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Charlie Manuel Requests a Hitter: Analyzing the Phillies’ Trade Deadline Possibilities

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The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is July 31st. That means there are only 40 days left for teams to figure out their needs, This week, Charlie Manuel publicly lobbied for another offensive weapon, saying, “We could definitely use a solid right-handed hitter,” and “our odds get better if we have one”. AP Gene Puskarexplore available options, and complete deals.

For most major league teams, needs became pretty apparent over the course of the first seventy-some games of the season. The Phillies have likely known theirs since shortly after spring training when it became crystal clear that Ben Francisco was not an adequate right-handed replacement for Jayson Werth.

This week, Charlie Manuel even publicly lobbied for another offensive weapon, saying, “We could definitely use a solid right-handed hitter,” and “our odds get better if we have one”.

So, with the needs assessment seemingly complete, Ruben Amaro Jr. is now faced with the tasks of exploring trade options and striking a deal. Phillies fans should feel pretty confident in their general manager’s ability to pull off a meaningful trade. Unfortunately, Amaro has made it clear that he has spent his allowance and will not make a major move at the trade deadline.

Amaro’s cautioning makes more sense when one considers the constraints he is facing as he explores ways to improve his ball club.

1. The Phillies current payroll ($175 million) is the second highest in baseball, and although they are not likely in panic mode, the team was recently determined to be in non-compliance of the league‘s debt-to-income ratio limit.

2. A trade that adds a significant salary could subject the Phillies to baseball’s luxury tax, which requires teams to pay a 22.5% tax on every dollar above the $178 million limit.

3. The Phillies are locked into some bad contracts that will be difficult to unload, such as Joe Blanton ($8.5 million per year through 2012), Raul Ibanez (balance of $11.5 million for 2011) or Brad Lidge (balance of $12 million for 2011). Those challenges leave Amaro with only two options: offer teams great deals (ie, top-notch prospects) while asking for some salary help in return, or look for players who are owed a maximum of $3-4 million for the remainder of 2011 to avoid the wallop of the luxury tax.

But there are even reports that indicate a $3-4 million acquisition may be unrealistic. For instance, in reference to their rumored interest in talented Houston Astro, Hunter Pence, ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote that the Phils told other teams that they can only deal for players making half of Hunter Pence’s $6.9 million salary. With only half of the season remaining, Pence is actually owed a little over $3 million, so it’s possible that Amaro’s spending account is just about empty.It’s possible that Ruben Amaro’s spending account is just about empty. Photo:

Without really knowing the Phillies‘ financial limits, it is difficult to speculate which players they may target in a trade. Nonethleless, here are some of the right-handed hitting outfielders that could be options for Amaro and company:

Hunter Pence (Astros): The 28-year old is batting .321 with 51 RBI, and would cost the Phillies more than one top prospect. If Amaro can once again convince Ed Wade to pick up salary without giving up a boatload of prospects, this would be another legendary “Houston Heist“ by the Phillies‘ GM.

Josh Willingham (A’s): The Phils have been rumored to be interested in the 32 year-old Willingham ever since his days as a National. He would be owed the balance of a $6 million contract, and his 10 homers and 42 RBI’s on a bad team in a pitcher friendly ballpark are why the Phillies remain interested.

Michael Cuddyer (Twins): The 32-year old right fielder was also linked to the Phillies by ESPN’s Buster Olney. He is hitting .280 with 10 homers, but has a huge contract that would be a real roadblock (balance of $10.5 million) unless the Twins are willing to foot some of the bill.

Ryan Ludwick (Padres): Another 32-year old on a bad team in a cavernous ballpark, Ludwick has hit .260 with 9 homers and 45 RBI this season. He’s in the final year of his contract for $6.7 million, so the Phillies could possibly figure out a deal with the Padres to land a player who hit 37 home runs in 2008.

Jeff Francoeur (Kansas City): His affordable contract ($2.5 million) and decent run production (9 homers, 43 RBI) continue to put Francoeur’s name on the lists of possible options for the Phillies in right field.

Melky Cabrera (Kansas City): His contract is super cheap ($1.25 million) and he has smacked nine homers en route to 42 RBI. Unfortunately, he is a switch hitter who has better numbers as a lefty than a righty.

Other, less expensive, players have been mentioned as right-handed options for the Phillies. Unfortunately, very few represent much of an upgrade over Francisco or the left-handed outfielders currently getting playing time for the Phillies. One possibility to consider is that the Phillies could employ a San Francisco Giants strategy and add a solid bullpen arm with the plan of choking opponents out with dominant starting and relief pitching and minimal offense. This seems less likely in light of Manuel’s public lobbying for another bat, but if an offensive upgrade is grossly overpriced, it could change the Phillies’ approach to the trade deadline.

The encouraging thing for Phillies fans is that Amaro has pulled a rabbit out of his hat multiple times in the last couple seasons. If there is a way to add a Pence or Willingham in a deal that works for his team, the Phillies’ GM just might find a way to get it done.

The payoff of such a deal could be a World Series title.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

 Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net 

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Photos:
Amaro: AP
Amaro & Manuel: AP Gene Puskar