The Philadelphia Phillies rebuild, it would appear, is on.
Following a lengthy stretch of success during which they won five straight National League East division crowns and the 2008 World Series title, the Phillies have stumbled the past two seasons, falling to .500 in 2012 and 73-89 last year—their worst mark since 2000.
With many of their key core players from that period now well into their 30s, like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, or dealing with injury issues, like Ryan Howard, the Phillies are a franchise that, in the past year, has gone from teetering on the brink of needing a rebuild to becoming unquestionably desperate for one.
And so general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is looking to cash in his trade chips.
Just a few days after reminding everyone that highly paid closer Jonathan Papelbon remains available, the Phillies have made it known that they they are also ready and willing to talk about trading one—or both—of their ace left-handers, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.
There's reason to wonder whether this approach will stick, though, seeing as how Amaro told Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, "Our goal is to add, not to subtract." There's also the fact that Philadelphia re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz and brought in outfielder Marlon Byrd already this offseason.
At the same time, though, there are reports that indicate even young outfielder Domonic Brown might be on the block, as Zolecki noted. While Papelbon doesn't have much trade value at all—$26 million guaranteed through 2015 for a one-inning pitcher will do that—Lee and Hamels fall on the other end of the spectrum.
As two legitimate No. 1 starters who have continued to perform at or near that level for the past several seasons, either of the two southpaws should be able to net Philadelphia the kind of return the team needs. Should Amaro Jr. decide, once and for all, to go that route.
Speaking of needs, the Phillies could use a few things.
Like an impact infielder at either shortstop or third base, where Rollins is getting old and 2013 rookie Cody Asche remains unproven.
Or an upgrade in the outfield, particularly in center, where Ben Revere is more of a fringy starter who could fit better as a backup.
Or bullpen arms with upside to help address the late innings, whether Papelbon stays around as the closer or not.
Or rotation depth, as Lee, Hamels and righty Kyle Kendrick are the only locks for the 2014 five-man at the moment.
Most of all, though, Philadelphia needs youth, depth and cheaper contracts, especially since so much money is tied up in Howard, Papelbon, Lee and Hamels, among others.
That's one of the factors to consider in valuing Lee and Hamels on the trade market. For Lee, we're talking about a 35-year-old who is guaranteed $62.5 million through 2015, along with a $27.5 million club option for 2016. Hamels, meanwhile, is a soon-to-be 30-year-old with at least $118.5 million coming his way through 2018, plus a $20 million club option for 2019. In other words, any inquiring team likely will be a contender that can fit an extra $22-25 million into its budget for the next few years.
While those prices might seem a bit overwhelming, both Lee and Hamels still would be highly sought after given their sustained production and durability. For teams who have been honing in on other top starters who are rumored trade targets, like David Price, Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija, as well as free agents like Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza, the chance to land a Lee or a Hamels adds a couple more names to a growing list of appealing arms.
Here, then, is a rundown of the teams that could match up well with the Phillies in a trade for one of their two front-liners.