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MLB Trade Deadline: Phillies’ Success Decreases Need for Desperation

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Baseball’s trade deadline is a lot like the due date of a massive term paper. Everyone knows about it, but it doesn’t create much action until the last few days before its arrival.

What that means for baseball fans is that their hometown general managers are sharpening their pencils and about to get serious. After all, this assignment could determine their team’s final grade for the 2011 season, and only one team earns an “A” at season’s end.

 For the Phillies, that highest of grades was achieved in 2008. But after not finishing at the top of the class since then, this year’s trade deadline will once again motivate Ruben Amaro Jr. to edit his work one final time.

His corrections will likely come in the form of a right-handed hitter, a reliever, or both. And by now, most of the big name possibilities are well known. There are rentals like Carlos Beltran and Heath Bell,  and most GM’s are confronting the dilemma of how much to give up for them. Then, there are players such as Hunter Pence  and Mike Adams who could be retained beyond this season and will command even more in a trade.

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Both options are sure to create high stakes battles as this week progresses. And the personnel men who are making their team’s trade decisions will have to decide how many casualties (in the form of traded players and prospects) they are willing to suffer upon entering such a bidding war. 

Ruben Amaro Jr. approaches this year’s trade deadline with a reputation for delivering big talent to his team whenever it is available. And the belief of most baseball experts is that he is firmly in the mix for many of the aforementioned players. This week, he will likely be dealing with requests for some of his organization’s top young players. Those would include major leaguers like Domonic Brown or Vance Worley  as well as minor leaguers like Jared Cosart and Jonathan Singleton.

But Amaro has one thing that may help keep him from overpaying in what is considered by many to be an extremely high-priced sellers’ market. That one thing is a consistent baseball team that is playing at the highest level in Major League Baseball. The Phillies have won 9 consecutive series. They have not lost back-to-back games since June 3rd (a streak of 42 games). These are the types of runs that happen once a decade for many teams, but they have become the norm in Philadelphia.

The Phillies’ offense that spawned many a trade rumor also seems to be finding its groove. Throughout the first half of the season, Charlie Manuel and Amaro heard about their team’s inability to plate more than three runs per game. In April, they failed to score more than three runs in 50% of their games. That problem worsened in May (55%) and June (59%), and gave even more credence to the argument that a major acquisition was needed by the trade deadline. But as the month of July winds down, the Phillies offense seems to be gearing up. They have been held to three or fewer runs in only 6 of their 18 July games (only 33%).

Many of us have heard the theory that if the Phillies veterans would begin hitting the way they have in the past, it would provide a boost similar to that of a major trade. The last month has supported that theory, as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez are playing like it is 2007 retro night at the ballpark. Rollins is hitting .338 with 16 runs scored and 11 RBI in July, and when he generates offense, the Phillies’ have traditionally scored runs. Utley seems to be finding his rhythm after his late start to the 2011 season. He has batted .308 over his last 21 games. As for Ibanez, after a rough stretch in the season’s first hafl, he is providing some long-awaited pop from the number five spot in the batting order. He has 15 RBI in his last 18 games and is hitting the ball hard on a daily basis.

Does this offensive hot stretch mean that the Phillies shouldn’t make a trade that could put them over the top? You can bet Amaro isn’t approaching the deadline with that mindset. The fact is, a big acquisition could help make a number of teams dangerous in the postseason.
But, by most accounts, there are only a few big fish to be landed from this year’s trade deadline waters. That lack of supply is the reason why asking prices will be extremely high.

For instance, it is rumored that a three month rental of Carlos Beltran would cost the Phillies Domonic Brown. Adding Hunter Pence to the Phillies’ outfield may require a combination of three or four quality players/prospects. The same type of price tags will probably be attached to dynamic relievers like Bell and Mike Adams.

So, Amaro will need to work intelligently this week. His challenge is to improve his ball club without giving up enough player capital to save an opposing GM‘s job. The Phillies have done their job to put Amaro into this position. He can work from a position of power in negotiations. After all, when your team rolls through a quarter of a season without losing back-to-back games or a single series, you have to like their chances of winning 11 out of a possible 19 postseason games.

With each passing game and series, the Phillies strengths seem to get stronger, and their weaknesses become less egregious. The starting pitching is dominating, the back end of the bullpen is automatic, and the lineup is finding its way.

As a result, Amaro can kick the tires on some offers that will come his way this week without feeling like he has no ride home if he doesn’t sign on the dotted line. The limited availability of quality right-handed hitters doesn’t mean that Brown or Worley have to be swapped for a rental or a .240 hitter with modest power numbers. The annual demand for dependable relief pitchers doesn’t mean that the Phillies must part with multiple pitching prospects to add one more arm to an already strong bullpen.

When this week is over, a big trade will have Philadelphians even more feverish for playoff baseball.

But the big deal may not be worth the premium, and fans should trust that Amaro knows where that price point is.

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: Ruben and Charlie: NY Daily News