MLB Trade Deadline: Why Didn’t The Phillies Sell?

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The easy answer you’ll find on Twitter and in sabermetric circles is that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is, at best, delusional. At worst, they’ll say he’s an idiot. Neither is true.

The Phillies have lost 11 of 12 and are imploding. They’re old, expensive and have few prospects on the horizon. Amaro doesn’t think they’re contenders—he can’t—and he’s not stupid. He’s made some contractual mistakes, but like anything else unless there’s inside information as to whether these decisions were made by Amaro or through nudging on the part of his bosses, it’s unfair to place the entire onus of the burgeoning disaster on him. It’s just easier for the sabermetric crowd and Twitter experts to blame the GM and pronounce with all the courage in the world what “they’d” do. But there’s an underlying reality with the Phillies that has to be examined before calling the failure to sell a mistake.

  • The demands for Phillies’ players were steep

Teams that called about Cliff Lee were reportedly told that the trading club would have to absorb Lee’s $62.5 million contract (plus whatever’s left for this year) and give up several, significant, close-to-ready big league prospects. The number of teams that had the money, the prospects and the willingness to do this was nonexistent and Amaro knew it. In other words he was saying, “I’ll trade him if I get a metric ton for him.” It’s like being a happily married man and saying, “I’ll cheat if Megan Fox hits on me.” Lotsa luck.

  • No trade clauses and other issues

Apart from Lee, the other players who the Phillies could conceivably have had on the block were either hurt (Ryan Howard), have a no-trade clause they said they wouldn’t waive (Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young), have been awful and obnoxious (Jonathan Papelbon) or they want to keep (Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz).

  • The farm system is barren

Amaro assistant Chuck LaMar resigned in a huff last year because of the lack of attention paid to the farm system and Mike Arbuckle left for the Royals when he didn’t get the GM job to replace Pat Gillick. The Phillies development apparatus is in flux in large part because they either neglected it to pay for the big league product or traded it away to add the likes of Roy Oswalt, Lee, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and Young. Even when they dumped a player like Pence, they didn’t recoup what they traded to get him.

They’ve got a few pieces like the recently recalled Cody Asche and Phillippe Aumont, but there’s not a Mike Trout in their farm system—a player to build around. The decision to focus on the majors and allocate the vast amount of resources there was a conscious one. When Amaro basically exchanged Lee for Halladay after the 2009 season, his intention was to achieve cost-certainty and maintain some semblance of a farm system. By mid-season 2010, when the Phillies needed a pitcher, Amaro made a decision that not many GMs would have when he acknowledged his mistake and traded for Oswalt. He went all-in after 2010 be reacquiring Lee as a free agent and with subsequent decisions including paying a lot of money for Papelbon and Mike Adams.

Do the math: the farm directors who helped put the club together are gone; they gave up draft picks to sign free agents; and they traded away their top youngsters for veterans. Having homegrown talent ready to replace their stars immediately is impossible.

  • A housecleaning would gut the major league roster and attendance

As of now Phillies fans are angry and as always aren’t shy about showing it. Some targets, like Papelbon, have asked for it in both his performance and his comments. If the Phillies traded away every possible veteran asset, the fans would stop caring entirely especially with the football season coming quickly. Citizens Bank Park would be a ghost town in September and few players are going to want to join them this winter knowing that a rebuild is in progress.

For a club that is only now starting to again pay attention to the draft and has few prospects ready to make a dent in an increasingly difficult division, it’s better to tread water, keep the veterans and hope for a renaissance with what’s there while simultaneously trying to restock the minor league system.

  • 2014’s roster will be similar to 2013’s with a new manager

As much as the fans and critics will hate it, the Phillies aren’t going to have room to do much this winter. No one will take Papelbon unless the Phillies are taking a similarly bad contract in return and then they’ll need to find themselves a replacement closer. Rollins won’t allow himself to be traded. Lee is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cole Hamels is under contract. Howard can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been in recent years. Halladay has a contract option that is likely to be declined, but don’t be surprised to see him sign a contract to stay and re-prove himself.

