I thought when I got home on Monday evening I might have found the Phillies without a few of their veterans. The team has failed to respond to any stimulus provided throughout the year. Charlie Manuel tried meetings. They brought some guys back from the DL. Ruben Amaro basically said, “Win the series in Atlanta–or else.” As you may have noticed the Phillies were swept out of Atlanta, continuing a season of struggles against the NL East. The optimism that accompanied the 4-game win streak of last week is gone now, and the only chance that remains is a mathematical one. With a couple of months of what promises to be low-intensity baseball left, the question becomes, where do the Phillies go from here?
1. Make the Obvious Trades. Victorino must go. Pierre should be dealt as should Joe Blanton. If the Phillies find a taker for Ty Wigginton they can go ahead and trade him too. Keeping guys like Pierre and Blanton makes no sense, given the standings, and if they wanted to keep Shane it would be simply to save some face this year. The return for these players will be minimal. The Phillies could look for relief pitcher. Maybe you get lucky on a mid-ceiling prospect. Perhaps you can get Baltimore to part with one of their starting pitchers who has fallen out of favor? The Phillies should make these deals to get themselves under the luxury tax threshold and to open up a place in the outfield immediately. Even if they get nothing in return for these players, those are enough positives to move ahead.
2. Call up Dom Brown yesterday. Brown was either wildly overrated or the Phillies did hinder his development a great degree with their yo-yo promotion/demotion tactics, but Brown is no longer THAT young. Eventually you run out of time for seasoning. Dom Brown cannot start the 2013 season in Lehigh for the Phillies. He needs to be on the Major League roster, or the Phillies need to move on. Brown has displayed a knack for getting hurt this year, but he’s also finally rounded back into prospect form. He’s hitting .395 in July with a 900+ OPS. When you first heard about Brown the term was “5-tools.” What we’ve seen from Brown is that he may, in fact, not have any elite skills. He can throw, and he can run, but is he ever going to hit 30 homers? Or develop into a good outfielder? Probably not. But, Brown could be a contributing, low-cost piece on the Phillies for the next several years. A LF that hits .265/20HR would be a revelation compared to what they put in LF this year. Especially at $500,000 those stats are pretty easy to swallow. Give Dom Brown 50 starts from now until the end of the year, give him 200 at-bats and see what it looks like. For those concerned about his defense, have you seen Hunter Pence play RF this year? And, even if he is a butcher, the Phillies really have an eye toward 2013 at this point. If he costs you a game or two in the field, what’s the difference?
3. Watch Halladay closely/Limit His Innings. You have to keep sending Roy out there at this point, because there is the occasional sign that he’s coming around. Halladay may never throw 93-94 again, but plenty of pitchers have been effective at lower velocities. We know Halladay will work at it, but at some point you wonder if he’s pushing himself too hard. If Roy continues to mix in 6IP/4ER type of outings, it might be time to reexamine the health of his shoulder. If you shut Halladay down, you could also promote a starter from AAA to see if there’s any shot he could fill the #5 spot in the rotation next year (long shot). If Halladay is throwing 110 pitches in late August and September (barring a 24-game win streak), someone should be relieved of their duties. And, I’m not even a pitch count guy.
4. Treat all other veterans with care. The Phillies got old quick. They need some of those veterans to stay healthy throughout 2013. Chase Utley looks better to me than last year, but it was September when he really trailed off in 2011. To me, it’s hard to justify him playing even five times a week down the stretch if the Phillies are out of it. Ryan Howard needs to play to continue to get himself closer to being in shape, but he too should see plenty of days off down the stretch. Same goes for Chooch. Does this mean the Phillies are going to trot out some painful/hilarious lineups in September? Probably.
5. Trade Big Salary in the Off-Season. I don’t see the Phillies moving Lee and/or Pence before Tuesday. If they do, hopefully it is because they have been blown away by a massive offer. If they wait until the winter they can give themselves some more time to plan the next two or three seasons for this team. Yep, it’s finally time to look long-term. Also, the market for starting pitchers will be very thin this winter when it comes to free agents. Say Cliff Lee has a big last two months, the price he’d bring from a team who misses out on Greinke this winter would be a lot more than the Phillies could get in the next two days. And, trading Lee now for any prospects, just for the sake of dumping salary seems like a rushed judgment. Got to start thinking bigger picture.
6. Attitude/Leadership Changes. Nothing makes a team look worse than losing. The Phillies had plenty of fire against the Brewers, but when shut down by Atlanta, it looks like they have no heart. Charlie Manuel appears to be cracking a bit. The once loyal Manuel has started to publicly say that he doesn’t see “the want” in his players. Manuel is an old-school guy. He puts up with Jimmy Rollins’ strolls to first because they were winning 100 games. Now, I imagine it’s driving him crazy. I can’t even begin to comprehend the level of frustration among the coaching staff. So, even with a clean slate next year how are the Phillies going to change the feel of things? Manuel and Rollins have taken on a bit of a Brown/Iverson feel for me at this point. Most times, it’s the player who stays, but if the Phillies don’t want to eat Manuel’s fat contract, J-Roll could find himself on the trading block next to Cliff Lee.
So, if I’m a Phillies fan at this point, I’ve closed the book on 2012–minus the blind faith quotient. This Phillies team is like when I’m watching a golf tournament and thinking well…”If he birdies the last 6 holes and the other guy hits 4 in the water–I’m liking our chances all of a sudden!” What you hope is that the Phillies do call up Brown, or perhaps a young starter, or maybe they pry away a legitimate prospect from another team. Then you’d have something to watch the last two months, because it’s been 6 years since we saw a meaningless baseball game in this city. It’s going to be a hard adjustment for the fans to make (especially the “new” fans), and it’s already been a hard year, but the Phillies have to figure out a way to keep things positive in regard to 2013 and beyond. Fortunes with the fans can turn quickly. Just ask the Sixers.