Sweeten the pot

The Phillies are reportedly willing to part with Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton to get Hunter Pence. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
The Phillies are reportedly willing to part with Jarred Cosart and Jonathan Singleton to get Hunter Pence. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

Phils in no position to hold back for right trade

Posted: July 28, 2011

THERE WAS nothing quite like the reserve clause to keep the trading deadline from becoming too unruly. It was a one-sided device that bound a player to his team as long as the front office chose to keep him around. General managers didn't have to make deals to get something in return for players who were going to walk away at the end of the season.

Not only that, the lack of free agency kept salaries artificially low, so there was relatively little financial pressure to dump a player to save a few bucks.

Well, the reserve clause was buried some 35 years ago and that's a good thing. But it sure changed the whole character of the frenzied days leading up to the moment of truth, which this year arrives at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Now, before pulling the trigger on a deal to add a piece for the stretch drive, contending teams must ask themselves a couple of complicated but conjoined questions that didn't even exist years ago: How much of their future are they willing to mortgage to support the present? And which prospects who will fetch immediate help should be considered untouchable?

These are the issues that the Phillies are grappling with as the sand continues to pour through the invisible hourglass.

ESPN.com reported yesterday that it believed the Phillies "had a deal" for Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, but that Houston had "backed off." Reportedly the Phils had been willing to part with righthander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton, both at Class A Clearwater, and a lesser pitching prospect.

It's hard to decipher exactly what that means. It could mean the Astros, upon further review, simply decided that they needed more. That would suggest the deal remains a possibility if the Phillies are willing to sweeten the pot. Or it could mean that the team with the worst record in baseball, in the throes of an ownership change, is scared that nobody will show up next season if it moves one of its most popular players.

So the internal tug of war continues in the executive offices at Citizens Bank Park. And it will only intensify after a 2-1 loss to the Giants last night in which the Phillies were held to an unearned run on four hits in the only pitching matchup of this series - Cole Hamels vs. Matt Cain - that could come close to being replicated in the postseason if these teams meet again.

Should the Phillies dangle even more young talent to obtain Pence, or somebody very much like him?

If so, are there any players who should be declared off-limits?

The opinions here, from left to right: yes and no.

Subtracting even more talent from a farm system that was strip-mined to acquire Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton over the last few years isn't to be taken lightly. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Eventually there will be a price to pay.

What makes it sticky, though, is that there's also a cost attached to not making a move and falling short.

"I look at our situation and I see a window with our pitching and our core players, I see about a 2- or 3-year solid time to win. A real good chance of always getting into the playoffs and a good chance of winning the World Series. It's kind of hard for me to look any farther than that down the road," Charlie Manuel said.

"At the same time, what makes a good team? What makes people come to the yard? I think the players and how they play and winning the ballgames is what brings people to the games. Any time you start losing games and you become a second-division team or you're not competing, more than likely I'd be willing to bet that your attendance is going to drop. We're in a have-to-win situation."

Managers are always about the here and now, but he makes a good point; the Phillies enjoyed their 178th consecutive regular-season sellout last night.

The defending world champion Giants fired a shot across the bow yesterday, giving top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to the Mets for what amounts to a 2-month rental of outfielder Carlos Beltran. They could regret that someday, but this was a decision pinned squarely on October 2011.

The Phillies face similar pressures but might have to decide if it's worth giving up, say, outfielder Domonic Brown. Difficult as that would be, he's still a raw talent - he lunged awkwardly at a sinking line drive by Nate Schierholtz in the seventh inning last night; the play was scored a double but it let the decisive run score - and in the right deal they'd probably have to grit their teeth and include him. And if they can trade Brown, they can trade anybody.

The Phillies might be able to win another World Series without adding a significant player. But the only risk not worth taking is finding out.

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