Of course these are all qualifications and prayers. The odds of it coming to pass are slim, but this is still a more salable marketing strategy than blowing it up. The one thing that’s essentially fait accompli is that manager Charlie Manuel will be out. The decision as to whether to replace him with Ryne Sandberg or a veteran manager will be made, but it’s safe to say that Manuel’s time as Phillies’ manager is over. As far as changes, you’ll see a tweak here and there, but the general core is going to be the same.

In short, they have no real options other than to hope they players they have will rebound and make a run at one of the extra playoff spots in 2014 because many of their contracts are immovable and they can’t convince their grouchy fans to accept a new five-year plan to rebuild while still coming to the park.  The Phillies didn’t make a dramatic series of trades at the deadline because of these factors. It may not be popular, but it’s the way it is and the cost of putting together the type of team that won five straight division titles and was a preseason World Series favorite for a half-decade. It’s the circle of baseball and the Phillies’ circle is closing with a crash that they can’t avoid or prevent. The only thing they can do is limit the damage in its aftermath.

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MLB Trade Deadline: A Phillies Selloff Makes No Sense

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The discussion of a possible Phillies selloff is promoted by the media for the idea that some of the sexiest potential trade targets are on their roster, namely Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. Unless Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is blown away by an offer, Lee’s not going anywhere. Papelbon is the name to watch, but he’ll get them financial relief and won’t yield a bounty of prospects in return. Apart from that, the Phillies’ situation—both financially and practically—has to be examined before stating with unequivocal certitude of what they “should” do while not being in Amaro’s position.

The Phillies are not a good team and it’s not due to injuries or age. It’s because they’re not very good. They would’ve been a good team if they had Roy Halladay pitching in the form he did in his first two years in Philadelphia, but he’s not that anymore even if he’s healthy. If Halladay was healthy, they’d be mediocre and nominal playoff contenders. With the Braves and Nationals in their own division and the Pirates (who are for real), the Cardinals and Reds in the Central division, snagging one of the two Wild Cards is a delusion for the Phillies in their current state. Ordinarily, that might predicate a housecleaning of pending free agents and marketable veterans. But it again returns to the Phillies’ situation and it leaves them with few options.

Because the Phillies went all-in in 2010 when they were, on paper, playing the same way they are now and traded for Roy Oswalt to spur a blazing hot streak over the final two months of the season, there’s a dreamy hope that they’ll repeat the process in 2013. The difference is that they don’t have any prospects left to trade for a pitcher of Oswalt’s stature and the rest of their club isn’t underperforming, but is performing what they’re currently capable of because they’re beaten up and old.

They can move Michael Young and I think they will, but they’re not going to get much for him. They can offer Chase Utley around, but he’s a pending free agent and despite the fact that a new setting and a legitimate pennant race will wake him up and possibly revert him to the MVP-status he enjoyed during the Phillies years of NL East dominance, teams won’t go crazy for a rental and give up the prospects to justify the Phillies not keeping Utley, trying to sign him to a reasonable deal to stay or letting him leave and taking the draft pick compensation. Delmon Young might be a reasonable acquisition for an AL club that is going to be in the playoffs so he can DH and do one thing he does well: hit in the playoffs. Carlos Ruiz is a free agent at the end of the year and he too would help a legitimate contender, but again, they won’t get bring back stud prospects.

That leaves Lee and Papelbon.

I don’t believe the Phillies are going to trade Lee. It doesn’t make sense considering the rest of the roster being entrenched in trying to win over the next couple of years while the club begins rebuilding their gutted farm system that was neglected as the available money for development was allocated for the big league product. Teams that do what the Phillies did in trading all their top prospects to try and win now and simultaneously ignore the draft know they’re mortgaging the future with a balloon payment. That balloon payment is due soon and they’re going to have to pay it.

Amaro is not going to do a full-blown rebuild because he can’t afford to have an empty park waiting five, seven, ten or however many years it takes for the team to be good again. It’s easier to hope that they’ll get a resurgence with the veterans under contract and slowly start resuscitating their minor league system. Realistically, what would they get for Lee? He has a limited no-trade clause so there are only eight teams to which he can be traded and he’s owed $62.5 million through 2015 not counting his salary for the rest of 2013. To get viable prospects to make the deal worth the Phillies’ while, they’d have to pick up a chunk of his money. To get out from under his full salary, they’d have to take nothing back in return. Then what? They’d need pitching for next year to try and win with the players they still have with none as good as Lee on the market. So it makes no sense to even speculate about in any manner other than to garner attention for something that’s highly unlikely to happen during the season.

