The Phillies As Sellers

The Philadelphia Phillies aren’t accustomed to hovering around the .500 mark, let alone falling on the wrong side of it. Winners of five straight division titles, the team and its core members are used to playing solid baseball and firming up grasps on playoff berths. Throughout this recent run of success, the front office has used the trade deadline to bolster the roster, fix a glaring weakness, or just strengthen an area not previously considered an outright strength. All the while there was never substantial doubt that they would contend.

The situation may play out differently this season, as the Phillies are now 29-33, four games under .500, and eight games behind the first-place Washington Nationals.

While their struggles were somewhat predictable given the extended absences of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — which were known before the season — and the in-season injuries to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, Carlos Ruiz, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix, the fact remains that the team isn’t playing good baseball and doesn’t really seem primed to right the ship.

With a number of roster decisions on the horizon, their play of late has raised questions about when the team should legitimately consider selling off assets in an attempt to replenish a depleted farm system and regroup for next year. Seeing that they are eight games behind the Nationals and 6.5 games behind the second wild card team, that time may be fast approaching.

Obviously, the recoveries of injured stars plays a major role in that decision. If Halladay returns on or ahead of schedule and both Howard and Utley return over the next two weeks, the Phillies could still turn things around with enough time to make a strong push. In that situation, trading legitimate contributors is silly, as the Phillies could be far scarier in October, with everyone healthy, than they are right now.

But that scenario seems unlikely. Ruben Amaro, Jr. has intimated that Howard wouldn’t return in June, and there is still no true timetable for Utley either. There is also the matter that neither is guaranteed to contribute at a high level upon returning. Having them back in the lineup brings the potential for greater offense — they would replace Hector Luna, John Mayberry and Mike Fontenot — but they probably won’t double-handedly fix issues right away.

Halladay may seem like a machine, but his injury requires three or four weeks of rest before even testing the shoulder with throwing. The team was shorthanded entering the season and the situation has only worsened.

The season still isn’t even halfway done, so it’s still somewhat early, but the Phillies have a few attractive pieces that could extract decent returns from truer contenders, and a relatively poor farm system in need of replenishing. The team also has numerous talented players under contract next season and arguably the marquee pitching free agent for whom more money than originally anticipated may be required.

It’s possible that they could sell a player or two this year and get right back to contending next year with a healthier Halladay, Howard and Utley and a newly re-signed Hamels.

They could conceivably find a way to re-sign Cole Hamels without making any major moves, but it sure seems easier to find the money if Hunter Pence and his potential $13 million in 2013 is removed from the books. It also becomes easier if the team acknowledges that Shane Victorino won’t return. Both players could be viewed as missing pieces to playoff contenders that have far less value to a reeling Phillies team that continues to move further and further away from a playoff berth.

The Phillies don’t need to overreact and try to trade Halladay or Lee, who are under contract for a little while and are elite players, but if the situation continues to worsen the team needs to take a serious look at where it is and where its going and act accordingly. It’s already unlikely that Victorino returns next year, and while he isn’t easy to replace, valuable centerfielders don’t grow on trees and could bring back a decent haul.

The Phillies could go with a stopgap measure before finding a long-term solution and save money for Hamels in the process. The Phillies also have Dom Brown waiting in the wings, and a trade of Pence could open up everyday playing time for a player who really deserves an uninterrupted shot of big-league action.

There is also the elephant in the room — if the Phillies continue to fall out of the race and believe their chances of re-signing Hamels are slim, they may find it more prudent to move him now if the price is right.

It’s obviously difficult to see how the Phils would factor into free agent negotiations with the Dodgers and Yankees likely willing to pay a boatload for his services, but the Phillies have to weigh the likelihood of losing him and getting compensation picks against the likelihood of turning things around and contending this season.

If his return is unlikely, and the team doesn’t want to continue re-signing aging players like Victorino, the 2012 season might represent a last hurrah of sorts, where everyone needs to trust that, when healthy, the team will make a push.

