Olt's stock has dipped a bit since last July, when he was suggested by fans and media members as the kind of player the Phillies should seek in return for lefthander Cole Hamels, who eventually signed a 6-year, $144 million contract extension 2 1/2 months before he was scheduled to hit free agency. While Olt struggled at the plate in a 16-game cameo for the Rangers last year, going 5-for-33 with 13 strikeouts, five walks and one extra-base hit in 40 plate appearances, the real concern stems from an incident in November in which he was hit in the head with a pitch while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. The 24-year-old third baseman has complained of vision problems this season, which apparently have contributed to his struggles at Triple A Round Rock, where he entered yesterday hitting just .213/.317/.422 with 89 strikeouts in 230 at-bats (along with 11 home runs). Compare that to last season, when he hit .288/.398/.579 with 101 strikeouts and 28 home runs at Double A Frisco.
Whether the Phillies ever had interest in Olt is irrelevant, as they appear to have ruled out trading the one player who would have fit with Texas. Cliff Lee was never a good bet to leave Philadelphia this season, despite the rumblings that appeared in the national media a month ago, which indicated that the veteran lefty was open to the possibility of a trade that might land him with a contender. (Lee has a no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to all but eight teams in the majors.)
Of all of the current Phillies who would appeal to pre-trade-deadline buyers, Lee makes the least amount of sense to move, mostly because David Montgomery and Ruben Amaro Jr. and whoever else has input into such a decision are under zero pressure to do so.
In fact, even if the Phillies were willing to trade the veteran lefty, it might make sense for them to wait until the offseason, when more teams have the payroll space necessary to expedite such a move. After all, the more bidders involved, the higher the price tag. The only significant risk is that Lee injures himself between now and the end of the season.
We have a different story when it comes to the two other players who could command a blue-chip prospect if the Phillies allowed the market to work its magic over the next 9 days.
Amaro has said that he wants Chase Utley to be a "Phillie for life," but you have to figure that the general manager understands that such a quaint notion is not conducive to wise business decisions. While Utley has said all of the right things thus far, nobody can predict what kind of market will unfold for him. And an upwardly mobile American League team deciding to dwarf the Phillies' final offer to the free-agent-to-be is not an unrealistic scenario. The Phillies will extend a qualifying offer to Utley, which means they will land a draft pick if he leaves, but the value of said draft pick is minuscule when compared to the kind of prospect that history suggests the second baseman might land the club if it chooses to deal him before the deadline. Still, sentiment will be an issue that the club considers.
Which brings us to what we consider the biggest no-brainer of a decision the Phillies should make over the next week: Trading Jonathan Papelbon. Forget, for a moment, the kind of prospects he might land. If worse came to worst, and the best offer the Phillies received was to give away Papelbon and the final 2 years and $25 million remaining on his contract, it would be a wise business move. Amaro, Montgomery and Co. have needs far more pressing than a reliever whose only job is to record the final three outs of games that the Phillies lead by three or fewer runs. Clearly, they could have used Papelbon's $12.5 million this season, since they decided to enter it with one of the shoddiest outfields in the majors. When you look at the dramatic drop off in Papelbon's strikeout rate and velocity, it's easy to conclude that the final couple of years of his contract will be better off as somebody else's problem. The more talent you can acquire in the process of divesting yourself of that problem, the better.
One thing is clear: The only stretch run that will matter to the Phillies this year has begun.
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