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Phillies’ Trade Deadline Plan Clear: Buy Hamels, Sell the Rest

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For over a month, the debate over whether the Phillies should buy or sell at the trade deadline has featured valid arguments on both sides.  
Amaro Jr photo: Sarah J. Glover
There was the “Let’s see how things go when our injured stars return” delegation.  And unfortunately for them, things have gone about as well as they did when the lineup resembled a bad AAA squad for most of the season’s first three months.  

For those who contested that 2012 was a lost cause, the Post-All Star Break Phillies have merely proved their point.  The deficiencies that have crept into the Phillies lineup over the past two seasons are still there, and they are now accompanied by a bullpen that can only be described as horrendous.

So, with the Phillies almost as far out of the Wild Card (12 games) as first place in the NL East (13.5 games), it is officially time to stop calculating the win totals it would take from upcoming series, homestands, or the final 67 games of the regular season. This is a team that undoubtedly will be watching the playoffs from anywhere other than a dugout or baseball diamond.  

With that being said, the Phillies’ trade deadline focus should now be crystal clear.  Ruben Amaro Jr. has two very concrete objectives to accomplish over the next nine days. 

First, there is the matter of completing the Cole Hamels deal as soon as possible.  If the rumors of a 6-year offer at an average annual value of $24 million per season are true, it is probably a good idea for Amaro Jr. to get Hamels and his agent John Boggs in the GM’s office over the next few days to hammer out the final details that will keep the 28-year old lefty in town.Hamels photo: Jim Mone, AP

As much as that contract would swell the Phillies’ 2013 payroll ($137 million tied up in only 10 players), it locks down one of the three components of a winning team: starting pitching.  Failing to sign Hamels would mean that the Phillies would have $113 million committed to nine players for next season, with gaping holes in the starting rotation, batting lineup and bullpen.  

Here’s hoping that Cole’s expressed love for Philadelphia and the Phillies organization is as sincere as it sounds.  Because while a massive contract extension for him carries quite a bit of risk, the Phillies have very few options for replacing his talent and consistent excellence.

If Amaro Jr. is able to consummate the Hamels deal, he can then move onto the second phase of his trade deadline duty.  That is the one that will require him to get everything he can for the players who are not in the team’s plans for next season.  

In other words, if you have an expiring contract and your name is not Cole Hamels, your services will not be needed beyond this month. Because whether or not you like the ever-expanding MLB playoff format, it’s still competitive enough to exclude teams whose absolute best case scenario is a .500 season.  

But for those other 19 teams who are either in their division lead or within 5.5 games of a Wild Card berth, the trade deadline has become a seller’s market.

That means Juan Pierre’s .305 average and 21 steals could bring the Phillies something useful in a trade.  ShaShane Victorino photo: Getty Imagesne Victorino  also represents a talent boost in centerfield for a number of playoff hopefuls. Then, there are Joe Blanton, Ty Wigginton and Placido Polanco, who aren’t likely to bring much in return, but whose contract dollars would look much better on someone else’s payroll.   

With the threat of a luxury tax looming over the Phillies’ 2012 budget, it is wise to save every million possible on players that are not part of the team’s 2013 plans.  If Amaro Jr. could strike deals in which other teams absorbed all of the remaining 60 game’s worth of salary, he could potentially shed $11.6 million in the unproductive money for Victorino, Polanco, Blanton, Pierre and Wigginton.

The likelier scenario is that the Phillies pay part of the freight on many of those deals in order to make them happen and also to get better players in return.  Those deals could net the team a few much-needed prospects, future bullpen help, or a young major leaguer.

There are also rumors of significant interest in Hunter Pence and mild intrigue over Jimmy Rollins from contending teams. However, trading either of those players would create even more significant holes for a team with plenty of roster patching ahead of it.  

It’s quite a paradigm shift for Phillies fans to think of their team as one of the eight major league teams who are effectively out of the playoff chase as of today. But, this has been an entire season of recalibration for Phillies faithful. Their team is exactly what its record indicates. They are deep in last place. They have managed the second-fewest home wins in baseball. They are approaching August on pace for a record of 70-92.

There is no more denying it. Out of respect to his veteran players, the Phillies’ general manager stayed the course as long as he could. 

Sadly, this season is no longer about sending a message of not giving up. Ruben Amaro Jr. now has to look at what’s best for the long-term health of his aging franchise. He should be finding an insulated earpiece for his iPhone. It should be flaming hot from constant trade discussions up to midnight on July 31st.

 

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:
Hamels: Jim Mone, AP
Amaro Jr: Sarah J. Glover
Victorino: Getty Images