As for Papelbon, he’s one name who could help a club like the Tigers who need a closer. He could put them over the top and for the Phillies, he’s replaceable if they’re not in the playoff hunt. He doesn’t appear happy in Philadelphia, they don’t seem to like him very much and getting rid of his salary for a couple of mid-level minor leaguers would appeal to everyone. If they’re out of the race in the second half, they could give Phillippe Aumont a look as the closer and after the season go the cheap (and ironic) route and bring back Ryan Madson who, by then, might not have thrown one pitch for another team after leaving the Phillies only to return two years later to have a shot to be the closer again.

The idea behind trade deadline speculation is to formulate a clear-cut scenario of either/or. Either we’re in it and we buy or we’re out of it and we sell. That comes from the Moneyball school of thought with no obstacles other than financial, but that’s fiction just like Moneyball. The Rays can get away with that kind of attitude. The teams with fans who pay to see the team and live and breathe with the idea that they could possibly challenge for a World Series in spite of the odds—the Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers—can’t do it that easily. The Phillies won’t sell. They’ll tweak. That means Papelbon will be the one of the whales to go and Lee will stay.

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Don’t Expect a Phillies Selloff

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Because they fall into the category of early-season disappointment, there’s already speculation as to a Phillies selloff at mid-season if they continue to play like a team that can finish with, at best, a .500 record. History has proven, however, that under GM Ruben Amaro Jr. any move that is made will be either to double-down and go for it in spite of widespread negativity and perception that they’re “done,” or he’ll make trades of players who aren’t keys to the team and those who won’t be part of the long-term future.

For all the criticism Amaro has received for mortgaging the future by gutting a fertile farm system for veterans, overpaying on contract extensions for players already on his roster, and essentially ignoring the draft, he had a different idea when he took over as GM after the 2008 season. What he wanted to do was maintain some semblance of a solid core of young players. This was the intention of trading away Cliff Lee for prospects as he was entering his free agent year and trading other prospects to acquire Roy Halladay who was willing to sign a long-term contract just to get out of Toronto and join a contender.

Amaro was savaged—by me included—for that decision and did a total about-face at mid-season 2010 first by trying to get Lee back from the plummeting Mariners, then filling the hole in the rotation that his plan created by acquiring Roy Oswalt. The Phillies had been rumored to be listening to offers for Jayson Werth at that point, were barely over .500 and fading. They got hot, won the NL East, advanced to the NLCS before losing to the eventual World Series champion Giants.

By then, there wasn’t a pretense of building for the present and the future. It was all-in for the now as evidenced by the advancing age of their roster and the subsequent acquisitions of Lee (as a free agent), Hunter Pence, and Jonathan Papelbon. Farm director Chuck LaMar resigned in a public dustup with Amaro because of the rapidly deteriorating farm system and lack of money available to repair it.

But what Amaro was doing was similar to what Theo Epstein wanted to do sans the ridiculous appellations of “genius” after the Red Sox 2004 World Series win. The expectations from the fans and media, as well as ownership demands, sabotaged what Epstein wanted to do and the Red Sox degenerated into a battle of one-upmanship with the Yankees as to who could spend the most money on the biggest free agents. It resulted in a dysfunctional group of mercenaries and organizational collapse culminating with the 69-93 showing in 2012 with rampant inter-organizational contretemps and hatred combined with a self-protective blame game from everyone involved.

The Phillies haven’t fallen to those depths yet. But with an aging and declining roster and few prospects on the way up, it will happen eventually.

The question is, what do they do about it?

The simple answer is: nothing.

Could the Phillies clean out the house at mid-season and save money for an on-the-fly rebuild by signing free agents and trading for players that other teams can no longer afford? Yes. Will they do that? Probably not.