The problem is that by waiting and taking that approach, the team might miss out on opportunities to help their future without much cost to their present. They aren’t at the point of no return yet, but are inching closer with each loss. Their play over the next three weeks could determine the future of the organization that, at the start of this run, had all the makings of being able to sustain long-term success.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


63 Responses to “The Phillies As Sellers”

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  1. Steve says:

    Pence to the Yankees makes some sense, maybe moreso if they win the Soler sweepstakes.

    Pence replaces Gardner this year, as it looks like he could be gone for a while, he replaces Swisher next year, and walks in 2014 if Soler is ready for the show.

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    • nik says:

      Pence to any contender makes a lot of sense.

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    • phoenix2042 says:

      People keep on saying that the Yankees will sign Cole Hamels. They will not. They have to slash payroll by 20mil in two years, so there is no way they ADD a 20mil player. Really, the teams to fear in free agency are the Dodgers and Nats (and the Jays if they decide the time is right for a push).

      I think it would be a bad move to resign Hamels when the rest of the team is falling apart. Full on rebuilding by trading Hamels, Pence, Victorino and Blanton (and Halladay if that somehow happens) could really shoot their farm system up the rankings.

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  2. nik says:

    I don’t think the Phillies will trade Hamels. That is not a move that can be justified to the fanbase which has helped the team to the highest payroll in the league.

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    • rarumberger says:

      That payroll, and the fan expectations that it leads to, are the Phillies’ biggest problem. They overextended, and now they’re stuck with an aging, overpaid, underperforming team with little to no help on the way from the farm system. Other teams are in the same position, like the Red Sox, but none have it as bad as the Phils.

      Their “phans” may not like it, but frankly Amaro needs to blow that team up and pick up as much young talent as he can lay his hands on for the few players he has left with any value. The worst thing he could do is sign Hamels to a big-money, long-term deal. That’s the kind of thinking that got them into this position. The only way he should be considering signing Hamels is if he can trade Lee or Halladay, but good luck finding a trading partner that a) has the prospects to make the deal, b) has the inclination to take on major contracts for aging aces with recent injury woes, and c) would inspire said aces to waive their no-trade clauses (partial, in Lee’s case).

      I would hope that genuine Phillies fans would understand the need for that type of action, but the “phans” are going to go ballistic if it happens.

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      • Psst says:

        Something tells me that the Cards have the pieces and will to take Doc, and I think he would waive his notrade to pitch with Carp. I don’t think they cough up Miller, Taveras or Wong but Jenkins, Martinez, Cox and the rest would probably be on the board

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      • LTG says:

        Halladay is extremely tradeable if he waives the no-trade. He might not even have his next year vest. He is a no commitment deadline ace.

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      • rarumberger says:

        The Cards haven’t sold off their entire farm to get where they are. I have no idea what shape it’s in, but I assume it’s in fair shape. And yeah, I agree that would be one place Doc would agree to go if they asked him. Texas might be another, if they’re willing to go all in Phillies-style right now (they remind me a lot of the 2008-2009 Phillies, actually, with their good-enough pitching and big-time lineup). But it would be a short list, and the teams he’d agree to go to would have to be willing to pay major prospects for him too.

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    • Bill says:

      This team is bad this year, but their rotation will still be very good next year and a return of Howard and Utley could make them a contender once more next year. Players like to play in Philly for some reason and the Phillies have shown no hesitation to pay their popular players exorbitant sums. So, perhaps they should trade Hamels in return for a prospect that could help next year and then resign Hamels in the off season. This is kind of what they did with Lee except Lee had a year left and they didn’t get any prospect for him. I don’t think this team is hopeless for next year just yet.

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  3. petrov says:

    They still lead the majors in xFIP and their offensive WRC+ is 95 which is about average. The xFIP is bound to rise if Kendrick replaces Halladay for too long, but it sure seems like they still can turn it around! (Plus they still have Joey B)

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  4. Richie says:

    How much of a return do you typically get for players in their contract year? All that much more value than the compensation picks?

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    • nik says:

      Could be a lot if its a good player. Look at what the Mets got for Beltran.

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      • TKDC says:

        Beltran had a “you can’t offer arb.” clause, too, though I think most observers at the time thought the Giants overpaid.

        But honestly, isn’t this all premature? The difference in what they could get now and what they could get at the end of July can’t be that much – I sure hope they just quit, but I doubt they will.

