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When Being Bad is Good

As the Phillies tumble end-over-end into the second half of the season (yes, I know, the All-Star Break isn’t the literal midway point, but by custom we start the second half today), they’re faced with an unfamiliar situation. The Phillies are out of it. Even with the second Wild Card spot is almost certainly out of reach, to say nothing of the division. Even considering that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are  getting most the at-bats once earmarked for Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis (he of perhaps the most popular .266 wOBA of all time), and even considering that Roy Halladay is nearing his return, this deficit is too great to overcome.

This is beyond the point where a bench bat or a reliever can put them over the top. There are 16 games left for the Phillies before the trade deadline, and in order to even be at .500 come July 31, they need to go 15-1 over that stretch, something they haven’t done since September 2010. So even if they replicate the hottest stretch of a team that finished with the best record in baseball, the Phillies are still quite likely screwed. I’ll put that in stone. If I’m wrong, please dig this post up and wave it in my face, shouting “neener neener neener” all you like. I will be too deliriously happy to care.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, yes, it’s a bad thing that the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world and, in fact, this could be the wake-up call that helps the front office reevaluate the way it constructs a roster. It’s grasping at straws, I’ll grant you, but we need something to make ourselves feel better.

So here are some ways the Phillies’ first-half swoon could actually help the team.

It gives the Phillies more options on Cole Hamels

If the Phillies were, say a game or two out of first, trading Hamels would be out of the question. But with no playoff run at stake, they can entertain offers on their best pitcher this season. If anything, the injury to Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee‘s bizarre run of bad luck illustrate how important Hamels is to this team, and maybe that gives the Phillies an incentive to sign him. Or maybe just not having to rely on him this season gives the Phillies a chance to nab a top prospect from a team that could use a No. 1 starter to lean on. Either way, a trade (which was always a better option than taking a draft pick) is now on the table, and Ruben Amaro and his men will decide Hamels’ fate not on the basis of what’s best for the team for the next two months, but what’s best for the team in 2013 and beyond, which I like.

The draft

The Phillies are currently sitting at 37-50, a .425 winning percentage. Last season, a .425 winning percentage would have put the Phillies fourth in the draft order. Assuming some things even out and they do better in the second half than the first, they should still finish with a record worthy of a pick in the top 10. To give you an idea of how long it’s been since the Phillies picked that high: the last player they took in the first 10 picks was Gavin Floyd, No. 4 overall, in 2001. That’s great, because it means the Phillies have been winning a lot, but it’s also (apart from the team’s insistence on drafting toolsy high school players  early, rather than players who are actually, you know, good at baseball, then when they pan out, trading them for Hunter Pence) one of the reasons the farm system has suffered in recent years.

Having a top-10 pick, particularly in  what’s supposed to be a pretty weak 2013 draft class, is huge. Equally huge is the new CBA’s provision that doesn’t force a team to forfeit its first-round draft pick for signing a type-A free agent. The Phillies have sacrificed their first-round pick in three of the past four seasons, including last year, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon mere days before the new CBA was signed, making them the only team to lose its first-round pick. You want an example of asleep at the wheel? That’s a pretty good one.

Anyway, maybe the Phillies can spend a first-round pick on a player who turns into a major prospect for the first time since Kyle Drabek.

Sit back and take stock of what you’ve got

Okay, not everyone, but the Phillies can now dispassionately take stock of their roster. Is Shane Victorino really the answer going forward? Is Hunter Pence worth more in a trade than he is on the field? Maybe signing players to expensive, long-term contracts on the decline phase of their career means you’re going to have a lot of money locked up in guys that 1) are hurt a lot and 2) aren’t as effective as they once were, even when they’re healthy. Maybe that’s a reason not to throw money at Josh Hamilton. Maybe the team won’t score many runs if no one’s on base in front of Ryan Howard.

I don’t think that Ruben Amaro and his staff will completely rethink their philosophy after half a bad season on the heels of five or six really good ones, and nor should they. But hitting a speed bump is often a chance to re-evaluate one’s methods, and if we see positive organizational change and a commitment to reloading come out of this year, suffering through one sub-.500 season will be well worth it.