When clubs are trading players in salary dumps, the get-back is usually not all that impressive. Many will point to the Red Sox salary dump of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for a package of prospects including two who are impressive—Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa—but the key point being missed is that Gonzalez is still a star-level, MVP-caliber talent whom the Red Sox had surrendered three top prospects to acquire just a year-and-a-half earlier. Were they supposed to give him away just to get out from under the contract? And were the Dodgers just doing the Red Sox a favor along the lines of the nouveau riche just buying things they recognized?

The Dodgers also claimed Lee when the Phillies placed him on waivers last year. If there was an intention on the part of Amaro to extricate himself from Lee’s contract, he could’ve just handed him to the Dodgers and moved on. He didn’t do that and won’t do it this year with Lee unless he’s getting something back. If a team is accepting the $62.5 million Lee is guaranteed through 2015, they’re not surrendering a top-tier prospect for a soon-to-be 35-year-old with that much cash coming to him. Nor will they get significant packages of younsters for Halladay or Rollins. They might get something decent for Chase Utley, but it won’t be a franchise remaking deal that will be pointed to in 2017 as the building block for the next Phillies run.

There are other concerns in play here. It’s a ridiculous premise to believe that the GM has the final say in all personnel moves. Evidence of Amaro answering to his bosses was clear in the negotiations to retain Ryan Madson as the team’s closer after the 2011 season when the strongly cited rumors were that the Phillies had made a $44 million offer to Madson that the player and his agent Scott Boras accepted. Then when Amaro went to get approval from CEO David Montgomery, a hold was put on the agreement and a few days later, Papelbon was signed. In retrospect, with Madson not having thrown a Major League pitch for the two organizations he’s signed with since, Amaro and the Phillies were lucky it fell apart, regardless of who pulled the first thread as the catalyst of the fabric disintegrating.

Prior to the contract extension given to Cole Hamels, there was endless speculation that the staggering Phillies would trade him. Instead, they gave him what was, at the time, the richest contract ever given to a pitcher.

Apparently Amaro doesn’t read the rumors and do what they’re saying he’s about to do or supposed to do.

Another issue is the attendance factor. Amid all the talk that of the loyalty of Phillies’ fans and the daily sellouts during the club’s run of excellence, like most fanbases if the team isn’t contending and isn’t good, the fans aren’t going to go. This is part of the reason the Cubs have been so historically bad—there’s no motivation to consistently try and win because the fans show up either way. It would take annual contention over the long-term (a decade) and at least one World Series win for the Cubs to: A) lose the lovable loser mantle they so proudly wallow in; and B) accumulate the apathy that comes from fans being disgusted with losing when they expected to win to the point that they’ll find something to do other than going to the park.

That’s not so with the Phillies. If the fans see a team without Lee, without Jimmy Rollins, without Halladay, without Papelbon, without Utley, they’re not going to the park to see a backend starter packaged as a top prospect in Jonathan Pettibone, Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, and Hamels for a team that’s going to win 75 games and is rebuilding.

This is the team they’ve put together. Amaro accepted that when he tacitly acknowledged that it’s all but impossible to win and build simultaneously with the Oswalt acquisition and unsaid admission that he was wrong to trade Lee. He reacted accordingly and this is where they are. With the extra Wild Card, the parity in the National League, their pitching and impossibility of trading their veterans for the quality youth necessary to justify it, they’re not blowing it up now.

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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Your 2012 Trade Deadline Reality Check for a 2011 “Guaranteed” World Series Participant—Part II

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In this vein, I discussed the Red Sox yesterday. As a postscript, they shouldn’t let a series win in Yankee Stadium delude them into thinking they should do something drastic to salvage a doomed season. It would only make things worse going forward.

Today it’s the other 2011 “guaranteed” World Series participant on the docket and they’re having a far worse season than the Red Sox. I’m talking about the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 2011, the Phillies had put together an “unstoppable” starting rotation and, unlike the Red Sox, they fulfilled their part in the bargain by winning 102 regular season games before getting bounced in the first round by the Cardinals.

Currently 45-57, an unfathomable 16 ½ games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 9 games back in the Wild Card race, they can forget this season. There’s not going to be a 50-10 run to 95 wins this year. With most GMs, I’d say they understand that and will act accordingly, but Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been haphazard in his decisions. To his credit, he learned from his mistakes and rectified them such as when he traded Cliff Lee away and accepted that he’d left his club woefully short on pitching and traded for Roy Oswalt at the next trading deadline; then he turned around and re-signed Lee.

