Trade deadline unlikely to bring Phillies much value

Reliever Antonio Bastardo is coveted by many teams, because he is young, cheap, and durable.
Reliever Antonio Bastardo is coveted by many teams, because he is young, cheap, and durable.
Posted: July 28, 2014

After a low, growling storm rolled through South Philly on Wednesday evening, bringing a temporary halt to the game between the Phillies and Giants, the end of the rain delay and the resumption of play was punctuated but not affected by several nearby lightning strikes and the loudest thunder of the night - not to mention most of the rain.

That didn't impress the umpiring crew enough to signal for another delay, however - getting the Phillies' season into the books as quickly as possible is everyone's desire at this point - but it did provide a couple of handy metaphors for what has taken place in Citizens Bank Park and elsewhere this year.

For instance, just when it seemed the storm might be passing this season, just when it appeared possible the Phillies might be able to begin to shake their post-championship funk, the sky has gotten a whole lot darker instead.

This wasn't going to be a breakout season or anything close to that, but the arrival of Cody Asche at third was a welcome sign that a future might exist, and there was optimism about Domonic Brown as he came off a 27-home run, 83-RBI season. Cliff Lee was very good in 2013 and, paired with Cole Hamels, made up a good start to any rotation. If you had known that Chase Utley would have an all-star season and that Marlon Byrd would be a steady producer, well, the slight optimism wouldn't have seemed misplaced.

All of that is just sizzling rubble now after the lightning bolts have torn through the season. The young players look ordinary, some of the older players have increasingly fallen victim to injury, and the stairway to the future appears steeper than ever. If there was hope the climb would get a boost before the non-waiver trade deadline arrives Thursday, that was another temporary calm interrupted by thunder in the last week or so.

Lee was a reasonable trade piece, and might still be, but his return from an elbow injury was unimpressive, just as his final rehab stint in Clearwater wasn't very good. Teams looking to solidify their rotations for a playoff run don't seem likely to part with top prospects to add a 35-year-old pitcher whose velocity and location are shaky.

The same goes for Jonathan Papelbon, to some extent. He has had a strong season but suffered a blown save and a loss Tuesday and Wednesday just as potential trade partners were leaning forward to take a better look. Factor into the equation that Papelbon is expensive and viewed as being of questionable value in a clubhouse, and he probably wouldn't bring much, either.

Byrd could be traded, as could A.J. Burnett, Ben Revere, and Brown, but those swaps wouldn't provide many lifeboats for the sinking ship, either. And the likelihood of a major deal, one involving Jimmy Rollins, Utley, or Hamels, let alone Ryan Howard, is increasingly remote.

While general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said there will be changes, he hasn't got enough leverage to do anything of lasting value. A year ago, the Phillies were quiet at the non-waiver trade deadline, and it could turn out the same this time around.

"The bottom line was we didn't find anything that was satisfactory," Amaro said after standing still last season. "Nothing we thought was going to improve us. . . . It was about not feeling like we were going to get any talent back that was going to upgrade our club."

Amaro did have a sell-off in 2012, when he moved Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, but the more dramatic stripping down of the team has been prevented by some hefty contracts and the diminished skills of those who hold them. Simply put, the Phils are painted into a corner, and until it dries that is where they will stay.

The really bad news is there are still nearly 60 games of this mess to endure. Manager Ryne Sandberg grinds along in his flatline manner, still putting the team through the same situational drills and infield and outfield drills that he promised would be a regular regime throughout the season. Perhaps the horse will revive as a result of these repeated beatings, but it hasn't stirred so far.

Every time there is a slight spark in the darkness - and the Phils have had two five-game winning streaks this season - it is extinguished quickly. The first streak was followed by a nifty 3-13 skid and the next segued into a 1-7 stretch.

Instead, the only flashes of light come from the underside of the storm that refuses to move off. There was some hope that things would be clearing soon, but not so much now. And just like Wednesday night when the players went back on the field, the games will continue no matter how scary they are to watch.

Stay or Go?

Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb looks at the five Phillies most likely to be dealt before the trade deadline and their chances of changing teams.

Antonio Bastardo, LHP Chances: Good as gone

The reliever is coveted by at least half a dozen teams because he is cheap, young, and durable.

Marlon Byrd, OF Chances: Strong

His vesting option for 2016 and four-team no-trade clause complicate matters, but Byrd is the best available power bat.

A.J. Burnett, RHP Chances: Decent

If the 37-year-old starter convinces teams he will retire at season's end, he could be moved.

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP Chances: Slim

No one wants his money or personality, and the Phillies will be reduced to begging someone to intervene.

Cliff Lee, LHP Chances: Slim

Two starts after time off for a strained left elbow are probably not enough to convince a contender that Lee is worth prospects or money.


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