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    • everdiso says:

      definitely more valuable than the comp picks. isnt there something in the new cba that says you cant make a qualifying offer for a trade deadline pickup in his contract year?

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  5. Martin says:

    In regards to compensation picks, don’t forget the new system started this year with the draft pool $$$. First ten rounds have hard slots. If they have a low pool amount, having multiple compensatory picks will not be as advantageous as in the past. Many teams this year used alot of their top ten picks on college seniors so they could load up on the pick they really needed to get signed. I would not Hamels walk with the anticipation of getting a return with compensatory picks.
    He needs to be signed. I would rather trade an aging and declining Halladay than let Hamels go.
    The biggest mistake this team and Amaro made was locking up Howard too early and too long past his prime. Should have let him play out the arbitration years and made a run at Fielder this past off-season. Utley is completely finished too. He missed 1st half of last year, plays ok coming back, has an entire off-season to rest up, but still needs the 1st of this season to recover. AND they still don’t know what exactly is wrong with his knees. And he’s another guy declining and heading to his mid-30s. It was a great run while it lasted….

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  6. LTG says:

    Also appropriate titles:

    The Phillies are Cellars
    The Phillies are Sellars (as in Peter, the best Clouseau)
    The Phillies are Sellars (as in Wilfrid, a hodgepodge philosopher whose renown doesn’t match the talent)

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  7. LTG says:

    They know exactly what is wrong with his knees. Chondromalacia: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chondromalacia-patella/DS00777

    Utley claims the knee that bothered him last year felt great but the other knee is the problem. He is optimistic that the physical therapy will allow him to regain his strength in his swing. And he was still worth 3.9 fWAR in 103 games last year (7th in MLB). That’s over 5 pro-rated. The evidence so far indicates Utley has something left in the tank, even if he is hampered a bit. Just so long as he can stay in the lineup…

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  8. Hurtlockertwo says:

    “The Philadelphia Phillies aren’t accustomed to hovering around the .500 mark, let alone falling on the wrong side of it.” I know we are talking about the here and now, but the Phillies have stunk up the league for many, many years before the latest resurgence. I suspect the Phillies should be manuvering to not go back to those “bad old” days. Utley wil never be the same, Howard is obviously much worse off than the Phillies let on, Hallady isn’t getting any younger. Actually keeping Hammels may be a good move for the future?

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  9. everdiso says:

    Hamels to the Jays for Hutchinson, Lind, and Gose. AA will fleece RAJ, book it.

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    • LTG says:

      I’d like to think RAJ will only accept D’Arnaud plus an assortment of others, but the Cliff Lee trade makes me nervous. Anyway, he should be shipping Halladay back and trying to keep Hamels.

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      • jpd says:

        The phillies aren’t going to take D’Arnaud back. they sent him to the jays for Halladay.

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      • LTG says:

        Why does that mean they won’t take him back? There were rumors in the offseason that RAJ wanted to trade for D’Arnaud. But even if that weren’t the case I have no idea how the bare fact that a team trades away a player indicates that that team wouldn’t take that player back in another trade. I can’t even offer an argument because the thought seems so obviously false that I can’t come up with what makes you think it is true such that I could show why that possibility is not actual. Did you have more support for your position than the well-known fact that the Phillies traded D’Arnaud to the Blue Jays for Halladay?

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  10. Checkmate says:

    LTG, 3.9 fWAR was not 7th in MLB last year.

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  11. LTG says:

    It was among 2B. Sorry for the underspecification.

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  12. iorggarth says:

    Even if the Phillies are selling this season they have to view next season as probably their last chance to win with this group of players and go all out. Utley’s contract ends next year, Halladay only has an option for ’14, Rollins’ ends in ’14, and they will be paying Howard and Lee $25 million per well into their twilight years. They also spent $50 million on a closer. Victorino and Hamels will require long-term contracts to be brought back and I don’t imagine they will be able to find the $130 million + that Hamels will command in free agency. But Pence can be brought back on a 1-year arbitration contract and I don’t see how they can turn down a 4-win outfielder for a team that should clearly be in now-or-never, well next-year-or-never, mode.

