Dodger Blue, Marlin black, Yankee pinstripes, Cardinal red, even those dreaded Nationals. The flip side of the extra wild cards is it opens up a slew of suitors to the few teams with too many issues and too much ground to make up. Which is where the Phillies, if they are not there already, are headed.
No one knows what Chase Utley or Ryan Howard will bring when and if each returns to the lineup. But it is more likely that both will give the Phillies more next season than they will this one. We also don't know what to expect from Roy Halladay once he returns sometime in mid-July. Then there's Placido Polanco's health, Vance Worley's bone chips, the various bullpen injuries, John Mayberry's ineffectiveness and the lingering doubts about Domonic Brown's potential.
Have I forgotten something? Probably. And that's the overall point. Supreme optimists point to the late-season turnarounds of the Giants and Cardinals over the last couple seasons, but each had far fewer issues than these Phillies do. The Giants needed more offense and got lucky with Cody Ross and Pat Burrell. The Cardinals got lucky with such overperforming bullpen castaways as Arthur Rhodes and Octavio Dotel.
The Phillies need help everywhere right now, even starting pitching. A run seems not just unlikely, but a miracle. Michael Stutes. I forgot about Michael Stutes. And Jose Contreras. And, and, and?…
Point is, the Phillies can play this two ways. They can hang on for dear life and hope that at least a dozen things fall in their favor — including the Marlins, Mets and Braves not fixing their own ills — or they can work to make this season a 1-year blip and not the start of a long decline.
To those who believe the latter is inevitable, I point to the Yankees, the Red Sox, even the Cardinals. Each turned over much of their lineup without long competitive droughts. Remember how that 2009 world championship was supposed to be the Yankees' last hurrah? Well, guess who was in first place in the AL East before Wednesday's games?
The Phillies have an opportunity here. They can infuse youth perhaps by dealing some of their expiring contracts this summer. The Cardinals, for example, have a well-touted 19-year-old rightfielder, Oscar Tavares, who has 12 home runs, 19 doubles and 43 runs batted in at the Double A level this season. They also have a 23-year-old third baseman, Zack Cox who, while struggling this season at Triple A, is a former first-round pick who has hit near or above .300 in his previous minor league stops.
Would you ship Hamels for those two? Would you deal Pence to the offense-challenged Dodgers for some of their more promising position-playing farmhands? Yeah, there's a danger of fool's gold with these guys, but what's the big risk? Since you haven't signed Hamels yet, you're likely to be in a bidding war for him come November. Same with soon-to-be free agent Shane Victorino, whose speed and defense might make him a valuable stretch drive addition for some contending team.
The Phillies have money. We all know that now. They also have a demanding fan base, one that probably will break the Phillies' sellout streak if any of the above occurs. But if you make the right moves, they will start another one next year, one that could go on as long as this one has.
Granted, it would take a lot of guts. And a lot of smarts. But the alternative — watching a contending team become a second-division one, the way the Mets did a few years ago — seems at least an equal risk, should they do nothing.
Or worse, hope that about a dozen fortuitous things happen this season, starting with the full return to health of their three rehabbing stars.
Contact Sam Donnellon at firstname.lastname@example.org. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/samdonnellon.