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The Stretch Run is Now for These Philadelphia Phillies

It's Only May, but Unless the Phillies Have a Heck of a Month, Building for the Future Probably Will Begin in June

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COMMENTARY | There are three and a half weeks left on the May calendar, but it may as well be the September stretch run for the Philadelphia Phillies as currently constituted. Without some significant success into Memorial Day and the four days beyond, we could see some drastic changes as the summer progresses.

Because of age and expiring contracts, this season has been looked at by some pundits as the swan song of the Phillies' greatest continuous era. The remaining mainstays of a group that began cultivating championship success six years ago, the manager and the starting infield save third base won't be staying together, you can be assured of that. The game's most celebrated pitcher in the 21st century, now sidelined by a shoulder problem that seems to evoke great sadness to the entire city, may be gone entirely from the game, but certainly seems gone in terms of Philadelphia's future plans, even if he manages to come back this season.

There will be other comings and goings. The only faces pretty much guaranteed to be here in 2014 belong to pitchers Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jonanthan Papelbon and Mike Adams, first baseman Ryan Howard, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Domonic Brown. The rest include a couple probables, a few maybes and a bunch of questionables.

I left pitcher Cliff Lee off that list because he is the most tradeable piece the Phillies have. If the Phillies decide it's time to completely shuffle the deck, Lee is the best candidate to return top prospects. Plus he has a huge salary to go with him.

Serious change with the Phillies will happen ahead of the 2014 season. The question now is when it starts to happen.

If the Phillies don't get hot and stay close to the top in National League East by month's end, it will almost assuredly begin in June, probably with the departure of manager Charlie Manuel.

Then the peddling of Lee becomes more likely. It's long been rumored that the Texas Rangers would love him back, and the Rangers are an organization rich in minor league prospects. It might come down to how much of Lee's contract the Phillies are willing to swallow to set him free. Lee would be a valued member of this or any pitching staff. But if you're going to rebuild, it makes little sense to have him winning games in what could be an overall losing cause for some seasons to come.

The other trade piece is Chase Utley, the venerated second baseman with the tender knees who seems to have regained much of his batting stroke this year. He also has an expiring contract. There's no way to know how many games Utley's knees will allow this season, but he still carries a great bat and if need be would make an excellent designated hitter for somebody's stretch run.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz also has an expiring contract, and since he returned from a 25-game suspension for using a banned drug two weeks ago, he's underperformed. He's a wonderful handler of pitching staffs and manages games with the best of them. But it's hard to see just how attractive he'd be to a contender unless his hitting picks up significantly.

Third baseman Michael Young is probably playing his only year in Philadelphia and has hit well for average, not so much for power. He also is limited defensively. But he's the ultimate team guy and is beloved in Texas for a lot of wonderful years with the Rangers. Again, he might intrigue somebody looking for some pinch hits and leadership in September.

Any these departures would open up playing time for some key prospects, plus assure general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. quite an available checkbook balance for 2014. Even if the Phillies do find it in them to make a run this month and beyond, these same decisions will be there in the off-season.

Turning the page on a team like this is never easy, but at some point it has to be turned before it's too late. Should the Phillies fail more than not over the rest of May, Amaro's opportunity to turn that page may never be more obvious.

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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