Easy First-Half Schedule Could be an Obstacle

I was having a discussion about the Phillies’ future with Jon Bernhardt (@JonBernhardt) on Twitter recently. You probably guess how the discussion went, so I won’t rehash that here. Paul Boye (@Phrontiersman), as usual, chimed in with something succinct but poignant that made me think:

This is the last season for a while with any viable mid-season trade assets. Should it come to that.

We’ve talked about the pending free agents for a while, but the key part of what Paul said was “the last season for a while”. Many teams on the downward slope use the July trade deadline to sell off veteran players, particularly those with impending free agency on the horizon. The goal, usually, is to acquire at least one or two good prospects who can help you down the road. For example, the Brewers got Jean Segura from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade last July. The Rangers got Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in July 2007 for Mark Teixeira.

This is the reality the Phillies will face this July if they fall out of contention. Free agents-to-be include Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Michael Young, and Carlos Ruiz. The Phillies have the fourth-worst Minor League system in baseball, according to Keith Law and it ranks in the bottom-third according to just about everybody. If the Phillies fall out of contention in the first half, it should follow that they would attempt to restock the farm system by selling off their veterans.

There’s just one problem: their first half schedule is very easy. Buster Olney discussed some of the easier schedules back in February and wrote this about the Phillies’ schedule:

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Games against teams with records of .500 or better in 2012: 21 of their first 41
Home/road: 20 of their first 41 at home
Schedule notes: The Phillies had an easy schedule early last season, and it didn’t work for them, but they’ll get another shot at the pillow-soft stuff at the outset of this season. In their first interleague series of the season, the Phillies face the Royals, then they get the Mets and will see the Marlins 10 times before May 22. Philadelphia would seem to be a candidate for a strong start.

The hurdle ahead: Oddly, the Phillies’ first game against Washington doesn’t happen until May 24, and after opening the season against the Braves, they won’t see them again until just before the All-Star break.

As weird as it sounds, a strong first half could hurt the Phillies in the long-term by giving them the illusion they are a team that compares favorably to most or all of the NL competition. Rather than selling at the deadline, they could buy. The worst possible outcome would involve the Phillies surging in the first half and adding pieces, but still completely missing the playoffs, leaving them with nothing both now and later. It is certainly possible that the Phillies are better than we give them credit for — and they could be the beneficiaries of good fortune for once — but we need not be fooled by the easy schedule.

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27 comments

  1. DMAR

    April 04, 2013 08:08 AM

    Carlos might be their best asset to get something of value. I would be looking at the Angels a team that is in the window and in need of an upgrade at catcher.

    Young’s no trade clause carries over if I’m not mistaken and Utley is a guy if you’re the Phillies you just don’t trade.

    Tulo intrigues me. He is owed a lot of money and the Rockies don’t figure to be in it and Story is on the way.

  2. NickFromGermantown

    April 04, 2013 08:28 AM

    It’s a shame the Phillies couldn’t win some games until reality set in. I feel like the hope of Opening Day has been trashed by the fact that this team is playing exactly like what we thought they’d play like. It didn’t help that last night was so rainy, but it’s not like only one team was playing in the rain. Small sample size, but there haven’t really been any pleasant surprises.

  3. Nick

    April 04, 2013 08:37 AM

    After watching Halladay last night, this team has zero chance at competing if that is all Halladay has left. I understand his velocity is down, but I think his pitches in general are flat. Hitters aren’t swinging at pitches anymore that they used to swing at. He threw 55 strikes and 40 balls last night.

    I hope Ruben has the “balls” to unload the above mentioned players. IF Utley and Ruiz are healthy and productive, they are probably your best trade guys. Lee could also have some value to a big market team like LAD or maybe Detroit.

    It is time to re-build this team around Dom Brown and Cole Hamels.

