Last Thursday’s trade of Roberto Hernandez to the Dodgers is both troubling and encouraging. The deal sparked a series of events and renewed old questions that bear heavily on the future of the Phillies. Josh Beckett‘s going on the disabled list, possibly for the remainder of the season, certainly factored significantly in the specific timing of the trade, but that’s really only relevant from the Dodgers’ perspective. The trade’s immediate impact was that it forced the Phillies to call up emergency starter Sean O’Sullivan, a replacement player if there ever was one, to take Hernandez’s turn in the rotation. (Sorry, Sean.) From a broader viewpoint, Thursday’s interrelated events were an indelicate signal that the front office really has given up on this season.
This morning, David Murphy of The Daily News did an excellent job laying out the reasons why inaction by the Phillies at the trade deadline would neither be surprising nor irresponsible. The entire article is rather short and well worth reading, but the following excerpt gets to the crux of the issue:
As of this post, the Phillies are no closer to making a trade of any substance than they were a week or two. They’re concrete in their stead, apparently, holding out for the moon and stars in return for Cole Hamels, all while having to weather the opposing forces rebuffing their attempts to dump the likes of Ryan Howard, A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd.
Pick an aspect of this deadline for the Phillies, any aspect, and you’re likely to find a different root cause and hindrance for every potential deal. The necessity of giving every player imaginable an option or three, the unluckiness of a four-team no-trade backfiring, the most valuable trade chips being the most unlikely to move, and on and on. In truth, there seems little assured about this deadline other than Antonio Bastardo‘s seemingly imminent departure. But is that enough?
The fatalists among us figured this was the way it was always going to end. The Phillies’ signing of Jonathan Papelbon in the waning months of 2011 – and, as I’ll never forget to remind everyone, a single week before a rule change would have kept the club from forfeiting their draft pick to do so – was going to end in one of two ways: the club would either win a World Series with Pap on the roster, or he’d become dead weight.
Actual, on-field performance barely matters here. That Papelbon is pitching well only means that he appears palatable to other teams, worth the cost of a marginal prospect or two and a heavily discounted assumption of contract. The Phillies did not claim their second World Series title since the turn of the milennium, and so this is where we stand.
Billy Beane‘s somewhat shocking, all-in trade of Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and Billy McKinney to Chicago for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last week signals the official start of trading season. Oakland has made a deal, similar to Milwaukee’s CC Sabathia trade in 2008, that includes an extra month to use its new players and build a lead for the stretch run. The deal also takes away valuable assets from other teams that are likely to make trades for starting pitching and other useful parts. The Phillies should exploit that competition as much as possible, as soon as possible, to both control the market (instead of waiting for it), and to give their trade partners more value.