I doubt there’ll be a blockbuster addition of a bat to gloss over a team that’s 12 games under .500 and reeling after experiencing what the Mets have experienced for years in their house of horrors known as Turner Field in a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Braves. The Braves looked like they took glee in kicking the Phillies after the Phillies (in a retrospectively regrettable decision) ably assisted the Cardinals by playing all out in the last three games of the 2011 season and completed the Braves’ collapse from a post-season berth they should’ve clinched in mid-September.

The Phillies are done for 2012, but that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare for 2013 with much the same core cast. They don’t have much choice with some players. Jimmy Rollins has two guaranteed years left on his contract and is a shadow of his former MVP self. There’s talk of dealing Hunter Pence to free up money, but all that would do is create another hole they’ll have to fill—it’s not going to happen. Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton will be traded. Ty Wigginton and Juan Pierre are probably going as well. Placido Polanco would’ve gone too if he hadn’t been placed on the disabled list with a sore back. If he’s able to play, he’ll get through waivers in August and be traded.

Truth be told, they’re not going to get much for any of the above players. The Phillies will get some volume for their dilapidated minor league system and save a few bucks to bolster the veterans they’re going to have for the foreseeable future. This team in 2013, 2014 and 2015 hinges on the players in their early-to-late 30s, Roy Halladay, Lee, Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the other star-level players signed long-term Jonathan Papelbon and the newly signed Cole Hamels.

With Hamels, the Phillies were faced with signing him or signing someone else’s free agent and given his post-season accomplishments and that he’s able to handle the tough town of Philadelphia, keeping Hamels made sense, even for $144 million. There’s not going to be a rebuild in Philadelphia. It’s this crew or bust and they do have the foundation for a rebound in 2013.

There was a stupid concept of them trying to trade Papelbon. It’s ridiculous.

Other speculation has centered around Lee. They’re not trading Lee now and if they even consider it after the season, they’re in essentially the same spot as they were with Hamels in a different way. Any trade would have to bring back a Major League ready player whether it’s a centerfielder and/or a young pitcher who’s going to give them the 200 innings they’ll be surrendering with Lee. They’d also be hamstrung in where they could trade Lee due to the $87.5 million remaining on his deal after this season and his limited no-trade clause. Are they moving forward with a top 3 rotation of Halladay, Hamels and Vance Worley in 2013? For a team whose window is rapidly closing? I highly doubt it. If Lee is put on the block, it would be a year from now and only if 2013 is a repeat of 2012.

That there would be a thought of trading Lee as a “well, maybe we could…” tells me that Lee’s decision to re-sign with the Phillies after they’d unceremoniously dumped him following the 2009 season was a business decision on both ends and there wasn’t all that much “love” with the City of Brotherly Love for Lee and the Phillies. He didn’t want to pitch for the Yankees and the Phillies offered the most money and a venue that his wife preferred. I’m also getting the impression that Lee is a frontrunner. When the team was rolling to 100 wins and he was notching shutouts, all was wonderful; when he’s got a record of 1-6 as we enter August, he’s making faces at his outfielders’ misplays and putting forth the attitude of, “What do you want me to do? I pitched great, these guys can’t score or catch the ball.”

And that’s not good.

The Phillies need to accept reality and that reality says they’re not going anywhere in 2012 and their only hope against spiraling to a 100-loss disaster by 2015 is if their veterans find their games and are healthy and they’re able to clear enough money to import proven commodities to surround them.

This is the team they have and there’s not going to be a housecleaning. It’ll be more of a moderate refurbishing, nothing more.

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The Phillies Need Cole Hamels

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Ruben Amaro Jr. has no intention of giving up on this season or the next several seasons. He said as much—link. Privately he knows the situation is bleak for 2012, but given the age and guaranteed contracts on their roster, how can they conceivably let Cole Hamels leave as a free agent without a viable offer? It’s getting close to the point where the Phillies have to realize that this simply isn’t their year. They’re not there yet, but it’s a few weeks away—conveniently coinciding with the July 31st trading deadline.

