Role Reversals and Trade Deadlines Make Strange Bedfellows

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The “Mets-Phillies rivalry” isn’t so much a rivalry. It’s more two fanbases that dislike one another due to their close proximity. The teams were never in contention at the same time until 2007 and by then the Mets had the reputation as condescending and arrogant because of their 2006 and early-2007 dominance and the Phillies’ reputation as underachievers and authors of the greatest collapse in baseball history in 1964. Jimmy Rollins stoked the fire with his bluster early in 2007 and looked foolish as the Mets were strolling to a second straight division title; but Rollins backed it up with a blazing final month and by winning the MVP in the Phillies’ remarkable comeback that seized the momentum and sent the Mets into a spiral that culminated in the front office regime change and roster turnover.

The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and became the dominant team in the NL with another pennant in 2009 followed by two more division titles in 2010-2011.

The tide has turned again.

This time it’s the Phillies who are reviled throughout baseball because of their smugness, penchant for trading and signing every big name on the market and “we’re better than you” mouthiness, much of it emanating from their fans. The Mets are the young upstarts expected to lose 90+ games (and in the ludicrous world of Michael Kay, 110 games) but find themselves in the thick of the pennant race and looking to buy players rather than sell.

So where does that leave them?

With each mounting loss and rising deficit in the playoff race, the Phillies’ decision to sell grows more and more likely. But would they trade anyone to the Mets?

The Mets are in need of a right-handed hitting bat who can play first base. They’re continually placing Justin Turner at the position against lefty pitchers instead of Ike Davis. Turner is not an experienced first baseman and is not meant to be in the lineup regularly; he’s a useful bat off the bench and can play second, third and a little shortstop. It’s not as easy to play first base as the Mike Francesas of the world will lead you to believe. That notion is a disproved theory from the 1950s that a player can be “hidden” at first base. The Mets cannot let an inexperienced defender cost them runs; that’s where they are if they insist on using Turner there.

With Ryan Howard activated, Ty Wigginton no longer has a regular place in the Phillies’ lineup. Wigginton hits well against lefties and enjoys hitting in Citi Field (1.278 OPS with 3 homers in 34 plate appearances). The Mets can use him. As the velocity of the Phillies plummet rises in new and enterprising ways like last night’s debacle against the Braves in which Antonio Bastardo entered a 0-0 tie in the 8th inning, proceeded to load the bases, walk in a run and serve up a grand slam to Brian McCann, it’s clear that there’s not going to be a turnaround for the Phillies when Roy Halladay returns or at any other time. They’re closer in the standings to the dregs—the Padres, Rockies, Cubs and Astros—than they are to a playoff spot.

This is pretty much it.

Sometimes teams that revile one another will acknowledge that concessions need to be made to do business. The Red Sox were going to trade Mike Lowell to the Rangers who, with the Red Sox knowledge, planned to send Lowell to the Yankees. It never came to pass but that style of plausible deniability is necessary in a true rivalry as fierce as that of Yankees-Red Sox.

Such is not the case with the Mets and Phillies.

The Mets can use Wigginton and the Phillies are coming apart at the seams. That’s a starting point for negotiation without partisan rancor and fan perception standing in the way.

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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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