Rich Hofmann: It makes no sense for Phillies to give up so early

Posted: July 03, 2012

A SELLER IS only a seller after something has been sold. So calling general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. a seller at this point would be incorrect. Jim Thome does not count — he just made no sense for the Phillies when it became clear that he could not play in the field anymore. Trading him to Baltimore for prospects was just normal baseball business — a sale, yes, but not necessarily a harbinger.

Because the Phillies cannot give up yet.

It isn't just that the sport is replete with recent teams that have played like stink for long stretches of the season, only to get hot at the end and make a run in the postseason. The majesty of the 162-game schedule really has been reduced to who is playing the best in August and September. Baseball purists will deny this, and decry this, but the wild card — and, now, wild cards — have turned baseball into hockey and basketball and football. That is, as long as you don't shoot yourself completely out of it in the first 4 months, you really can win it by getting hot at the end.

So to surrender here, in the first week of July, would be just that: surrender. And stupid. To sell Cole Hamels at this point, or whomever, with half of the season still to play, would be doing a disservice to the fans, and to the players, and to recent history, and to common sense.

The Phillies have played some spectacularly lousy baseball so far. They really have to turn it around immediately if they are to have a plausible mathematical chance of attaining the last National League wild card. It is true that the Cardinals were 10 games behind the Braves in the loss column on the morning of Aug. 29, 2011, and still came back to win the wild card and then the World Series — but the Cardinals were well over .500, even at their depths. The Phillies are a .444 baseball team, and sinking.

Six games more, 10 games more, something like that, and we should know whether the notion of a comeback is rooted mostly in reality or fantasy.

At 36-45, they would need 52 wins in the second half of the season to get to 88 wins, the guesstimate for what it will take to win a wild card. Just a quick look at recent seasons says this:

The 2010 Giants were 41-40 and won 51 games in the second half. The 2007 Yankees were 40-41 and won 54 in the second half. The 2007 Rockies were 39-42 and won 51 thereafter. The 2006 Angels were 37-44 and won 52 games in the second half. The 2005 Astros were 39-42 and won 50 in the second half. The 2004 Braves were 40-41 and won 56 thereafter. The 2003 Marlins were 40-41 and won 51 after that.

That is why you don't give up now.

It just seems inconceivable that Amaro would have so little faith in his core players to pull the plug here. The heart of this team has been through hell and back — and won five consecutive division titles. True, it has not been this grim, this early, for this group. But this is also true: With the addition of the second wild card this season, it has never been easier to qualify for the postseason.

The first half of the season has been a disaster, and there is no getting around that. But Chase Utley is back, and Ryan Howard is coming back, and Roy Halladay is coming back — and it just seems impossible that Amaro would find himself able to look the three of them in the eye and tell them he is quitting on the season in the first week of July — or even at the end of July.

Even if the 2012 math becomes impossible, it does not justify selling Hamels for a good prospect or some combination of prospects and marginal major league talent — because there is going to be a 2013 season, too. It will be the final year the team is guaranteed to have Halladay. It will be the year when Utley and Howard are, in theory, healthy.

If Hamels is re-signed, it will be — on the one hand — the reckoning for this nucleus. But it will be the bridge to the next era, too — because Hamels at the top of your rotation, joined by Lee for a few more seasons, is the definition of annual contention if the rest of the roster is handled properly, and if the money they're paying Howard does not sink them, and if the Phillies get a little lucky.

Without Hamels, though, the thing starts to look pretty thin after next year. To lose him would be to lose something besides the strikeouts and the wins, too. Because there is an aura that has surrounded this team — which has nothing to do with what happens on the field, but at least something to do with the team's ability to assemble talent in free agency.

Money always will be paramount to free agents, and the Phillies theoretically will have money into the future. But when the money offered to free agents is close, other factors intervene — and we all have heard players who have come to Philadelphia in the last few seasons talk about the attraction of a full and energetic ballpark, and the professionalism of the clubhouse, and the notion that the team is all about winning.

What happens to all of that if Hamels leaves?

It is why they would be crazy to sell him, and especially now. n

Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com. Follow him in Twitter @TheIdleRich. Read his blog at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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