After what happened with Cliff Lee having been traded away and then choosing to re-sign with the club a year later, it’s conceivable that the Phillies would check with Hamels to see if he’d be willing to be traded to a contender for the remainder of 2012 so they could re-stock the system and then go after him as a free agent.

Let’s look at the contracts, the guaranteed money owed for 2013 and beyond and the viability of re-signing Hamels.

Lee is owed $87.5 million through 2016.

Roy Halladay will be paid $20 million in 2013 and has a club option for $20 million at 2014.

Ryan Howard is signed for $95 through 2016.

Chase Utley is owed $15 million next season.

Jonathan Papelbon is owed $13 million annually through 2015 with a vesting option at $13 million for 2016.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million through 2014.

Hunter Pence is a free agent after 2013.

All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz has a ridiculously cheap $5 million option for 2013 that, barring catastrophe, will be exercised.

Kyle Kendrick is signed for $4 million next season, but they can find a taker for him.

Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco are free agents after this season. Forget Blanton and Polanco coming back and it’s hard to see Victorino being re-signed either.

The Phillies’ current payroll is $172 million.

Lee’s getting a $3.5 million raise next year; Papelbon slightly less than $2 million. Pence will get a raise in arbitration of $4-5 million. They’re slashing between $28 and $36 million (give or take) after Victorino, Blanton, Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Jose Contreras and Kendrick are gone.

Their payroll is going down, so technically this talk that they can’t “possibly” keep Hamels is inaccurate. They can afford to keep Hamels.

The question is will they do it during the season? Will they trade him and hope to re-sign him? Will they trade him and just let him sign wherever? Or will they keep him and take their chances retaining him in free agency?

If what Amaro said is true in terms of keeping the team together until they disintegrate, the Phillies don’t have much of a choice: they have to have Hamels in a Phillies’ uniform.

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Cliff Lee—Desperately Seeking A Win?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Where is this headed? Are the Phillies, so desperate to get Cliff Lee a victory on the season, going to insert him into a blowout as a reliever after four innings to get him a win?

Lee, with a Cy Young Award and post-season dominance on his resume, is being roasted because he hasn’t won a game yet in 2012?

Who cares?

The Phillies and Lee have bigger problems than to worry about the constant harping on whether or not Lee has a “W” next to his name. This is not a veteran hanging on trying to get his 300th career win; nor is it a pitcher who should be concerned about what’s said by outsiders who still equate the “W” with success or failure.

The “win” has received scrutiny in recent years and while it needs to be placed into context how a pitcher accumulates his total, it’s not something to be ignored entirely. It matters to the participants. It’s only in the past few seasons that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum were able to gain their deserved Cy Young Awards because of advanced stats and that there are voters willing to look at something other than the pitcher who won 23 games vs the one who won 16.

That still doesn’t prevent the argument that Justin Verlander didn’t deserve the MVP award last season because the Tigers would’ve found “any” pitcher (conveniently unnameed) to fill in for Verlander and they would’ve won the division regardless.

This argument is ignorant of the Tigers’ early season struggles and that it was Verlander who carried them when they were stumbling around. Only when they made mid-season acquisitions of Delmon Young and Doug Fister; when Joaquin Benoit began pitching the way they expected; and when the Indians came apart did the Tigers take off and run away with the division. Without Verlander they wouldn’t have been in position to do so.

So there are mitigating factors in all statistics, awards and attempts to analyze.

Because Lee doesn’t have any wins doesn’t mean he’s having a “bad” year. It doesn’t mean the Phillies should put him on the trade block.

His contract owes him $87.5 million after this season and he has a 10 team no-trade list. The teams that could afford that contract and surrender the prospects to get him presumably are on the no-trade list because a veteran pitcher isn’t going to want to go to a place that could pay him more money and would be getting him at a discount over the short term. Lee made clear during his free agency that he wants nothing to do with the Yankees.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to do that to him again and wouldn’t get anything more than prospects to add to a club that is still loaded with immovable long-term deals for veterans. The Phillies are what they are and a rebuild or retool on the fly is not on the table.

