National League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Washington Nationals

They have the minor league system to do something significant, but looking at their roster and the players they’re due to have eventually returning from injury, they don’t need anything.

Their offense has been somewhat disappointing as they’re 10th in the NL in runs scored. They’re not particularly patient at the plate, but they spent a large chunk of the first half of the season without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; they lost Wilson Ramos and were playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield.

When they have their regular, everyday lineup out there and put either Bryce Harper or Werth in center to replace Ankiel, they’ll be fine in the run-scoring department.

Their bullpen has been lights out and Drew Storen will be back. In regards to Storen, I wouldn’t put much stock in his rehab results—he got blasted yesterday; as long as his velocity and movement are there, let him get back in shape without worrying about how he pitches.

What do they need? Some bench help? Okay. That’s something that can be acquired after the trading deadline when more teams are willing to clear out some players. Marco Scutaro, Ty Wigginton, Mike Aviles, Justin Turner are names to consider, but the Nats will be perfectly fine if they simply stay where they are and move forward with who they have.

Atlanta Braves

They need to buy but I don’t know if they will.

The Braves could use a big time starting pitcher but as has been the situation in the past, are they going to add payroll to get it?

GM Frank Wren made a big show of looking for a shortstop after Andrelton Simmons got hurt and then was forced to act when Jack Wilson got hurt as well. He traded for Paul Janish.

That’s not a big, bold maneuver.

They’ve been linked to Zack Greinke but I’m not getting the sense that the Brewers are ready to sell. Recently the suggestion was made that they were looking at Jason Vargas. Vargas and the words “impact starter” were used in the same sentence. Vargas is not an impact starter, but if I were a Braves’ fan, Vargas or someone similarly meh is what I’d expect them to obtain.

New York Mets

The three game sweep at the hands of the Braves is being taken as a calamity, but the Mets have been resilient all season long. They’re not buyers and nor are they sellers. They’ll look to improve within reason and not give up a chunk of the farm system to do it. Can they add payroll? No one seems to know. I’d guess that they can add a modest amount in the $5-10 million region and that’s only if it’s a player that the front office believes can make a significant difference and/or they’ll have past this season.

I’d avidly pursue Luke Gregerson for the bullpen and inquire about Joe Thatcher, both of the Padres.

Here’s one thing I would seriously consider: crafting an offer for Justin Upton centered around Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin. The big time pitching prospects in the minors—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler—are off the table. The Mets could move Lucas Duda to his natural position of first base and get a 25-year-old, cost-controlled, potential MVP in Upton.

The Diamondbacks can consider moving Paul Goldschmidt for pitching.

Miami Marlins

They should probably just stay where they are and hope, but they have little choice but to be buyers.

Carlos Lee was acquired from the Astros to try and fill an offensive void and he hasn’t done much so far. Would they think about including Logan Morrison in a trade to shake things up? Justin Ruggiano is killing the ball in his first legitimate opportunity to play regularly in the Majors and his numbers mirror what he posted in the minors as a regular. But he’s 30. They have to determine its legitimacy.

The bottom line is this: they need pitching in the rotation and bullpen and are running out of time. Francisco Liriano is a target as is Grant Balfour, Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street and any of the other suspects.

Philadelphia Phillies

Here’s the situation: In spite of winning the last two games of their series against the Rockies, the Phillies are still 39-51 and 14 games out of 1st place in the division. They’re 7 ½ games back in the Wild Card race. Some of the teams still in the Wild Card race are going to fade. Realistically it’s going to take around 88 wins to take the last Wild Card spot. In order for the Phillies to reach that number they’re going to have to go 49-23 the rest of the way. Even with Roy Halladay returning tomorrow night, it is an almost impossible feat for them to pull off. If they were playing reasonably well, I’d say, “Okay, maybe they can do it.” But they’re not.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Cole Hamels as the new talk is that they’re preparing a substantial offer to keep him. Maybe it’s true. But they need to get rid of Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino; see what they can get for Wigginton.

It’s not their year and if they sign Hamels that will probably assuage the angry fans—to a point—if Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes the season and gets what he can for the veterans who definitely won’t be back.

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Talk of the Phillies’ Demise and Fire Sale is Premature

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Too much is being read into random comments from invisible sources as to the Phillies’ intentions at the trading deadline. If indeed the Phillies have yet to send scouts to have a look at any players they might have interest in—Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Zack Greinke, Huston Street, Francisco Rodriguez—it doesn’t indicate that they’re not open to adding any of those players. The truth is that much of the scouting that goes on for name players is done to make sure they’re healthy. How much information that they don’t already have is going to be gleaned by following Greinke around for the next month? Not much.

