Well, folks it's been 6 weeks since I made these bold predictions, and at this point, there is no doubt about it - I am a genius! Ben and Domonic have done even better than I predicted, and Michael and Delmon have raised their averages near their career numbers, which has helped fuel our offensive surge.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we resemble the Big Red Machine or the 1927 Yankees, but we have significantly ratcheted up our run production. And though we're not exactly breathing down Atlanta's neck, our recent play against the Pirates, Braves and Nationals surely gives us reason to hope that we can have a meaningful and competitive second half of the season.
So what does it all mean as we approach the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline? How should the Phillies' brass approach the annual dilemma - buy or sell?
Truthfully, I don't envy the decision makers in the front office, as the 2013 Phillies have been as hard to figure out as any team in recent memory. Throughout the first half of the season, each flash of brilliance was typically followed with a maddening series of failures. The best example of this was the Phils' season-high five-game winning streak in early June, which they promptly followed with a season-high five-game losing streak in which they couldn't muster a win against the woeful Brewers and Twins. These constant ups and downs have had the fans pulling their hair out, and I can't imagine the magnitude of the stress it's caused the Phils' execs.
The answer to the age-old buy-or-sell question in my book is neither. We should basically stand pat, with two exceptions.
First, we should buy a good setup relief pitcher. Jesse Crain, of the Chicago White Sox, may be a good candidate, as he has been the best setup man in baseball this season, with an ERA of 0.74, entering the weekend series with the Phillies. But he might come with too high of a price tag, and we simply can't afford to trade any more of our top prospects. (Crain is also a free agent at the end of the year.) It would be awesome to get Crain, but Matt Thornton, also a member of the White Sox, can be had at a much more reasonable price, and the southpaw would be light years better than anyone we have. Thornton has held lefthanded batters to a .173 batting average entering the weekend.
Our second move would make us a seller in one instance - if we can get value for Carlos Ruiz, because of the Yankees' desperate need for a quality backstop. As I said in my last column, I believe Erik Kratz would be an improvement for us, as he would add more pop to our lineup. Chooch's performance this season, sans Adderall, especially over the last few weeks, doesn't give me much confidence that any team, even the Yanks, will be willing to give up value for him.
More than a few experts have suggested that we should sell Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon, who are clearly our two most valuable assets on the trade market. I strongly disagree. If we move Papelbon or Chase, it would be tantamount to raising the white flag of surrender (and trading Chase would symbolize the end of an entire era of Phillies baseball). Good God, who in our bullpen could close if we traded Papelbon? It's too frightening to even consider! As for Chase, because he is a free agent at the end of the season, we couldn't get close to real value for him now. Some experts say let's get something for him rather than let him walk away for nothing this winter. But if that does happen, and I'm not sure it will, we will at the very least receive a compensatory draft pick when the Phillies make him a qualifying offer, which could turn out to be better than what we would get in a trade.
So let's stay the course and hope that this team is finally starting to gel and that the players Ruben brought in are returning to the form that made him get them in the first place. If anything, let's buy a good setup man and say a sad goodbye to Chooch. Even if Ruben doesn't make any moves, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the rest of the season. The lineup is truly heating up, and Revere's ability to get on base has given the Phillies' sluggers a chance to drive in runs. And with John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick looking like reliable back-end starters, Cole Hamels finally beginning to hit his stride, Cliff Lee looking like a potential 20-game winner, and Doc Halladay having an outside chance of coming back for the stretch drive healthy and strong, the sky could be the limit.
If it comes together we will storm Atlanta like Sherman, and the Eagles won't be the only Philly team we'll be watching in October!