Inside the Phillies: As trade deadline nears, Phillies must make decisions

Posted: June 13, 2012

The Phillies' multi-million-dollar disabled list combined with the current mess on the field is going to make things quite complicated for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in the coming weeks.

The July 31 trade deadline is exactly seven weeks away, and there was a time in baseball when a last-place team more than a week's worth of games behind the division leader knew exactly how to proceed.

Sell, sell, sell would have been the Phillies' only logical position if this were general manager Ed Wade's 2000 team.

Domonic Brown would already be in the big leagues, too. Why not find out about the kid once and for all?

This team and this time makes Amaro's job much more difficult.

It's true the Phillies are looking at a large deficit in the National League East, but we've learned over and over again that wild cards can win the World Series, too, and now there are two in each league.

A season ago, St. Louis and Tampa Bay overcame huge September deficits in the wild-card race to reach the postseason. The Cardinals didn't feel the need to apologize for winning their 11th World Series without winning their 12th division title.

If there were always two wild cards instead of one since 1995, the Phillies' current string of playoff appearances would be seven instead of five. They would have made the playoffs with 85 wins in 2006 and 88 in 2005, which would mean every team managed by Charlie Manuel would have reached the postseason.

More relevant to this season is the fact that 11 of the 16 teams that would have qualified as the second wild card since 1996 won fewer than 90 games. I didn't include 1995 because that was a strike-shortened season. Eighty-five to 89 wins is still well within reach for a team that expects to get its two best position players and most accomplished starting pitcher back from the disabled list at some point in July.

On the other hand, the anticipated returns of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay further obscure any decisions Amaro can make about deadline trades. No one knows how good Utley, Howard, and Halladay are going to be when they return, and the sample size before the trade deadline is going to be minuscule.

Is it realistic to believe Utley and Howard can be in midseason form when their seasons are just beginning? Do we know if Halladay is ever going to be the same dominating pitcher he once was?

Add in the fact that the Phillies have two potential high-profile free agents on their roster, and that makes the deadline decisions even more complex for Amaro. If the general manager does not think he can re-sign either Cole Hamels or Shane Victorino, it would make the most sense to stockpile some top-level prospects rather than lose two top players for nothing other than draft-pick compensation.

Trading Hamels or Victorino, however, decreases the chances of making the playoffs this season, and that's a tough sell to guys like Utley, Howard, and Halladay when they are working as hard as they can to return from serious injuries.

Still, that's the most daring move Amaro could make, and if the Phillies could land a top prospect that will be ready for the big leagues in the near future, the youthful injection would not be a bad direction to take. Hamels would obviously bring a better return than Victorino, but that is also the far bigger risk, especially when you consider Halladay's recent injury and Cliff Lee's inability to win a game so far this season.

In all likelihood, the Phillies will remain close enough to at least be in contention for the second wild card in the coming weeks. As bad as they've looked for the last 10 days, they are not that bad. And the seven teams ahead of them for the second wild card are all flawed and capable of being caught.

The other thing the Phillies have going for them is that if they decide to stand pat or add a player at the trade deadline, they should still be in a financial position at the end of the season to make moves that will help them be a contender in 2013.

With three pitchers like Hamels, Lee, and Halladay, it makes it difficult to give up on a season. Those three always make a long postseason a realistic possibility.

As for Brown, it is a good thing that he has not yet been called to the big leagues. The Phillies admitted they were too quick to call him up in the past and they'd be making that same mistake if they did it again now. Brown has had a couple good weeks after playing poorly and missing considerable time because of injuries through the first two months of the season.

Let him prove he can play well and stay healthy for a few months at triple-A Lehigh Valley before throwing him back into a fire that is burning hotter than ever at the big-league level.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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