Since the start of spring training, baseball pundits have circled the roster of the Philadelphia Phillies like starving vultures. Every gray cloud, every losing streak and every tiny moment that even slightly resembled defeat has acted as a permission slip for any expert to peruse through the Phightin's 25-man roster with a ouji board or a handful of darts and try to guess where each player will end up come the trade deadline.
One gets the impression that every time a shadow has crept up anywhere in the Phillies lockerroom, General Manager Ruben Amaro's phone has exploded with incoming calls from hungry GMs ready to pick the bones clean. While teams like the Dodgers, Angels, and Nationals certainly had more pre-season pressure and expectations, no team has had a shorter leash than these Phillies.
As the season enters that delicate time between the All Star Break and the trade deadline, it is clear that the Phillies as sellers makes about as much sense as a sand-flavored ice cream sandwich.
At this current juncture, the Phillies have three significantly different options. The Super Sell. The Slight Sell. Or Buying.
The Super Sell means pure implosion. That means trading Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, Michael and Delmon Young, Carlos Ruiz, Kyle Kendrick, and the Phanatics off-terrain vehicle. Cast away everything that isn't tied down and pray to the baseball gods buying the most lottery tickets puts you in the money. Just because it never worked for the Kansas City Royals doesn't mean it can't work for you! And while you're down there on your knees, take the time to beg the fans to stay interested for the next three seasons while those lottery tickets develop in the minors.
The Super Sell can also be refereed to as "The Jeffrey Loria Plan." For any alleged Phillies fans who believes mimicking the moves of the
Florida Miami Marlins merits serious consideration, please see a head specialist immediately. Championship-by-Tanking only works in a David Stern run league.
Consideration of the Slight Sell, however, doesn't require a neurologist. In fact, the Slight Sell made sense just last season when the team traded away Shane Victorino (pending free agent), Joe Blanton (same) and Hunter Pence (underachiever deemed too expensive). They got some prospects back, none of whom have done anything worth buying a shirtsy for, but hey, it's still early. The Slight Sell of 2012 may still be remembered as a slick bit o' dealin'.
Either way, selling then was the right move at the time (though wouldn't Pence or Victorino have looked better in right field this year than D-Young has?), because at the All-Star Break last year, the Phillies were dead. Like, Monty Python Parrot dead. Jimmy Hoffa dead. Washington Generals dead.
At the deadline last summer, the Phillies were a dozen games under .500 and 16.5 games out of a playoff spot while the Nats were clearly running away with the division. Right now the Phils sit at .500 and are just five-and-a-half out of the playoffs. They're back like the Twinkie! On top of it all, the NL East has been a barrel full of disappointing mediocrity ripe for the taking. It's like comparing the residents of a morgue to the inhabitants of a hospital parking lots. Even suggesting fair comparison is ludicrous.
Speaking of ludicrous... if management was to opt for the Slight Sell, the chip commonly cited as most valuable has routinely been Cliff Lee. This is so beyond Einstein's definition of insanity that poor Alfred is probably projectile vomiting in his grave. Trading Lee is comparable to watching three grown adults burn themselves on a stove, then walking up to the dangerously hot item and lying face down on it.
Seriously. Lee has been traded three times in his career, and EVERY TIME the team that acquires him gets the better end of the bargain. Not once has a GM trading away Cliff Lee been able to look back and say "man, what a smart guy I am!" That's because trading Cliff Lee has never been, and likely never will be, a smart move.
The Phillies know this, because they already traded him once. The failures of Phillippe Aumont (the "big piece" they got back in that trade) should serve as a reminder of recent baseballs proven truth: trading Cliff Lee is dumb.
When the Phillies resigned Cole Hamels in the middle of last years disappointing season, they sent a message. This ownership group is intent on running their franchise like the Yankees and the Red Sox... franchises that compete year after year, franchises that never rebuild, but instead reload. If they intend to keep with this philosophy, then the Lee family should remain residents of Rittenhouse Square for quite a few more school years.
Also worth noting: keep with this philosophy and the franchise gives themselves a legitimate chance of re-signing Roy Halladay and Chase Utley at discount during the off-season (health permitting, of course).
So what should the Phillies do right now? Opt for Door Number Three. They should buy, just as they bought in 2008. That summer the Phillies picked up Blanton, lefty-specialist Scott Eyre, and future folk hero Matt Stairs. In return, they gave up little more than a bucket of baseballs.
None of those trades made the talking heads cut a commercial short on SportsCenter. But all three contributed significantly to the Phillies World Series Championship. It's time Amaro earned his pay and made a few slick under-the-radar difference-making transactions.
Does adding a piece(s) guarantee the Phillies a World Series, or even a playoff spot? Of course not. Amaro could trade for some great relievers that could fall apart upon arrival (see: Adams, Mike), while the rest of the Phillies vets could go cold and break down as the long season wears on their veteran bodies (see: Howard, Ryan).
But ask yourself this: Are the Dodgers selling? Or the Nationals? They sit in the same spot as the Phillies. Yet for some inexplicable reason, no buzzards circle around Chavez Ravine or the Navy Yard.
Because those two teams, like the Phillies, have a reasonable shot at making the post season this year. And in baseball, all you have to do is make it to the tournament. Then anything can happen. Get to the playoffs and hope you're the hottest team in October.
If you think the Phillies are so far out of contention that the playoffs are an impossibility, well, I've got a sand-flavored ice cream sandwich to sell you.