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.