So too is it silly to interpret the rumor that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is calling around to see what the market is for Cole Hamels as a definite sign that Hamels will be traded. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are expected back within the month and Chase Utley is just getting back into the big league swing.

They’re 11 games out of first place. That’s hard to make up. But they’re only 6 ½ games out of the Wild Card lead and there are two Wild Cards to shoot for in a mediocre National League. Unless they’re trailing by double digits in all three playoff possibilities at the end of July and their veterans aren’t performing, they’re not going to unload Hamels and Shane Victorino for the sake of it.

For a veteran team with an already gutted farm system, it makes little sense to start building for the future when they’re locked in with heavy contracts for Howard, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There will not be a full housecleaning in Philadelphia no matter the circumstances.

Just for the record, understand this: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

If they’re asking for the moon in a trade for Hamels, they’re going to have a hard time getting it with the pitching that’s likely to be available in Greinke, Ryan Dempster, the under-team-control Matt Garza and Jason Vargas. The talk that Amaro let it be known that he wants four to five prospects—four to five!!!—is tantamount to calling the Nationals and asking for Bryce Harper and the Angels for Mike Trout. There’s no harm in asking, but it’s not going to happen.

Given their poor season and the new draft rules that limit the amount of money that can be spent in the draft, the Phillies might be better-served to keep Hamels and Victorino and take the draft picks after the season if they depart. A bad year for the Phillies—say 75-87—would net them somewhere between the 8th and the 12th pick in the 2013 draft. Combine that with the compensation picks for other teams signing Hamels and Victorino and they’re in position to bolster their flagging farm system and have money to improve the big league club.

Don’t be so quick to think the Phillies are dead and that a fire sale is pending, because it’s not.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Cole Hamels

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Name: Cole Hamels

Tale of the tape: 28-years-old; bats left; throws left; 6’3; 200 lbs.

Contract status: $9.5 million salary for 2012; free agent at the end of the season.

Would the Phillies trade him?

Earlier in the season, there was no chance they’d deal him. The talk of a mid-season selloff for the Phillies was suggested by websites and “insiders” in the interests of generating webhits. It stemmed from a paucity of other things to write about. Now that’s no longer the case.

The Phillies have played poorly and are still waiting for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to return from injury with no concrete dates for their comebacks and no justifiable expectation of what they’ll provide or that the Phillies will be in contention when they do return.

Roy Halladay is on the disabled list and won’t be back until late July at the earliest.

In recent years the Phillies have been unabashed buyers at the deadline, but their injuries, age, demolished farm system and dwindling hopes to contend are making doubling and tripling down an exponential mistake and will speed their teamwide decline. Are they willing to keep Hamels and hope that he’ll stay as a free agent? Hamels has given no indication that he’ll provide a hometown discount and paying him $140-$160 million isn’t the soundest financial decision for the Phillies. Their payroll is bursting as it is and they have to draw the line somewhere. That somewhere is increasingly looking like it will be Hamels’s contract demands.

It’s unlikely that they trade him, but if they’re hopelessly behind in both the division and the Wild Card, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has to listen.

What would they want for him?

If they’re trading Hamels, they’ll have a hole in their rotation for 2013 and would need a young starter who could—at the very least—slot in behind Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley immediately. They also need a bat that can play third base, second base or centerfield.

Which teams would pursue and have the prospects to get him?

Forget the National League East. The Phillies aren’t trading him within the division no matter what they’re offered. They’d prefer to send him to the American League if they can help it, but would send him to a National League club if their season is lost.

The Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates, Giants and Dodgers could all do it.

Would Hamels sign with the team that trades for him and forego free agency?

At this point, it makes no sense. But if a team comes up with the money and blows the other clubs out of the water as a preemptive financial strike, why not? The Dodgers are a team to watch in this regard because they have a new ownership and will be looking to make a splash, win in 2012 and put a team together that their fans can buy tickets to see for years to come.

What will happen.

I don’t think the Phillies are going to give up on the season under most circumstances. If things really spiral out of control and they’re trailing in both the division and Wild Card by double digits, they have to deal him.

That’s hard to see happening, but it’s possible.

What teams that are interested in Hamels should do (and presumably are doing) is to call Amaro and let him know they want Hamels and he should start thinking—in an act of due diligence—about which prospects he wants in exchange.

A month-and-a-half ago, it was a fantasy to suggest that the Phillies would be deadline sellers. 45 days of uninspiring baseball, the still-awaited returns of Howard and Utley and Halladay’s trip to the disabled list may not have put Hamels on the table, but he’s a specialty item on the menu available for a hefty price and contingent on the environment.

The Phillies’ environment is growing dark.

That dark will put Hamels in play.

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