Sell Here, Sell Now, Win Next Year?

Even the Phanatic is scouting minor league parks

If they hit, they don't pitch. If they pitch, they don't hit. If they do those things, they probably don't play defense. This is why the Phillies are 31-35 with 96 games to go, and nine games back of first, in last place. Everything's going wrong this year- bad play, bad luck, and injuries. Can the Phillies come back from it? Should they bust the team up? These are not easy questions to answer.

The Nationals are 38-24 with 100 games to go, meaning that a .500 record gets them 88 wins. If they continue at .600 pace, they win 98 games, and at .614, 99. That's pretty tough for the Phillies to catch any of in 96 games, though not impossible, yet. I would guess the Nats are heading for about 91-93 wins if they don't fall off the cliff that I keep expecting them to. Atlanta is at a more manageable 35-29, with 98 games to go. A .500 finish nets them 84 wins, continuing at .550 nets them 89 wins, and a .600 finish brings them 94 wins. My guess right now is the Braves come in with a 90-93 win total, and don't fall off a cliff. The Braves are on pace to win the second Wild-Card at the moment, so that kind of clearly shows where the Phillies are in terms of making the post-season. It's doable, it's just extremely hard. If Utley and Howard are both back around the All-Star break, don't go through a prolonged slump after their return, and Doc comes back as the "real Doc," and the other guys play well once they are all back, and either Dom Brown shows up or they make a big deal, it can happen. Honestly, some of that could not happen, and they could make a run at the Wild Card, but without all of that, how do they win in the post-season?

The Phillies have a bottom quarter minor league system in terms of depth of talent, which is to be expected after mega-deals for Pence, Oswalt, Halladay, and Lee, and other deals to bring in Joe Blanton and others over the course of their run. If you look through the system, the talent that can play in the future as a starting player is kind of low. Dom Brown should be playing this year, but he's currently shelved with something wrong with his leg/knee, that caused him to have an MRI yesterday. Tyson Gillies, who was playing well in center for the Reading Phillies and leading off, now has a concussion. Cesar Hernandez is having a strong .321/.355/.454/.810 campaign at second base in Reading. Sebastian Valle's hitting .246 though. Jiwan James is at .258. The point is that there's very little "can't miss" position talent in the upper levels right now. They also are heading into an off-season where Polanco (third) and Chooch (catcher) are in option-years, Victorino (center) is in his walk-year, left remains unfilled, and Utley (second) and Pence (right) are heading into their walk-years. There are less upper level talents than impending holes. The pitching situation isn't much better. Even if you pencil Kendrick into Blanton's spot next year, you have Hamels in walk-year, Kendrick and Halladay in it next year, and Lee heading into his mid-30's along with a young Worley as the only guys sticking around for certain. I like Trevor May, but a great year in Clearwater and up-and-down year in Reading aren't enough to pencil him in high in the rotation. While I'm a fan of Tyler Cloyd, Jon Pettibone, and Julio Rodriguez, none of them are sure bets, and could be anything from a Vance Worley level surprise to a guy who might hack it in the bullpen. Sure, there are other potential surprises in the farm system, like Cody Overbeck (corner infielder for the Iron Pigs) and Darin Ruf (first baseman in Reading), but not enough to change the overall outlook: there are more impending needs for this team than there are prospects to fill them with, or trade to fill them with.

What this means is that the Phillies will either have to rebuild, or spend a ton of money, whether that happens in 2012, or 2013 and beyond, to stay as a contending team for the future. Drafting high schoolers (as the Phillies did with their first three picks this year, and first two last year) with high ceilings, is never a bad thing, but it does little to change the current projections for your team. In other words, the only way for the Phillies to stock up on young talent that can play soon is to trade away big leaguers who have value to get that talent. That's not your whole team. While veterans like Juan Pierre may have some value in a trade, the bigger value is getting them off of your payroll. Players like Utley, Howard, and Halladay who are really good, but hurt, are not at full value, so trading them is dumb. Cliff Lee's deal is too big to move for max value this early. A guy like Jim Thome may get you a player back from an AL club. Honestly, if you want to get much back, you have three players who you would have any interest in trading, and could get anything for: Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, and Cole Hamels.

What is the value on these guys? Well, I think that a guy like Victorino, probably the most likely to move under the circumstances, would fetch about three decent prospects- either a top 50 guy and two guys that have a shot to make the league, with maybe a top 100 guy replacing one of them, or two top 100 guys and a guy who has a shot to make it. That's not too bad of a haul for a team that has two, maybe three guys depending on the publication, who were top 100 prospects before the 2012 season. Hunter Pence would be an even bigger haul though- if you trade him to a contender who knows they have him for the stretch run, and next year if they wish. He would definitely get a top 50, and probably multiple top 100's. I also think he'd return about four prospects on his investment total, or what you gave up to get him. Unlike Victorino, if a team traded for him and kept him next year, he'd get them supplemental picks if he left in free agency, so his value is considerably higher for non-baseball reasons too. The only real downside on him is the likely $15 million he'll fetch in arbitration. Most contenders would deal with it. If the Phillies really decide their dead and trade both of these two, they could dramatically alter their minor league system's outlook.

As for Cole? I'm pretty much against trading a 28 year old, top of the rotation lefty. In my view, you sign him, and sign him now. He and Worley are the only dependable things you have for three years down the line. If they traded him, he would obviously get a Pence-esque return, if not more. Pitchers like him are unavailable usually, and anyone contending would want him throwing for them in the post-season. The only way I'd trade him is if I were going to make a monster off-season offer to him, and thought he'd still take it. Oh yeah, and I'd actually have to believe we're eliminated too. In other words, don't.

The real questions are would trading one of these three make the season over, and where do the Phillies think they are at, come deadline time. I could see them, if they feel confident about winning it all, saying no moves are being made and going with it. The thing is, with Shane hitting .245, I do think they could move him, sub in Dom Brown (if he's healthy), and remain in as good of a position as they were before. Unless you think you're going to win the World Series, why wouldn't you move Shane in a deal for the haul mentioned above? He is a free agent after the season, after all, and he's over 30. As for Pence, that will only happen if they are way out of it. Even if they don't move him, I would have to say they will reconsider it in the off-season. With Andre Ethier's deal in place to set Pence's low-bar, the Phillies will decide to re-coup their prospect losses. As for Hamels, I'd not trade him, I'd pay him, but if he really is unattainable at the deadline, I guess I could see moving him. Honestly, if they don't feel really good about winning it all this y
ear (not just getting in, which I believe they could do minus any one of the three), I think they have to move one of these guys, and start to bring in guys that will be playing here, and well, in 2014 and 2015. I don't think this team is a rat-awful team like some, but I do think it's an aging one, and old teams continue to get hurt- so the Phillies need to start stocking up on the next group soon.