The Phillies entered this weekend’s series with the Braves fresh off of their first sweep of the season. While they didn’t fire on all cylinders against the Brewers — they won on three late-inning comebacks — the team showed signs of life. It played more like squads from years past than the disappointing 2012 version. The sweep helped them stay somewhat relevant in the playoff picture, as a healthy lineup with Halladay returned to the rotation had the potential to do some damage over the next two months.
While there truly isn’t precedent for a team this far under .500, this late in the season, to surge back and grab a playoff berth, it’s also hard to imagine many instances where a team this talented on paper played so sluggishly for three or four months.
Then this series happened. The Phillies were sluggish in the crucial series opener, fell flat again on Saturday night and struggled to do anything positive this afternoon. The result was a three-game sweep that effectively negated everything they did in the Brewers series and put the team back at the proverbial square one. Roy Halladay pitched better than he did in his previous start, but didn’t look Doc-esque, and the offense struggled to capitalize on the seven hits they recorded against Tim Hudson. It was an extremely disappointing series on all fronts: offense, defense and pitching.
I tend to avoid absolutes whenever possible, but this sweep sure seems like the nail in the coffin for the Phillies playoff hopes. And though that is initially disappointing, there is a positive for those subscribing to the glass half-full theory: now that the team is effectively out of it, Ruben Amaro doesn’t have to remain in limbo with regards to the trade deadline.
When the Phillies were still on the verge of being “in it” it was tougher to justify trading certain players. But now? Move anyone that could bring something of future value back, whether that surfaces in the form of salary relief, prospects, or both. If someone wants to pay Hunter Pence the rest of the season and trade a prospect or two, the Phillies should act on it. He’ll provide short-term salary relief as the Phils won’t be paying his approximate $13-$14 million salary next year, and Domonic Brown could immediately start playing on an everyday basis. Perhaps with less pressure, the Phillies will give him the playing time he needs without jerking him around in the thick of a playoff race.
If a team decides to trade a young, talented, team-controlled reliever and a prospect for Victorino, and no other offers are on the table, it makes some sense to really consider that deal. Given the new collective bargaining agreement, the Phillies would only get draft pick compensation if they made a qualifying offer to Victorino in the vicinity of $12-$13 million for next season. Given his relatively subpar season, it’s doubtful that Shane would get anything close to that over one year on the market. And if there is a risk that he would accept the qualifying offer, the Phillies need to decide whether or not they are okay paying him that amount next season. A centerfielder of his track record at $13 million could be a steal, but the Phillies may have their eyes set on using that money elsewhere. If they don’t want to risk paying him $13 million, trading him now and avoiding the situation is the way to go.
Juan Pierre could also help a playoff contender as a pinch-runner and platoon outfielder. He probably won’t hit like this the entire season, but he makes next-to-nothing and still has skills both at the plate and on the bases. Heck, even Ty Wigginton might be attractive to a contending team in a pinch-hitting and spot start capacity.
Joe Blanton has the lowest BB/9 in the National League and a terrific K/BB ratio. Since June 25, he has made six starts with a 3.61 ERA, 6 walks and 41 strikeouts. That’s an arbitrary time period, sure, but it shows that he his results have matched his peripherals recently and that he just might be in the progress of regressing. He is still prone to serving up home runs, but some team is going to pry him from the Phillies hands.
The Phillies are in a strange spot in that they have numerous valuable assets yet have struggled to regularly win games this season. They still have enough talent to compete in 2013, but the allocation of resources could use some retooling. Getting out from under Pence’s contract and potentially getting a decent return on Victorino could go a long way towards shaping the roster next season. Getting swept by the Braves stinks, as it’s always tough when a team is out of it before reaching the trade deadline. However, in this case, I’m choosing to view it as a blessing in disguise, as it gives Amaro more reason to act smartly this week by selling assets instead of trying to put lipstick on a pig of a 2012 campaign.