Rich Hofmann | Any sudden moves could lead to case of buyer's remorse

Posted: July 10, 2007

BUY OR sell?

Starting to think sell.

The Phillies are 44-44 at the All-Star break; this much we know. The rest will have to be surmise. Here goes.

They have been here before and we have been here before, all for naught. To review, what follows is the Phillies' record and place in the standings for the last few July 10ths, all of which ended up a couple of months later with a handful of dust.

Year        W-L    GB Div.GB WC

2007. . . 44-4        4       4       4

2006. . . 40-47      1       2       5

2005. . . 45-44      7       5

2004. . . 46-40      -        -

2003. . . 50-39      8        -

If the leaders limped around as they are today, it would take 90 wins to get to the playoffs. To get to 90 wins, the Phils would have to play .622 baseball from here to the wire. They would have to play .622 baseball for nearly 3 months with pitching that is not just shaky, not just below-average, but the worst pitching in the National League, measured by earned run average (4.91).

It is not happening. The people at Baseball Prospectus do a computer simulation and list the Phils as a 10-1 shot to make the playoffs, and that's as fair a guess as any. With that pitching, even this slugging lineup cannot score that many runs, not for that long.

So, are you going to trade Michael Bourn in order to rent somebody's fourth starter for a couple of months, all in the hope that you can cash in that 10-1 ticket? Are you?

The Phillies lead the National League with 456 runs scored, and they have shown the ability to have the hitting carry the team for a couple of weeks at a time. Last year, after general manager Pat Gillick was a seller at the trade deadline, the Phils hit like crazy for 3 weeks and dragged themselves back into contention with their bats. But 3 weeks is not 3 months, and this year's pitching is not as good as last year's pitching.

In the end, it is always about the arms. After the injuries to Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia, and the shifting of since-injured Brett Myers to the bullpen, everybody knows that the Phils are short a starter - and that's assuming Kyle Kendrick can continue to be counted on.

A fair reading of the starting rotation thus far would say that Cole Hamels has been very good and will continue to be very good; that Jamie Moyer has been good so far and might continue to be good (his ERA has risen in four of the last five seasons after the All-Star break); that Adam Eaton has developed into a fair-to-middling battler and should continue to battle; that Kendrick has been surprisingly strong, but could very well have some rough water ahead, given everything; and that we have no earthly idea who will start the rest of the games.

How that adds up to the post-season is a little tough to discern. There is no obvious short-term upside here. If there is a good starting pitcher on the market, the news has been well-camouflaged. If there is an end-of-the rotation stopgap on the market, what will it take to get him?

Everybody says Aaron Rowand, but why would a bad team - likely the only kind of team trading pitching - want a rental guy who is about to become a free agent? You look at the roster, and the next guy who jumps out at you as a possibility is Bourn. But is a fourth starter enough, especially a rental fourth starter, in exchange for a young outfielder with some potential?

Let's say Gillick is able to find somebody, though. There is still the bullpen. Reinforcements are allegedly coming in Myers and Tom Gordon, but they will arrive with the word "FRAGILE'' stamped on the box. They might be useful, but it is hard to imagine manager Charlie Manuel being able to lean on either one. Maybe they can be co-closers. Maybe that will work, thus relieving some of the pressure up the line.

But a lot will have to go right. And they're still going to have to hit like crazy. And you wonder.

Nobody wants to face the possibility, but selling might make more sense.


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