Lee hasn’t won any games this season because the Phillies’ offense has been unproductive; the bullpen has been shaky; and Lee has allowed runs late in games to sabotage himself. If the Phillies were the Phillies of years past, Lee would have 4-6 wins.

Would that make it all better?

He’s pitched poorly in his last two starts and for someone as mentally tough and impervious to pressure as Lee, it appears as if the talk of him “needing” a win is getting into his head.

That’s only going to make things worse and compound an issue that isn’t an issue for him to worry about or affect him at all.

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The Cliff Lee Trade Rumor Factoid

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The Phillies are not trading Cliff Lee.

Get it?

If that means they’re not going to be able to keep Cole Hamels, so be it.

Is this even a rumor or is it a viral bit of nonsense that started with the crown prince of tabloid buffoonery Joel Sherman in his Sunday column?

In that piece Sherman naturally suggested Lee go to…the Yankees.

Shocking.

In that same column, Sherman also wants the Yankees to make a move on Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies.

Anyone else Joel?

How about the Yankees just take R.A. Dickey with them when they visit Citi Field this weekend? That Andrew McCutchen is something special, why not him? Justin Verlander? Matt Cain? Bryce Harper? Yu Darvish? Aroldis Chapman? Shouldn’t they all be Yankees? And if the Yankees don’t need them, so what? It’s not enough to have a $200 million payroll and stars at every position. Perhaps they can put an auxiliary team in reserve so the regulars–Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia–can have preplanned vacations during the season. Or they can take the entire season off! “Just show up for game 1 of the World Series CC. Earn your money then.”

It’s the stuff of a thousand Mike Francesa hang-ups.

Sherman is the tabloid editor’s dream. Whereas most writers are told to write certain stories and include information that may not be relevant or accurate in the interest of drumming up webhits and clicks to increase advertising dollars, Sherman does it on his own and he does it better. Or worse, depending on your point-of-view.

But, as is my wont, I disappoint with evenhanded reality.

If the Phillies have to make the choice between Lee and Hamels, the financial and practical decision favors keeping Lee. Hamels is going to ask for somewhere in the vicinity of $140-$170 million after this season and the Phillies have to draw the financial line somewhere. Hamels has been worked hard as he’s heading for his fifth straight season of 200+ innings and playoff work. It’s a big risk signing him for 6-8 years at the dollars he’s looking for.

Lee is signed. He’s been mostly durable and is locked in through 2015 with a 2016 option. He’s guaranteed $87.5 million after this season. Who’s taking that contract? No one. Not even the Yankees.

The Phillies, without Hamels and with a rotation fronted by Roy Halladay, Lee, Vance Worley and whichever pitchers they sign or trade for to replace the departed Hamels, are still good enough to contend in a world of two Wild Cards. This is not a situation where the Phillies are going to trade Lee and replenish the farm system for the “future”. They tried that. It didn’t work. They’re going to turn around and do it again?

Without explicitly saying it, the Phillies admitted the mistake of trading Lee in two ways. First they acquired Roy Oswalt at mid-season 2010, then they re-signed Lee after the 2010 season.

Let’s suspend absurdity for a second and say the Phillies do trade Lee. Is any top-tier free agent going to want to sign with the Phillies without a full no-trade clause to protect them from Ruben Amaro Jr’s lies, schemes and desperation deals that would be evident if he traded Lee a second time?

And what of Hamels? If he hasn’t signed an extension when the Phillies trade Lee, how tight of a grip is he going to have on the club’s collective throats? They’ll have to pay him whatever he wants because if he leaves they won’t have him or Lee.

Then what?

So it’s not happening. Lee’s not getting moved.

It’s foolish. It’s nonsense. It’s fabricated.

It’s Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

Reader beware.

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Creative Writing and Cole Hamels

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Is there a reason that Cole Hamels‘s pending free agency is constantly updated as if there’s something to discuss?

It’s more trolling and laziness when there’s nothing to write about, so a “story” is formulated regardless of reality.

Here’s my logical outsider’s perspective from both sides of the bargaining table.

For the Phillies.

Eventually there has to be financial sanity; a realization that this cycle is ending and they must shift focus on a future that’s approaching faster than anticipated. At some juncture, they’ll need to restrain spending on the big league product and rebuild the minor league system.