  4. Allen Thornberg

    April 04, 2013 09:05 AM

    Trading off vets for promising prospects may be OK in theory, but does anyone really expect Rube “I don’t care about walks, I care about production” Amaro to not get robbed if he does trade Utley, Ruiz, or Halladay? This is the man who unloaded Cliff Lee for Gillies, Aumont, and Ramirez, and the guy who basically traded a player with a season and a half of team control left to a team in a playoff race (Pence) straight up for Tommy Joseph.

  5. NickFromGermantown

    April 04, 2013 09:48 AM

    ^ this

    It’s a terrifying prospect that RAJ is leading this effort. Now that his warchest of resources (money, prospects) is depleted and he has to make smart moves, we can see what he’s really capable of. He loves players on the decline and values one-trick ponies. Unless he makes some kind of major change, it’s not going to be pretty.

  6. LTG

    April 04, 2013 10:03 AM

    On the other hand, if RAJ dismantles the team via trades for prospects that don’t pan out, he might be fired sooner. And if the prospects do pan out, then we have a good team. I guess there is a middle ground where the prospects pan out just enough for the team to be competitive but not a consistent playoff team and RAJ ends up looking competent enough not to get fired at least for a longer time.

  7. SJHaack

    April 04, 2013 10:12 AM

    I am not horribly optimistic about the Phillies chances to be great. I think they’ll be mediocre.

    It is April 4th. The Braves are good, and the Phillies threw a lot of pitches in the strike zone. Good pitchers (Cole Hamels is an excellent pitcher) have off-games. Good teams lose two in a row. The Phillies, outside of about the last 3 years, are traditionally losers in the first week of the season for god knows what reason, regardless of the team outlook.

    It’s April 4th. 160 baseball games to go. The only player you can draw a reasonable conclusion about is Utley. Is he capable of still playing at a high level? Fuck yes he is. (If he’ll continue to do so is the question)

  8. Phillie697

    April 04, 2013 11:22 AM

    I gotta say, I have to side with SJHaack here. I am on record of thinking the Phillies will miss the playoffs, if not down right suck (Dom is the one player who can keep us from super suckage), and on record of saying RAJ is a hack of a GM. But 2 games? I’ll save my saber-rattling for June, because rest assured, saber will be rattled.

  9. Scott G

    April 04, 2013 12:00 PM

    Which of these vets would draw much in return?

    Utley could be hurt by the trade deadline. Young could be awful. Halladay could be hurt/awful.

  10. LTG

    April 04, 2013 12:18 PM

    Lee, Ruiz, a healthy Utley… Hamels.

    I also agree that it is way too early to declare the Phils dead for 2013. But it’s not too early to speculate about what will/should transpire once it is reasonable to declare them dead.

  11. MG

    April 04, 2013 01:06 PM

    Phils aren’t going to have a veteran asset that commands a premier return at the deadline unless they move Lee & his partial no-trade/large backloaded contract make that challenging too.

  12. Phillie697

    April 04, 2013 01:20 PM

    If someone took Vernon Wells, we can find someone who will take Lee if Lee pitches like Lee until the trade deadline.

    Although by “we” I guess I forgot our GM is RAJ… Nevermind.

  13. EricL

    April 04, 2013 01:20 PM

    Lee’s contract is looking like fair market value after the past year of Greinke/Felix/Verlander extensions. If the Phils were to pay a portion of that contract in a trade I’d expect the return to be fairly substantial.

  14. Phillie697

    April 04, 2013 01:29 PM

    Greinke – 29
    Verlander – 30
    King Felix – 27

    Cliff Lee – 34

    What are those numbers you say? Their ages. So, nice try, but Cliff Lee’s contract is not quite fair market value even considering those other pitcher’s contracts.

  15. LTG

    April 04, 2013 01:50 PM

    Lee also has fewer years left. Verlander’s contract will pay him like Lee, if not more, at Lee’s age.

  16. LTG

    April 04, 2013 01:52 PM

    But that’s not what I came here to post.

    I want to make sure everyone sees this headline containing the worst sports-pun I’ve read in years:

    “Braves out to Medlen in Phils’ affairs”

  17. Phillie697

    April 04, 2013 02:15 PM

    @LTG,

    Except the Phils have already received the best years of Lee’s contract, and will now be trading away the years that they don’t want.

