Phillies business model part five: still time to sell
by Scott Butler 7/14/13

The Phillies have 17 days to potentially decide the fate of the Phillies organization for the next decade. Oh, what to do at the deadline? Go for broke and trade your few remaining prospects and salvage your last real shot with this core? Bank on Charlie’s second half success and stand pat or make a minor move? Trade a part for a part by moving a minor piece like Michael Young for a reliever? Only trade Chase Utley, the one free agent after the season with tangible value? Or, sell the entire farm?

It seems like a difficult decision, but it should not be that difficult if the Phils have a business plan and are willing to stick to it, which I have already made abundantly clear in the first four articles. The Eagles made it their organizational philosophy to avoid signing players over the age of 30. They did not always adhere to it but they rarely wavered, regardless of any backlash from the media or fans. If the Phillies have a clear idea of their vision of the now and the future and are willing to stick to it, they can focus in on the specific trades.  

The Phillies are fun to watch right now, but they are creating some sleepless nights for Ruben Amaro and company. The players have given plenty of reasons why the Phillies should be buyers rather than sellers: a .500 record and 5.5 games back in the Wild Card, Charlie’s amazing second half dominance, the vulnerability of the Braves, and the potential for Cole Hamels to get hot. We could even look to the 1980 and 1983 Phillies as examples of older teams with surprising finishes.

There are also many reasons to sell, sell, sell: four key pieces on the disabled list, Utley’s injury history, nine players over 30, a .500 or better record for just six games all season, a frightening bullpen, and a weak farm system.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that this is not a World Series team. Sure, it is entirely possible the Phillies have one more run in them, but odds are too unfavorable in comparison to what they lose by not trading.  That is why the Phillies must be sellers. It will be an extremely unpopular move if the Phils continue to play well, but to waste any opportunity for future improvement is irresponsible.

The fact is, the odds are stacked against the Phillies. I’ve been writing all week of the importance of having a business plan, and it might be more important now than ever. The Phillies have to take a good, long, look at this year’s team and the teams of the next few years. The Phillies have several pieces to trade and they have to decide if holding onto them is worth it for the slim chance of making the playoffs and the even slimmer chance of winning the World Series. It is in the best interest of the organization to forget about this season and turn the page towards the next generation.

The more important question is who and how much the Phillies should trade.

Who should the Phillies trade?

Tops on the list (sorry, ladies) should be Chase Utley. He is the only free agent on the team with any significant trade value. The Phils will not trick any team into believing they are acquiring the Chase Utley from 2009, but whichever team wants Utley only has to commit to this season. The Phillies could get a top prospect from another organization for Chase or at least a decent package. If Utley is healthy, he provides an instant offensive jolt to a contending team, tremendous on-the-field leadership, and playoff experience.

All of this hinges, of course, on whether or not the Phils plan on keeping Chase next year. In my mind, he no longer fits on this team. The type of salary Utley commands would prevent the Phillies from paying any serious money to a backup, making Utley a serious risk if and when he gets injured. He makes more sense on an American League team or a young team like the Nationals or Pirates who can afford to to take a chance on an older injury risk.

Number two on the list should be Jonathan Papelbon. A team in the pennant race with a need for a closer like the Red Sox or Tigers might be willing to part with a top prospect. Papelbon has been tremendous for the Phillies, but he is not getting younger and is worth moving if they land a top piece in return.

Next in line should be Kyle Kendrick. KK’s trade value will never be higher than it is right now (although it was even better a month ago). Kendrick is 28, has a 3.68 ERA, is only making $4.5 million this season, and still has one more year of arbitration with a salary next year less than $10 million. As much as I am impressed with Kendrick’s performance this season, I would never be comfortable handing him a long-term contract, so you might as well get something for him while you can.

Also on the list is Michael Young. While the Phillies won’t get much for Young, a team in need of a third baseman might be willing to give a second or third tier prospect or maybe a bullpen arm. He still has a little life in his bat, plays hard, and offers tremendous leadership. Young is not in the Phillies' future plans and if the Phillies trade him they can get a good look at Cody Asche. They are almost crazy not to trade him.

Last in line is Jimmy Rollins. If Chase goes, you might as well take Jimmy with him. Rollins is still a solid shortstop and hits well enough to play on most teams, but his best years are behind him and the Phillies have a player they think can fill his shoes in Freddy Galvis. Rollins still has enough value to warrant a decent package, but they should not trade him for nothing. Rollins still ranks in the top half of shortstops and has one more year left of a fairly reasonable contract (with an option for a third year), so there is no urgency to trade him. Trade J-Roll only if you can get something for him and hope that Galvis develops as a hitter.

You may be surprised not to see Cliff Lee’s name on the list, especially since he probably has the highest trade value on the entire roster. Trading Lee makes sense on several levels. He is almost 35 and just one year younger than Halladay, so injury problems could be right around the corner. With two more years on his contract at $25 million and an option for a third season at $27.5 million, Lee could be a huge expense and potential financial drain like Howard.

But pitchers like Cliff Lee are hard to come by and you aren’t likely to get the same value in return for a pitcher of his caliber.

The goal of selling right now is to not become the Miami Marlins next year. Elite pitchers like Lee and Hamels give the Phils the best chance to avoid that fate and hopefully compete over the next couple seasons. Trading now means the Phillies will have to plug in several young players next season (Galvis, Frandsen, and Asche are among the possibilities), but their high payroll allows them the flexibility to add a couple free agents to the mix. If the youngsters perform and they choose the right free agents like they did in 1993, they have a legitimate chance to compete…if Cliff Lee is on the team. Without Lee, that will be awfully tough.

Another player the Phillies should not trade is Carlos Ruiz, mainly because he has little trade value at the deadline. His offense has dropped significantly, from a .325 average with 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 114 games last season to a .266 average with 0 homers and 6 RBI in 39 games this season. The Phillies simply will not get anything for Chooch. His weak offensive numbers might be an advantage because they can resign him at a more reasonable price, especially considering catchers normally do not earn much. The Phillies do not have any catching prospects ready to replace Carlos, so re-signing Chooch might be their best option.

If the Phillies follow my logic, they will trade Utley, Rollins, Papelbon, Michael Young, and Kendrick. It will be painful. But a general manager must think with his brain, not his heart.

What is best for the Phillies must be the only thing that matters. The way I see it, I am not a fan of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins – I am a fan of the Phillies.

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