The Phillies have a lot of players making a lot of money and giving Hamels the contract he’s going to demand may not be the best possible maneuver for them.

Cliff Lee is guaranteed $87.5 million from 2013 through 2015.

Roy Halladay is guaranteed $20 million in 2013 with an option for another $20 million in 2014 with kickers based on innings pitched that, barring catastrophe, he’s going to achieve.

Ryan Howard is guaranteed $105 million from 2013 through 2016.

Chase Utley is signed for 2013 at $15 million.

Jonathan Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million annually from 2013-2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million for 2013-2014 with an $11 million option for 2014 based on plate appearances. If the Phillies aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, Rollins is not going to get enough at bats to activate the option.

Hunter Pence is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after 2013.

Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton are free agents after this season.

Hamels is making $15 million this season and they could backload his contract to account for the money coming off the books in the future, but then they’ll be paying $25-30 million annually for a pitcher at age 33-36 as they’re doing with Lee now. It’s easy to say they should let Victorino leave along with the likely departures of Blanton and Polanco, but the Phillies farm system is gutted and they’ll still have to replace their centerfielder, their third baseman and their fifth starter. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and (if his elbow doesn’t blow out) Vance Worley, that’s a good 1-4 starting rotation. They could find someone to fill out the fifth slot and be okay pitching-wise with Papelbon as the closer. But their problem this season has been a lack of offense and they’re going to be replacing Victorino’s offense and defense with whom? And who’s going to play third?

The Phillies have shown little willingness to give their young players a chance to play in their new incarnation of a star-studded, big name-centric club and they don’t have any major prospects ready to fill those positions for 2013.

This is also assuming Utley comes back and is: A) able to play; and B) able to contribute 60-75% of what he was in his prime. With his recurring knee issues, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

I suppose they could swing a deal with the Red Sox to get Kevin Youkilis for 2013 while he’s signed and stick him at third, but he’s been injured and declining similarly to Utley.

B.J. Upton will be too expensive to sign as a replacement centerfielder and to keep Hamels and to find a third baseman who can hit. Torii Hunter could be a stopgap for a year or two in centerfield. Or they could keep Victorino.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Phillies pay up to keep Hamels. What they’ll be doing is mortgaging the future—when both Lee and Halladay will be gone—and rely on an aging Hamels to be their ace for a team that will be in the midst of a major rebuild. He’ll be untradeable, fading and expensive. If they keep him, it would be with an eye on chasing a title in 2013-2014 and not worrying about 2015 and beyond.

Is that worth 7-8 years at $160-180 million?

For Hamels.

There is no reason whatsoever for Hamels to agree to a down-the-line contract during the season and shun his first opportunity at free agency while he’s pitching brilliantly at age 28.

Hamels has thrown at least 180 innings from 2007-2011 and he’ll break that threshold again this season. He’s got the post-season bonafides including the NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He can handle pressure and a tough home crowd.

Why shouldn’t he maximize his dollars by exploring free agency?

The Yankees are always looking for pitching and given the disasters of their attempts to develop their own, if the 2012 season doesn’t go according to their mandate of championship or bust, they might use their checkbook to fill their self-created holes as they did after 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers new ownership is aggressive, willing to spend and Hamels is from Southern California.

The Cubs have money; the Mets’ finances are getting in order; the Orioles are finally showing signs of legitimate improvement; the Rangers consider everything and willing to pay; the Blue Jays are about ready to go for a title; the Marlins could continue their spending spree.

Hamels likes Philadelphia and presumably would like to stay, but he’s not going to do the Phillies any favors when it comes down to dollars.

In short, there are landing spots for Hamels. Why would he sabotage himself by signing now?

The answer is he won’t.

The reality.

This talk of the Phillies and Hamels having “discussions” or “contact” or “preparing to engage” or whatever terminology is considered new is just that: talk.

Or nonsense.

There’s not going to be a deal during the season and if the Phillies want to keep Hamels, it’ll take a big check. It won’t be until after the season and both sides will examine their circumstances and move forward accordingly.

It could go either way. Don’t let “insiders” or websites tell you any different.

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