    Worst pun ever.

  18. LTG

    April 04, 2013 02:34 PM

    But teams might think, looking at those recent contracts, that the FA market will not be a good place to get a pitcher of Lee’s current quality and risk at Lee’s current rate. I’m sure the Phils will have to throw in some money, but maybe less than we thought last year and this offseason.

  19. Hampton

    April 04, 2013 09:04 PM

    @ Allen: Pence was going to be owed north of $10M anyway, control or no control, yes? That’s why he only returned Joseph. The problem was trading for Pence in the first place, when Brown was perfectly capable of botching right field on his own and would have probably benefited from developing his big league stroke in the cauldron of a pennant race. We’d know a lot more about him now, at least.

    @LTG: you would consider trading Hamels? Under what circumstances?

  20. LTG

    April 04, 2013 10:58 PM

    Hampton,

    You misunderstand me. The question was which vets would net a decent return. Hamels is clearly the vet who would net the greatest return. That doesn’t mean he should be traded. The only condition under which the Phillies should consider trading Hamels is if they foresee not being otherwise competitive in the next 5 years, which is not unforeseeable.

  21. EricL

    April 05, 2013 12:12 AM

    Phillie:

    “Except the Phils have already received the best years of Lee’s contract, and will now be trading away the years that they don’t want.”

    I know of no reason why that is necessarily true. Lee had the best xFIP of all qualified starters in baseball last season; his FIP was 8th. He posted the 2nd best strikeout rate of his career, bested only by his 2011 season. Cliff Lee is currently pitching at the peak of his abilities, and there are various precedents of elite pitchers maintaining their dominance well into their late 30s. Yes, there is some risk in his contract, as there is in all multi-year deals, but the risk is significantly lower than that in Verlander or Felix’s contracts because there are comparatively few years remaining on Lee’s contract.

    Like I said, Lee is not egregiously overpaid and if they were to deal Lee and pick up a significant portion of that contract the return should be substantial.

  22. Cheesecrop

    April 05, 2013 05:32 AM

    We’ve seen three games so far. The first featured a start from a pitcher (Hamels) who history has shown to do poorly in his first start, only to bounce back every time.

    We’ve seen a second pitcher (Halladay) who’s clearly attempting to change his pitching style, & who tossed a rather strange game to put it mildly. There’s still a promise for something, r he wouldn’t have racked up 8 K’s in 3+. The jury’s still out.

    We saw the third pitcher (Lee) pitch the way we’re used to seeing him pitch.

    If we’re already raising the white flag, this team, it’s GM, & it’s fan base have major issues.

  23. Todd0081

    April 05, 2013 08:04 AM

    ty SKHaack!That sounds like a comment from a true Phillie fan.I can’t imagine these guys actually being a bad team, they are too hardened. I believe they will compete. The questions about Doc of course are VERY troubling. I’m not worried about Cole, Cliff…wow. I think we’re gonna b ok.

  24. Phillie697

    April 05, 2013 09:27 AM

    EricL,

    I wasn’t disagreeing with you about trading Lee and if we pick up, say, 1/4 to 1/3 of his contract, we probably could get something useful. My nitpick was you thinking the contract is comparable to what those other three pitchers signed. Yes, when Lee signed his contract, at the age of 32, it would have been comparable, but just as Detroit and LA and Seattle expect to get an elite pitcher for the next 2 to 3 years (in the case of Felix, maybe 3 to 5 years), and realize the overall sum factors into a few years of elite pitching followed by a few years of not-so-elite pitching, so was the expectation of Lee’s contract. Now he’s 34, and starting to get into the part of his contract where he was sort of expected to decline, it’s not comparable anymore.

  25. Chris

    April 05, 2013 01:59 PM

    Cheesecrop:

    Agree 100%.

  26. amarosucks

    April 05, 2013 03:42 PM

    ‘I can’t imagine these guys actually being a bad team, they are too hardened. I believe they will compete.’

    Thanks…I feel so much better

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