July 17, 2012

Sell sell sell. Then buy buy buy.

As of July 17, the Philadelphia Phillies have a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs in 2012.

I know that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and (as of tonight) Roy Halladay are back on the active roster. I know that a team with a $172 million payroll is expected to bring home a championship.

But it's over. The Phillies aren't going to leapfrog seven wild card contenders and make up a 10-game deficit with only 71 games left. Despite what Ruben Amaro Jr. might say, even though they're in the middle of a three-game winning streak, it's time to admit that 2012 is a lost season.

So let's start the selling process. There's no reason to keep guys like Joe Blanton and Juan Pierre. Both will be at least a little enticing to a contender, even if the return is just a mid-level prospect or two.

For the sake of fielding a proper team, it might be tough to swallow trading Placido Polanco. I don't think anyone wants to see a Mike Fontenot/Ty Wigginton platoon at third. But if you get a decent proposal, move him too.

The Cliff Lee-esque contract that the Phillies have apparently offered Cole Hamels is a credible one, but it probably won't get the job done. Hamels could see $20-30 million more on the open market. Whether it's fair or not, if he won't sign, say goodbye. For now. Maybe he'll see a more generous deal from Amaro over the summer.

I'm warming to the idea of trading Hunter Pence (with one more arbitration year remaining, he may have the most value) if Shane Victorino will consider a three-year deal, but that seems unlikely. I expect Shane will be gone in a week or so, and you need to keep one of the two good outfielders.

Either way, the point is that the time for changes has come. Minor changes, of course. Joe Sheehan tweeted recently that the Phillies need work on minimizing this upcoming (and possibly inescapable) down period, to take a more long-term view, but that's tough to do when you've got over $104 million committed to six veterans (Howard, Lee, Halladay, Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins) in 2013. That's a team that needs to compete, one that has entered the upper stratosphere of baseball franchises. A place with certain expectations.

Unfortunately, I do not exactly trust Amaro to make the tweaks necessary to rejuvenate this last-place team and legitimately threaten the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves once again. But he's what they've got, and he would be wise to surrender properly. They have some assets that could net young talent, perhaps even the kind that could contribute immediately.

And I really think there could be reason for optimism. A few smart moves -- a young third baseman, a solid free-agent outfielder, a few bullpen arms, improved -- and there's no reason you can't contend in 2013. Maybe not be a favorite to win the whole thing, but to have that be a possibility again.

But to run it back, to go down with the ship and offer Cole the maximum and act like this is all just an aberration, that would be foolish. I don't think they're going to do that, but I'd love to see them sell hard now and then buy hard in the offseason. I believe that could truly work.

For better or worse, they need to start acting like the Yankees. Or the Red Sox. A team that can get away with joke contracts for John Lackey or A.J. Burnett (or Ryan Howard) because they've got deep pockets and at least a solid farm system. A team that has no problem dropping a few million on some relievers or a centerfielder if that's all that stands in the way of contention.

Farm system's a little barren right now, but the number of talented pitchers and outfielders that'll hit the market in a few months is staggering. So dump what you can, restock the ol' cupboard to the best of your abilities and write a few more checks over the summer.

This 2012 team is majorly flawed, but the 2013 team doesn't have to be. Know when you're beaten and use that knowledge to supplement an expensive core properly. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it's what Amaro has to do. His legacy, and the immediate future of Philadelphia baseball, depends on it.

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