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    • bstar says:

      Yeah, agree with this sentiment. The time is definitely not now to blow up this team. It might be this time next year, or maybe 2014, but not now. Utley is officially on the way back now, Halladay will be back after the All-Star break, and they’re only 6.5 games behind for the wild card. One nice stretch of 9-1 or 10-1 and they’re back in the playoff hunt.

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  13. tylersnotes says:

    which makes more sense: trusting the current front office to ‘rebuild’ a system they worked so hard to completely dismantle over the past 5 years, or trusting them to go all-in for this year with a surprisingly smart trade at the deadline and make a run for it in the here and now?

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    • Bill says:

      They have no decent trade chips left. Amaro has not shown an ability to get players cheaply in trades. He overpaid for Blanton. He overpaid for Pence. I really don’t see him make a trade to turn the tide. I like the idea of trading Hamels then re-upping him next season.

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      • Spoilt Victorian Child says:

        Gillick overpaid for Blanton.

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      • Richard says:

        The trade for Blanton (which, incidentally, was not made by Amaro) was an overpay?

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      • LTG says:

        I’m with Richard on this. In hindsight Blanton is the best player in that deal and has produced the most value so far and possibly in the final analysis as well. And at the time, no one in the organization was that high on Outman. The other pieces were not much of anything at all.

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  14. Robbie G. says:

    I’d like to see folks stop talking about an imminent return to form by Chase Utley. I will be surprised if he is ever able to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

    The Phillies would be well-advised to aggressively shop all of the following:

    Roy Halladay
    Cliff Lee
    Cole Hamels
    Joe Blanton
    Jonathan Papelbon
    Jimmy Rollins
    Placido Polanco
    Carlos Ruiz
    Hunter Pence
    Shane Victorino
    Ty Wigginton
    Jim Thome
    Chad Qualls
    Juan Pierre
    Brian Schneider
    Jose Contreras
    Kyle Kendrick

    They won’t find a taker for Ryan Howard, probably not for Chase Utley, either. May as well hold on to John Mayberry, Jr., as well, as he played well down the stretch last season and may turn out to be this team’s starting CF in 2013 and beyond.

    Having said all of that, I don’t think that Ruben Amaro, Jr. has it in him, and you have to think that the Phillies will likely be close enough to a playoff spot in a NL in transition (i.e., a league that doesn’t have a very large number of teams that look like sure-fire 90+ win teams in 2012) in mid- to late July that the organization will wind up talking themselves into standing pat. If the Phillies are 8+ games behind in the wild card race by mid-July, it will be interesting to see what happens here, no question.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      Oh, and they probably won’t find a taker for Jimmy Rollins at his price, either, so he’s probably going to still be around if/when the roster gets blown up within the next several weeks.

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    • Richard says:

      Naturally, Utley’s rehab assignment begins tomorrow.

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    • LTG says:

      Who is saying anything about a ‘return to form’? No one thinks Utley will be a 7-8 fWAR player again. But the last two years he’s been a pro-rated 5 fWAR player despite the aches and pains. If you would bother reading the details of his situation, the evidence points to him returning to the field for a little more than half of this season, and then probably being able to play about 130 games a year for the next few years. But don’t let evidence stand in the way of your opinions.

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  15. bflaff says:

    Hathos.

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  16. Andrew says:

    Might I remind the Fangraphs crowd here that at the start of the Phillies run, 2007, they were ranked 27th in the Fangraphs Organization Rankings. For the story to now be that they somehow underachieved that promise of “sustain[ed] long-term success” by only winning the division the next four years, while going to the World Series twice (winning once) and posting the best record in baseball in the two other seasons, is revisionist history.

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    • LTG says:

      The model for sustained long-term success is what they Yankees have done since the mid 90s, or the Braves since the early 90s. 5 good years followed by a return to the dark ages would qualify as failing to achieve sustained long-term success. 5 years isn’t even as long as the last good era of Phillies baseball (’76-’83).

      Granted we don’t know the future. Perhaps this year will be like ’79 all over. But the state of the current team as well as the farm system don’t portend great things.

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  17. Antonio Bananas says:

    I think the only option they have of anything other than a slow and painful death is to sell off pieces.

