Phillies Trade Rumors Are Premature

Jonathan PapelbonEvery year as June turns toward July, trade rumors begin to fly. That’s because it’s at this point in the season that organizations begin their self evaluation to determine if they will be buyers or sellers by the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

Though we have yet to reach the halfway point of the season, several teams have already emerged as clear contenders. Just as many others have fallen so far behind their respective division races so as to be all but eliminated already (though mathematically there is still a possibility for all teams to make the playoffs at this point).

It’s with those teams in between – usually those that are hovering around .500 – that real reflection must be had. General managers and managers must make the tough call: can their team realistically compete for a playoff spot this season? If the answer is yes, that team will likely be a buyer at the trade deadline and seek to acquire a player to feel a need or improve in a weaker-than-normal area. If that answer is no, that team will likely be a seller and will seek to exchange a player who offers to improve another team’s chances at winning this season with the hope that the pieces received in return will help positively build toward the future.

For some reason, many around baseball circles are already assuming that the Philadelphia Phillies will be sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

Rumors have already begun flying, as contenders are reportedly scouting Philadelphia’s roster in hopes of scavenging a player who will put them over the top.

The Tigers, Red Sox and Cardinals are reportedly interested in seeking a deadline deal for Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.

There has also been speculation as to whether the Cardinals should pursue a trade for starter Cliff Lee.

That assumption is premature, and one I think the Phillies will eventually prove wrong.

In the preseason predicted Philadelphia to be a playoff team. I still expect them to be one by season’s end.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, Philadelphia is 35-37 tied with the Washington Nationals for second place in the National League East division, seven games behind the first place Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies are far from out of contention this season. On the contrary, they are actually well within striking distance of the Braves.

Thus far, they’ve overcome a dreadful start for expected ace Cole Hamels. At 2-10 with a 4.40 ERA through his first 15 starts, Hamels has not pitched anywhere near the level the year-to-year stats on the back of his baseball card indicate he should. Hamels will not continue to struggle in this way all season, and his return to form will only increase the Phillies’ win percentage.

They’ve overcome the loss of former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, another would-be front-of-the-rotation starter. Halladay had tried to pitch through shoulder pain through the first month of the season. It was an epic failure. He went 2-4 with an 8.65 ERA before finally opting for surgery. The loss has left the organization scrambling to find a starter capable of occupying the fifth spot in the rotation.

They’ve overcome the short-term loss of All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, who last played on May 20th before injuring his oblique. In 44 games, Utley was hitting .272 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, and was the lynch pin in the middle of the Philadelphia batting order.

Yet the Phillies are still right smack dab in the thick of things in the NL East.

The Braves exploded out of the gate with a hot start this season, but have since returned to orbit. Just as the 162-game schedule is designed, time has revealed fundamental flaws with Atlanta’s makeup and, well, fundamentals, that will likely prevent them from ever putting together enough wins to pull away from the rest of the divisional pack.

The Nationals were the odds-on favorites to win the East, but has fared no better than Philadelphia despite suffering far fewer setbacks. Our preseason expectations for Washington’s young team might have been over-inflated, a consequence of being prisoners of the moment and remembering only the magic of last year’s run.

Unless and until the Phillies fall out of contention, they should consider themselves potential trade-deadline buyers, and should scout with an eye toward improving their team for the now, not just for the future.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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