With Phillies' Owners Willing to Pay Luxury Tax, Are We Thinking Big Enough?

Greg PintoCorrespondent IJuly 26, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 19:  Closer Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals in action during the game against the Chicago White Sox on July 19, 2011 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

By now, I am just as tired as the same old re-hashed trade rumors as you are. We've been hearing for weeks upon weeks that the Philadelphia Phillies are interested in Carlos Beltran, and that the New York Mets expect a king's ransom to move the top slugger on the market. We've heard that the Phils' top target is Hunter Pence, but that the Houston Astros aren't willing to move the face of their franchise.

There have been several developments, and even more dead ends, and now just six days away from the non-waiver trade deadline, we know just as little as we did when all of the rumors began. By some accounts, the Phillies are unwilling to move top prospects Domonic Brown and Jarred Cosart in a deal, and by others, they wouldn't blink twice about saying goodbye to the latter.

National baseball writers have speculated on the Phillies' willingness to center any deal for a player around surprising starting pitcher Vance Worley, but have been shot down just as quickly by their peers, stating that the "Vanimal" is likely to remain in Philadelphia, pointing to the organization's lack of starting pitching depth and a pair of quality starters shelved on the disabled list, at least until Roy Oswalt returns, tentatively in early August.

Then of course, there has been speculation that the Phillies wouldn't mind trading top positional prospect, Jonathan Singleton—but only in the right deal. What does that mean? They won't be giving up one of their favorite minor league sluggers for a little more than two months of Carlos Beltran, and unless they're getting a player still under team control, it is growing more and more unlikely that they make a major splash at all, and what we easily forget is that they could stand pat and realistically upgrade this team by simply getting top talents like Oswalt and Placido Polanco healthy.

So what does that all mean? It's hard to believe anything in the baseball world at this time of the year, especially in regards to the Phillies, who have one of the most coy general managers in the baseball world. As far as I'm concerned, there is little information worth writing about right now, with the trade deadline looming, and the Phils are just as likely to acquire Melky Cabrera as they are Carlos Beltran.

Without some level of certainty, I'm not even going to speculate on which prospects are "available," because by now, we should all know that the availability of a prospect is not written in cement. Without naming names, there are a few players out there that Ruben Amaro would saw his own arm off for, and to think he wouldn't part with a prospect is borderline lunacy.

So with this year's trade deadline in particular, it has been extremely hard to predict possible destinations for the top targets on the market, simply because there are few teams who are willing to absorb salary and trade top prospects, and more teams that are still within the realm of contending to this day.

To make matters even more confusing, news leaked today that the Phillies would be willing to go over the luxury tax threshold, in the right situation, if it meant improving their chances at a World Series. Of course, before today, the word had been that the Phils would in no way, shape or form surpass the luxury limit, insisting that the pieces for a championship run were in place.

Matt Gelb and Bob Brookover of Philly.com reported some comments today from team president David Montgomery, who for the first time, spoke to the public about what the luxury tax meant to the Phillies. After all, not a single National League team has even come close to being taxed for surpassing the limit since it's installation in 2003.

"We do whatever it takes," Montgomery told Gelb and Brookover. "If there's an opportunity, we'll make adjustments." While he didn't go into great detail about the luxury tax, the two reporters made sure they questioned him about it, and his response was much less secretive than normal at this time of year: "If an opportunity presents itself, we will reconsider."

This of course, is a much different stance than the whole "we're pushed against the luxury tax and don't have much money to make a move" stance that has been taken all season long. A willingness to go over the luxury tax changes everything, and when it comes to Amaro, we may not be thinking big enough.

Of course, if the Phillies are willing to take on some salary, a few things become obvious. With the Mets insisting that they pay all of Beltran's salary for a better prospect, the Phils gain some leverage by refusing to deal Brown and Cosart, instead putting Singleton back onto the table. It also puts them in a position to sneak back into the hunt for richer targets, like Michael Cuddyer of the Minnesota Twins, though, the Twins are not actively shopping him.

I view this new financial stance as a more direct statement: 'Our top target is Hunter Pence, and we're more than willing to stretch the payroll a bit to get his bat into the lineup." However, with new ownership set to take over within the coming months, the Astros aren't very willing to deal the player they've dubbed as the "face of the franchise."

So, even if the Phillies are willing to go over the luxury tax, what exactly are they thinking? In recent days, they've been linked to Heath Bell, who just notched a save against them on Monday. Having relied on young arms like Mike Stutes and Antonio Bastardo throughout the first half, a veteran presence out in the bullpen may be a top priority, even with Brad Lidge back in action.

But what if the Phils are willing to do something a little unorthodox to help themselves out? As ESPN's Jayson Stark notes in this piece, the Phillies appear to have checked in on Kansas City Royals' closer Joakim Soria. Owner of a partial no-trade clause, the Phillies appear on Soria's list as a negotiating ploy to construct a wealthier deal for a contending team. With a little financial flexibility, the Phils may now be willing to make that move.

Now, with a little flexibility, maybe the Phillies do not have to limit themselves to upgrading the bullpen or lineup in a 'one or the other' type situation, but can go out and get some help in both areas. With a plethora of right handed relief help available, now the Phils are in a position to go out and get a solid reliever and a solid right handed bat for the lineup.

One thing is clear, in my mind. With news that the Phillies are willing to go over the luxury tax threshold, the trade deadline is more unclear than ever. Whether Amaro pulls off a long rumored deal for a bat like Beltran, a mildly surprising deal for a closer-type like Bell, or something completely out of left field, like a deal for Soria (or now, maybe some combination of any of those three scenarios), make sure you strap in.

The trade deadline is about to take us on one crazy ride.