    Hamels is either going to stay for something like 6/100, which would be stupid to pay a pitcher that much as old as he is (not that he’s old, just relative to the production/age curve). So either way they’re screwed there.

    Victorino is essentially the same way.

    This whole “if Howard and Utley bounce back next year” stuff has been going on for a couple of years now. Pretty obvious it isn’t going to happen.

    Plus Halladay, as awesome as he’s been, IS a human being and will break down. Lee isn’t a spring chicken either.

    So basically none of what they have is sustainable. Not even their fanbase. They only started selling out after their good years. Then winning a WS, big free agent signings, you know, stuff that always boosts attendance, kept it up. I really doubt it stays up once it’s obvious the glory days of this current group is over. So then what? You’re stuck with several big contracts on aging players.

    Ruben Amaro isn’t very smart though, so he’ll probably cling on and maybe even do something stupid like sign Hamels to 6/120. All the guy has done is make free agent signings with their new found treasure chest that winning the WS got them.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Or trade Brown and what’s left of the rest of the farm for Garza or Dempster.

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    • hk says:

      Antonio,

      I think that you underestimate the Phillies ability to draw. They pretty consistently drew ~2M fans per season to see some wretched teams in a breaking down, decrepit, horrible environment of a multi-purpose stadium from the mid-1980’s to the mid-1990’s. With the new stadium, they may not continue their sell out streak if the team falls apart and is brutal for a period of time, but it would be surprising if they ever draw less than 30K per game. At that pace, they’ll be able to continue to have a high payroll. If only they had a GM who knew how to generally manage a roster.

      By the way, I’d be stunned if Hamels signs during the season for anything less than the $127.5M for 6 years that Matt Cain got. I’d also be stunned if Amaro extends him because he is on record as stating something to the effect of not thinking that Hamels is worthy of that kind of money.

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  18. Joe says:

    I am a Phillies fan, which implies that I have better insight than all of you on what the Phillies should do. Obviously.

    Big questions remain about Utley and Howard’s effectiveness when they do come back (they have both been declining). Personally, I’d like to see the Phillies move Shane Victorino to make room for Dom Brown. Though of course Pence’s contract is up.

    I’d also like to see Hamels go (dangle him in front of the Dodgers). The reason is that we have Halladay and Lee primed for next year and have a decent group behind him in Vance Worley and Kyle Kendrick (when he starts). I think we got spoiled with pitching the last few years, when really Halladay and Lee is more than enough.

    Our farm system is defunct. It’s time to put some pieces back into it since we have a team that is aging all at the same time. Amaro gutted the farm system and now we are reaping what we have sown.

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    • LTG says:

      I’m confused. Do you think no one else commenting here is a Phillies fan? Do you think all other Phillies fans are Luddites who haven’t discovered the internet yet?

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  19. Joe says:

    I’ll add that I stuck with them through the terrible years, had a nice bright spot in 1993, and then settled in until 2007. They did it with an amazing farm system and Pat Gilick.

    And also, though I feel endless despair now, Gilick/Amaro did build a one of a kind team that gave us a lot of success. It was a good run.

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  20. Jeremy says:

    Another Phils fan. I think Ruben will give it until the ASB and see if we are within striking distance before becoming a seller. I think he’d be foolish to try to acquire any pieces and bury the team any further in an attempt to go all in. We should roll with what we’ve got.

    If he becomes a seller, Hamels and Vic will likely be on their way out. I’d like to see Hamels continue as a Phillie, but I don’t want to sign him to a 6 or 7 year deal. Maybe we can get someone in the AL to take Utley to DH if we eat some of his salary and he comes back and shows he can still hit. Someone mentioned Halladay to the Rangers or Cardinals. That could happen, but we’ll see.

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  21. Kyle says:

    Amaro doesn’t have the balls to trade Hamels, let alone the smarts to pull in a half-worthy return for him. Any non-oblivious Phillies fan knows that he’s as dumb as a toilet seat. They should just trade Victorino and Polanco now because, even though it’d be bad for their PR, Victorino is going to walk and teams are going to realize how bad Polanco sucks anymore.

    Trading Pence would be a good move, but even worse for their PR, and also unfeasible because he’s their only power bat that doesn’t need a stool to field ground balls.

