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Would the Phillies trade Cliff Lee before 2012?

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Recently, I wrote a column focusing on the undeserving adoration Chase Utley gets in Philly.  In the article, I mentioned how Utley is no longer a great player and I would have traded him two years ago.  But because I haven’t been turning phrases in a public forum very long, I realize that reads like hindsight.  

Fair enough. How is this for forethought?  The Philadelphia Phillies should trade Cliff Lee for a quality position player (or two) before the 2012 season begins. Cliff Lee photo: AP/Gay

Sounds crazy, right?  But stay with me. See, I agree with Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey- the man most responsible for signing Jackie Robinson in 1945.

Rickey once said, “It’s better to trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”  It’s an axiom many sports fans and media find difficult to comprehend, but it’s one I wholeheartedly subscribe to.  

Now back to Lee. He’s 33 and has logged over 200 innings in six of his last seven regular seasons in addition to the extra 82 over the past three postseasons. And now that a certain pharmaceutical element is slowly being eradicated from the game, Lee is passed his prime. Never mind the fact he gave up a four-run lead in Game Two of the NLDS.  That game, more than any other, should haunt Phillies fans for decades.  

Consequently, the Fightins have a real opportunity here. They have a movable piece, and based on what we saw against the Cardinals, holes almost everywhere in the starting lineup. One could even argue every position on the infield needs an upgrade. And unless you think John Mayberry or Domonic Brown will produce a .280 AVG., 20 HR, 80 RBI kind of season, they need a left fielder, too.  

General Manager Ruben Amaro should know he has an overabundance of starting pitching.  And while that is fundamentally a nice thing to have, the best teams are far more balanced.  

The time is right for bravado. This is where an executive proves his mettle while Jonathan Palpabon type signings are easy, safe decisions for any GM with a large payroll.Jonathan Papelbon be the last guy on the mound in 2012? Photo:thesportsbrewery.com

Certainly, the latest results support my stance as the Phillies have had the deepest rotation in baseball the last two years but haven’t even been able to win the National League pennant.  

The odds a team will get three or four pitching gems in a series are slim. Teams must hit some and play the game the right way to advance. And it’s in those two areas where the Phillies continually fail.  In my view, they play the worst situational baseball of any good team in the majors.  

The Rangers, Rays, Cardinals and Diamondbacks all play differently than the Phillies. They bunt, hit and run, hit behind runners, take pitches and make more quality outs under pressure. And the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, Tigers and Cardinals (if Albert Pujols re-signs) have superior lineups.  

Lee has a partial no-trade clause in his current deal so Amaro is somewhat hamstrung, but he is tradable. In fact, his value will never be any higher.      

Don’t be fooled, the Phillies are far worse than their 102-win season suggests. They are living off the false narrative that they play a power game and feature a lineup full of quality hitters. The truth is they were 18th in the majors in home runs last season (8th in the National League) and 16th in team batting average. They didn’t even crack the top 10 in RBI’s.  Digest that for a minute. Sure, injuries contributed to their mediocre hitting, but that’s what happens to older teams.    Chase Utley is a symbol of the Phillies' declining offense: AP Photo, H.Rumph Jr

For further perspective consider this: In their championship season of 2008, they hit 214 regular season home runs and produced 541 extra base hits.  Last year’s totals in the same categories were 153 and 449, respectively. If you no longer bludgeon teams with homers and don’t beguile them with scrappy, intelligent baseball, how far can you reasonably expect to go in the playoffs?

The Phillies are in trouble but they’re salvageable and could make one more serious run.  Roy Halladay is still at the top of his game and as long as Cole Hamels pitches in the right conditions he’s formidable. Solidify the bullpen and add a young slugger and they’d legitimately vie for another title.          

Charlie Manuel has always managed like he’s in a Sunday softball league, but the Phillies’ bats hid his shortcomings. He’s exposed again, so his squad needs more offensive talent. Moving Cliff Lee is a step in the right direction.   

If Amaro doesn’t trade him this offseason, he and Phillies fans will regret it.    

 

Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@gmail.com

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