COMMENTARY | At this writing, the Philadelphia Phillies have won six of eight games and are poised to enter the All-Star break with a winning record. They still stand 7 games behind in National League East and 5½ games back in the wild card chase. But recent appearances indicate they may have turned the corner and developed a consistency they've lacked since the season's first pitch.
I must emphasize "may have" here. This is the same team that won five straight and then lost five straight in a string of 10 games not very long ago. But as of right now, the Phillies are close enough to be considered contenders in the second half of the season, assuming their current roll can continue.
Let's remember the major league trading deadline is July 31, three weeks away. Let's remember it was only weeks ago when Philadelphia sports talk radio was filled with daily calls wanting this team blown up. The idea was to acquire as many good prospects as possible and begin building for seasons to come.
Now, their fortunes suddenly seem a bit brighter. There have been reports that the Phillies may be looking to bolster the existing roster rather than dismantle it. A potential swap for New York Yankees' reliever Joba Chamberlain has been rumored, possibly for third baseman Michael Young or catcher Carlos Ruiz or both. Young and Ruiz have contracts that will expire at the end of this season.
The reality is there are only so many moves the Phillies can make. Their trade chips are pitchers Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, and second baseman Chase Utley. Lee will land them top prospects. Papelbon and Utley could land good prospects. Trading any of the three will likely involve eating salary as well.
In Lee's case, it will definitely be worth the return as his excellence will command that much, even with his high salary. Papelbon's contract will be a stumbling block. He'll make $13 million in each of the next two seasons and has a vesting option for a third. It's hard to gauge the return. Utley is having a solid season with the bat and an expiring contract, but his injury woes of the last three years would factor considerably in his trade value.
Perhaps Young and Ruiz as a package could land a Chamberlain, who has struggled for the Yankees this season. Individually, the best hope would be for mid-level prospects.
In terms of marketable minor league prospects, there simply aren't many the Phillies could shop to gain a solid bat or arm. The best is pitcher Jesse Biddle, who has struggled with control at Class AA Reading but clearly has the velocity and stuff to be a force in the future. You don't part 21-year-old left-handers who can fire like Jesse Biddle.
The guess here is come July 31, if the Phillies find themselves in a similar position to where they now stand, they'll go with what they have. They don't have much to sell unless they give up their best players. They don't have the prospects or expendable position players to buy very much. But the good news is they're playing well, and a continuation of that might just be good enough come October.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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