How we got here:
Whether through karmic adjustment, or inevitability due to reliance on a relatively old roster whose full-time core has played nearly every game for the past three and a half season, the Phillies
have fallen victim to a rash of injuries and offensive ineffectiveness that is threatening to derail their attempts at securing a fourth straight postseason appearance and third consecutive National League pennant.
The worst and most devastating injury struck superstar second baseman Chase Utley
, who tore a ligament in his right thumb sliding into second base. Utley underwent surgery, and the most optimistic estimates peg his return in late August. The Phillies are likely to struggle as much as any team missing its best player is likely to. Which is plenty.
Seller? Buyer? Both?
Ask me next week. With the Phillies trailing first place Atlanta and second place New York at the time of this writing, the team needs to hope they can hang in until Utley, third baseman Placido Polanco
, and pitchers J.A. Happ
can return. Their "buyer" or "seller" status is likely to be determined by their play between now and approximately one week after the All-Star Break. If they drop much more than six or seven games behind the division leader, I suspect it'll be more "sell" than "buy."
If a buyer, what holes to fill? Who's available to trade?
Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has gone on the record to the effect that the team is looking for starting pitching first and foremost. While erstwhile Phillie Cliff Lee
remains the darling of the masses, the price for Lee from Seattle will probably be too rich for the Phillies blood, and would likely require baseball's consensus top prospect Domonic Brown
. Arizona's Dan Haren
has been bandied about, and his below market contract signed through 2012 makes him an appealing option for a team looking to control costs, and would make the loss of Brown easier to stomach.
The team should bring in a 3B/2B type to fill in for the injured Polanco and Utley, and to spell them here and there if and when they return. Ty Wigginton
and Miguel Tejada
from Baltimore, and Kelly Johnson from Arizona, are likely targets.
Although the upper levels of the farm were mostly emptied with the Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay
deals, the Phillies have a number of intriguing prospects at the lower levels, including pitchers Jarred Cosart, Brody Colvin, and Trevor May, and outfielders Anthony Gose and Jiwan James.
If a seller, where are the needs? Who are you looking to shed?
Right fielder Jayson Werth, due to become a free agent after 2010, is the obvious piece out of the starting eight. With the emergence of Domonic Brown, the team needs to move one of its outfielders to make room. A more creative solution -- trading Shane Victorino
, re-signing Werth and shifting him to center field -- seems unlikely. Werth could prove valuable to a team seeking a right-handed bat with pop, with the defensive ability to play all the outfield positions at an above-average level.Jose Contreras
, reborn as a set-up man, could fetch a prospect from a team looking to bolster its bullpen down the stretch.
The Phillies' biggest need is youth -- Victorino is the team's only regular under the age of 30. A quality utility infielder, who can play a few times a week and allow the aging Utley, Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins
, would be a useful contributor.