Every year at the trade deadline, teams must make the difficult choice of being a buyer or seller in order to improve their franchise as a short-term contender or rebuild for the future.
At 37-41, the Philadelphia Phillies have a little over a month before the July 31 deadline to make a decision, but it’s not too early to start thinking about becoming sellers. The Atlanta Braves are the NL East leaders at 45-33 and the Cincinnati Reds own the second wild card spot at 45-34.
In order for the Phillies to have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, the team needs to improve their pitching, which is currently tied for 23rd in the league with a 4.21 ERA.
Despite Cliff Lee still pitching brilliantly, the rest of the staff appears to be heading for a decline. Roy Halladay, Mike Adams, Jeremy Horst and Michael Stutes are on the disabled list and their once promising ace, Cole Hamels, is 2-11 with a 4.50 ERA.
When Lee signed a 5-year, $120 million deal in December of 2010 the buzz around the organization was about the potential to make regular trips to the World Series. With exception to a 102-60 season in 2011, which ended in a first round exit, the Phillies have failed those expectations so far. The Phillies finished third in the NL East with an 81-81 record last season.
Before the ships sinks entirely, the Phillies need to figure out the best way to get the most value in return. The Phillies’ most attractive assets are their infielders, which include four former All-Stars in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young.
Looking ahead to the upcoming offseason, both Utley and Young are poised to become free agents along with Carlos Ruiz and Ben Revere. Domonic Brown is still under team contract for 2014, but will be eligible for arbitration in 2015.
If the Phillies want to be able to bring back some of those players, the team will need to clear payroll as they did last season by trading away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino.
The Phillies are heading into next season with just seven players guaranteed under contract and will owe a combined $124.5 million to Lee, Hamels, Howard, Halladay, Rollins, Adams and closer Jonathan Papelbon.
With teams like the Washington Nationals and the Braves built for the long-term future, the Phillies should consider rebuilding now rather than committing too much money to players who are on the decline of their careers.