The Tuesday 10: Embrace the Sell
Trying to be objective, or thinking you’re being objective, can be difficult sometimes. You don’t like losing, I don’t like losing and professional players don’t like losing. The people in charge of said professional players also don’t like losing, of course, because their pockets and reputations are damaged as the losses pile up. So, naturally, it seems against nature to actively worsen a team’s Major League product.
But, hey, that’s where I’m at. And it’s not a casual support, either. Now, in the face of the Phillies winning three of their first four against divisional opponents on what’s being called a pivotal homestand, I still stand ardently in favor of the Phillies selling on 2013, embracing at least a partial rebuild and looking toward the future. So, for this version of the 10, I’ve (sort of) got 10 reasons why selling is the right thing to do. And this will be light on numbers, because we’ve got some Real Talking to do.
1. The Odds Are Long
As I’m writing this, the Monday Diamondbacks/Dodgers game just ended, and CoolStandings.com pegs the odds the Phillies make the playoffs at 7.2 percent. That’s up from a nadir of 4 percent on June 25, but still a far cry from bankable odds. The ground the club has to make up between now and decision day – whenever in July that might be – is so formidable that any attempt at making a major addition (i.e., Justin Morneau) is aggressive leaning heavily toward foolhardiness.
2. Cliff Lee’s Contract Will Become Useless
Paying Cliff Lee $25 million a season certainly seemed palatable back in the glory days of winning records, but the club has become top heavy, paying lots of money to players who aren’t worth it while carrying a deeply flawed rest of the roster in support. Now, that isn’t to say Lee isn’t worth his deal; I actually think he most certainly is. But the amount of sense it makes to keep him on the checkbook as the club struggles to stay relevant is dwindling. There are multiple instances of big money commitments lying around that could prove to be hindrances, but for different reasons than Lee. Lee, more so than Jonathan Papelbon, carries a ton of trade value despite the money. Yeah, sure, the Phillies will probably be asked to absorb some of the cost, but the potential return is much more likely to be high-caliber regardless.
Lee is exceptional. He’s still putting up terrific numbers (119 strikeouts to 21 walks, 2.73 ERA, a 4.4 rWAR that nearly equals his 2012) and is the prize of the starting pitching trade market. To pass up the chance to rebuild a lower-third farm system, remove a big chunk of payroll from the books and set this organization up for a brighter future than they can currently muster just…makes sense. It doesn’t make emotional sense – yeah, it’s fun to watch him pitch in red – but will the Phillies really be able to field a competitive team in the next two to three years? And Lee is entering his mid-30s; will he stay this good forever, or will this be a blown opportunity to cash in on value?
Clear the money, bring in the haul of young players this team has so badly needed for years and try to build this thing back up.
3. Chase Utley Deserves Better
Yeah, you know what, Ruben? I’d like it if Utley remained on the Phillies for his whole career. In brighter times, I’d push harder for an extension to be worked out in-season. But a player who has frequented the disabled list over the past handful of seasons is a risky asset. And now, with his contract expiring, Utley is putting up excellent numbers when he’s actually playing. His value could be above your standard rental fare, and really, there’s no guarantee Utley even wants to stay on past this season.
Does it suck to think like that? Sure. I don’t like thinking my favorite player of all time is likely playing out his final days as a member of the Phillies, but facts are facts and the situation looks dim. If Utley can provide a worthwhile return – as long as he’s shipped anywhere but New York – it’s worth it for the Phillies and worth it for Utley to chase another title.
Hell, I know my bandwagon team for the rest of the season is wherever Chase ends up, should he be dealt.
4. Cole Hamels Can Cornerstone A Rebuild
We’ll use cornerstone as a verb here just this once.
Is Hamels having a down season? Yeah. But he only turns 30 this offseason and is locked up through at least 2018. He’ll likely maintain his effectiveness through his early 30s, with decent odds that he’ll still be pitching at a high level by the time the next wave of talent comes up. At least, I trust Hamels will keep performing in his early 30s more than I trust Cliff Lee to stay hot as he gets deeper into his 30s. Call it a hunch.
With Halladay all but done, Lee possibly traded and Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd looking like depth starters above the uncertainty that is Jesse Biddle and whatever else might be lurking in the minors these days, Hamels is the best starting pitching asset this organization has moving forward. The odds of rebuilding what they had in 2011 are microscopic, but with Hamels in tow, the staff is likely better off than it would be in any iteration without him for the next four to five years.
5-10. The Future of Ruben Amaro
This is sort of a cop out, but it’s incredibly important and worth consuming the bullet points. In lieu of other reasons like general payroll flexibility or the excitement of potentially adding the next franchise player or how a rebuild could actually be a MORE appetizing outlook for an upcoming TV deal than the stagnant, moldy milieu in which our outlook currently resides, I posit this: this deadline is the most important deadline of Ruben Amaro’s baseball career, and will determine his future at the helm of the Phillies.
You could generously characterize Amaro’s GM tenure as “hit or miss.” There’ve been some blunders, but also some solid, shrewd moves. It’s part of what makes RAJ such a frustrating general manager, because the potential for great moves is obviously there and clearly labeled on Amaro’s track record, but the fear of the big miss is also plain. The Phillies are where they are right now in no small part because of Amaro, and this is his chance to set the club up for a brighter future.
Should he decide to stand pat or make a minor addition (a duplicate John McDonald trade, or in that ilk) and present a team that misses the playoffs for a second straight season, Utley and Carlos Ruiz leave for greener pastures in free agency and the Phillies are left with nearly $105 million tied up for just six players with holes to fill at second base, third base, catcher, right field and untold pitching staff spots. And, no, Robinson Cano won’t be that answer at second.
That’s a conservative painting, too: Amaro does have the ammo to make a more significant addition – even if it isn’t quite on the level of a Hunter Pence or ’09 Lee – at even more significant risk. What happens if Biddle and Maikel Franco are dealt for naught? You get the idea.
The direction Amaro chooses and the results that follow will be critical to his future. As of now, there probably aren’t many people who trust him either way, whether he chooses rebuild or go-for-broke. But, it seems to me that the rebuild is the safer way to go; the potential damage far below the repercussions of emptying the farm yet again.
Look, I don’t like the idea of having a crap team for a couple years any more than you all do. But the difference between crap with some legitimate glimmers of hope on the horizon as opposed to mediocre-to-below-average with less optimism about the future is not small. Some of the weight of expectation, the pressure to make the best out of the very last drops of this “window” we all like to talk so fondly of, gets transferred; the disappointment of the now can be assuaged by the hope of the future. Besides, a failed rebuild is a better risk taken than a longshot go-for-broke that unsurprisingly turns out poorly.
This is where we are right now. It’s not pretty or glamorous or anything remotely resembling the success of Not Long Ago, but it’s so, so important just the same.
Ruben Amaro has a chance to redefine his legacy. I hope he makes the right choice.