One of baseball's hottest commodities was taken off the trade market yesterday afternoon, as the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets hooked up on a trade, sending All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran west for a top pitching prospect—Zack Wheeler—whom Baseball America ranked as the 35th-best prospect in the game (17th-best pitching prospect) for its annual midseason prospect rankings.
Beltran, of course, was a target of the Philadelphia Phillies for weeks, but as time passed, it became more evident the Phils would not part with any of their top prospects, including Domonic Brown, Jonathon Singleton and Jarred Cosart, for a few months of the former Met's time.
As negotiations went on and consequently subsided, it became clear the NL East rivals were not going to match up for a trade, and Sandy Alderson, GM of the Mets, took his business elsewhere.
I'm sure by now you're saying, "That's fine. There are plenty of bats left on the market. We'll make a deal for a different right-handed hitting outfielder."
Not so fast.
A couple of different outfielders went off the board yesterday,—or at least were rumored to have gone off the board—and that isn't including the left-handed Colby Rasmus, who was sent packing by the St. Louis Cardinals.
After Beltran, the Phillies' top target became Hunter Pence of the Houston Astros, and it seems apparent now more than ever that the Phils won't be landing the Astros' best player.
After Jayson Stark of ESPN broke the news that the Phillies had offered the Astros two different deals—a package centered around outfielder Brown, and a different package centered around top prospects Singleton and Cosart—and were rejected on both occasions, it became clear a deal was not going to get done. In fact, as Jon Heyman of SI.com pointed out on Twitter, turning down those offers was the straw that broke the camel's back. The Phillies would essentially give up on Pence after that.
So if you're counting, those are two different outfielders the Phillies were unwilling to pay the price for, and their options are dwindling even further.
Over the last few days, Carlos Quentin of the Chicago White Sox has emerged as a Phillies favorite, but with the Sox just 3.5 games out of first place entering play on Thursday, he's likely staying in Chicago, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported via Twitter.
With two top targets likely staying put and a third traded to a playoff contender, Ruben Amaro Jr. has come up empty-handed three times in his search for an outfield bat, leaving fans wondering what options remain.
Well, they aren't the most enamoring of players.
If you're looking for a guy who is going to step in and be a difference-maker against left-handed pitching, I suggest you look away quickly when Willingham's name comes up in rumors.
As I wrote about here, though he's right-handed, Willingham has struggled against lefties this season, and even a recent hot streak leaves his numbers looking rather bland.
On the other hand, if the Phillies are willing to make a smaller scale move, they could match up with the Padres on a deal for Ludwick, though his bat wouldn't be a difference-maker, but more of a different option.
Of course, he could be packaged with one of those potent bullpen pieces—Heath Bell or Mike Adams—in a deal that would certainly make a difference, as I wrote about here.
But what if the Phillies aren't able to make any moves? What if Amaro decides this trade market isn't rich enough to enhance the club and decides to hold on to his top prospects? Are the Phils still in a situation to win? Is a World Series still within their grasp?
If you ask me, the Phillies will be getting better within the next couple of weeks, and it has nothing to do with the trade deadline.
In fact, all this team has to do to get better is be patient. Without moving a single prospect, they'll be getting a couple All-Stars back on the 25-man roster, and their impact could pay dividends down the stretch run.
The first of those players is right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt, who rehabbed with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last night, and by all reports, looked great. Feeling fully healthy for the first time since April, Oswalt threw 72 pitches Wednesday evening, striking out four while walking two, and allowing just one run,—a towering home run on a hanging change-up—which is understandable given the fact that he hasn't pitched in more than five weeks.
His fastball velocity hovered in the upper-80's to low-90's, but most importantly, he was adamant about not having any pain in his back as a result of not one, but two bulging discs. Though Oswalt admitted he'll likely need another rehab start before he rejoins the Phillies' rotation, all indications are that the Phillies' will be getting a healthy Oswalt as soon as Aug. 6.
By proxy, the Phils will also be getting a slight upgrade in the bullpen, adding Kyle Kendrick to the mix. While I'm not exactly his biggest supporter, I'm actually a fan of Kendrick the reliever. If he's only going to be getting one turn through the opposing lineup, he is a solid option, especially against tough right-handed hitters.
The biggest addition will be that right-handed bat the Phillies have so coveted, as Placido Polanco will also rehab with the IronPigs this weekend, and if all goes according to plan, return to the starting lineup in time for the Phils' West Coast trip.
Polanco, who is also battling a bulging disc in his back, could pay dividends from the right side of the plate if he is healthy. Back in April, when his back wasn't bothering him at all—as he claims is the case now—he was the heartbeat of the Phils' offense, posting an OPS of .972. While he won't provide much power from the right side of the plate, he'll provide some consistency—something else the Phillies desperately need—and reduce the urgency of acquiring a top right-handed slugger.
So even if the Phillies aren't able to land anyone at the trade deadline, we can rest assured knowing Oswalt and Polanco are on their way back to the 25-man roster. Both should have an immediate impact on the stretch run, and any player who is acquired as reinforcement is just gravy.
However, it is well worth noting that the trade deadline is a very fluid subject.
As I'm writing this article, there are numerous reports that a Hunter Pence trade is not out of the question with the Phillies still involved, and the White Sox would more than certainly move Carlos Quentin in the right deal.
So let's just say this—the Phillies are in a position where they do not have to make a deal to overpay for another team's slugging outfielder or bullpen piece, when in all reality they can get better over time.
However, keeping Domonic Brown and adding another right-handed power bat to the lineup would certainly make them a World Series favorite and perhaps an unstoppable force.
With just three days remaining until the trade deadline, things are about to get crazy.