season, as he sports a 10-4 record with a 3.05 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. The southpaw doesn't appear to be far off from his 2008 Cy Young form, which is why so many contenders would love to get their hands on him. His showings in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs are still the stuff of legend, and there is no question that the Phillies could demand and receive a huge package of players and prospects for him.
Second baseman Chase Utley has been a fan favorite in Philadelphia since his debut in 2003, but his tenure could soon be coming to an end. Utley has really struggled with injuries for the past four seasons, and with his contract set to run out, it's possible that the Phillies won't want to invest in a 34-year-old player with a long injury history. Even so, Utley is discussing an extension with the Phillies currently, according to Jon Morosi of FOX Sports.
Utley's statement is quite telling, as he seems as uncertain as anyone about his status. When Utley has been on the field this season, he has produced to the tune of a .279 average with 13 home runs and 36 RBI. At his peak, Utley was putting up more than 30 home runs and 100 RBI per season. It is difficult to imagine him getting back to that level, but he is still one of the game's better power-hitting second basemen when healthy.
According to Morosi, the Oakland Athletics are a team to watch if the Phillies choose to move Utley. The A's aren't known for going after big-ticket players, but if they believe that they are close to competing for a World Series title, it would make sense to go out and get a rental at a position of need. Of all the players the Phillies could potentially trade, Utley may end up being the toughest decision. He has been a huge part of the team's success in recent years, but maybe it is time to move on.
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