    Put Utley in left field, Domonic Brown in right, Ronny Cedeno — I mean Freddy Galvis — at second, and look for long-term solutions for center field and third base. Despite their idiotic payroll management, injuries, and managerial incompetence, they’re still a good team, and can still make the playoffs especially now that there are 2 wild card spots. All you have to do is make it to October — just ask the Cardinals.

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  22. cpebbles says:

    I’m shocked there isn’t more of an impetus to dump Amaro before beginning any retooling project. Yeah, the Phillies have been successful in the Amaro era (Which is what happens when you step into a team loaded with young talent that is poised to add $100 million in payroll), but a list of his moves is two of the top half-dozen pitchers on the planet (One of whom he’d already stupidly traded for an inadequate return) maneuvering their way to Philadelphia and a whole bunch of “What was he thinking?”

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    • LTG says:

      Impetus from whom? Fans have impetus but no means for discharge. The ownership has the means without the impetus. But that is no surprise, since the Phillies ownership tends to stick to its good ole boy ways. RAJ graduated from Stanford. He must know what he’s doing, right? And he has a long history with the club, so it will really matter to him that we succeed, right? And if it matters, he’ll be even better at his job, right?

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  23. Ken Bland says:

    Seems a fairly clear distinction between Eric’s article, and a good many of the comments. I believe Eric takes a poised approach, eliminating many possibilities, and not panicing by simplifying it to moving Pence and Vic. The depth of movable roster pieces, the history of the club and it’s losing years seems at least a little overreactive. John Quinn, Paul Owens are pretty irrelavant to now.

    Hell if I have solutions to this mess that are at least clear, but I liked that what I thought was non overreaction in the article itself.

    I believe it was hk who projected the Phils’ll draw 30K even if they aren’t what they have been. I won’t offer an opinion on that, but rather wonder how the Indians thought they’d draw while they were selling out 455 in a row, after the lovin, and now find themselves last in attendance this year. I think Boston could be counted on to keep drawing high numbers when their sellout streak ends, and if they become less competitive, Philly, I’d be less confident of. This is significant in budgeting payroll and scouting, and make this lousy situation worse.

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    • hk says:

      I can’t speak to Cleveland’s attendance history of supporting the Indians and I’m too lazy to look it up. I can tell you that, during the 8 year stretch from 1995 through 2002, the Phillies averaged 24,168 fans per game to the dump known as Veterans Stadium to see a team that finished 6th out of 6 three times, 5th once, 4th twice, 3rd once and 2nd (21.5 games out of 1st) once. I used this 8 year period because I didn’t want to include 1994 (a year following a World Series appearance) or 2003 (a year in which the team made the World Series).

      Does this past history ensure that they would draw 2M to 2.5M fans in a prolonged stretch of bad baseball? Of course not. However, the point of my original post was to counter the narrative that Phillies fans only support a winner.

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      • Richard says:

        I’m confused. You obviously know the Phillies didn’t make the World Series in 2003, but I can’t figure out what you meant to say instead.

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  24. Ben says:

    I wrote about this about 2 weeks ago when Halladay was definitively on the DL. Hamels could garner something decent for a farm system in need of rebuilding. Pence is a gimme, especially with Brown in the minors. Victorino is a fan favorite and I don’t know what you could get for him, but as the trade deadline approaches his value could rise. http://summerpastime.blogspot.com/2012/05/ailing-arms.html

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  25. ken says:

    what a wonderful idea to sell the team, i always wanted to go back to the glory days of finishing last every year 25 games back. since when has dom brown batted and fielded like a pro? pence is the only player contributing offensively along with chooch, utley with his knees will probably retire or go dh somewhere and howard’s is most notorius as the strike out king.

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  26. Blase says:

    Dom Brown is now playing CF and had a really really good week last week. If it continues and they either trade Victorino or let him walk the assumption would be that Brown/Mayberry would take over. Mayberry is a VASTLY underrated fielder, even though his ceiling as a pro is 4th OF. With the money saved from letting Vic walk + Blanton’s contract ending they should have the money to offer Hamels 20+ million a year. They’re already stuck with Halladay, Lee, and Howard long term so they can’t rebuild.

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