Tuesday, July 30, 2013

PHILLIES: After a frustrating road trip, what's next?

July 29, 2013

By Nick Tricome

At this point, the season gets more and more frustrating by the day.

The Phillies lost Sunday's series finale to the Detroit Tigers 12-4 to get swept for the second straight series and lose their eighth straight game.

So far, the second half of the season has been a disaster, putting any last hopes of making the postseason out of reach at this point. The Phillies are third in the National League East, sitting seven games below .500 with a 49-56 record.

They are now 11 games back of the first place Atlanta Braves (60-45), who now sit comfortably at the top of the division after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend. They are also 9.5 games out of a wild card spot.

With the non-waiver trade deadline just two days way, it's safe to say the Phillies are sellers at this point.

It's understandably tough for fans to see a team that has had so much success in recent years fall like this, but it's tough for the team as well.

"I've seen a lot, but I haven't seen that," shortstop Jimmy Rollins told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki after Sunday afternoon's game. "That was embarrassing."

"It's hard, man," catcher Carlos Ruiz told Zolecki. "It's tough. We're not playing good baseball right now. It's embarrassing to see that. It's almost every day. I'm hoping we come back Tuesday and try to turn around everything."

The situation is now entirely different from what it was a week ago.

The Phillies entered the All-Star break at the .500 mark and were still in competition with the Braves and the second place Nationals.

There was optimism towards this team, as they won seven of their last 10 games before the first half of the season came to a close.

The Phillies did have their issues, offense and the bullpen in particular, but the Braves weren't running away with the NL East just yet and the Nationals were hovering at the .500 mark as well, failing to meet expectations many had set for them.

The Phillies still had a shot. One last chance at October.

Fast forward to July 29 and any optimism that was left has now been replaced by disappointment, frustration and speculation as to which Phillies will be wearing different uniforms in a couple days.

Long-time second baseman Chase Utley will probably finish out the last year of his contract in Philadelphia and could be staying for a couple more years, as CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Phillies are trying to work with Utley on an extension.

Cliff Lee, who has been the Phillies' best starting pitcher with a 10-4 record and a ERA, is probably staying too. He was scratched from his start in Detroit on Saturday with a stiff neck, which led to suspicions that a trade could be happening, but the signing of Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez implies that the Phillies want to hold on to Lee for a rotation of him, Gonzalez and Cole Hamels in 2014 and beyond.

Plus, ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that the Phillies have told other teams what players are available for trade. Cliff Lee was not one of them.

There is still a chance that Lee could be dealt, but Jon Heyman is also reporting that any interested team would have to give back a lot in return, with a lot being the given team's four top prospects.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon's name has been tossed around in trade rumors as well, but the four-year, $50 million contract he signed in the 2011 off-season and five blown saves this season make it tough to move him.

Detroit was seen as a good fit for Papelbon. They lacked a closer after Jose Valverde lost his touch, but Joaquin Benoit has stepped up since and has done a pretty good job pitching in the ninth, with five saves, no earned runs and just six hits allowed in his last 10 games.

The Tigers also acquired closer Jose Veras on Monday to add more depth at the back end of the bullpen.

A return possible return for Boston has also been brought up in concern to Papelbon, but the Red Sox have been using Koji Uehara as their closer and haven't really been struggling.

At the same time, neither of these teams have actually expressed interest in trading for Papelbon. They have only been viewed as good fits for him.

Carlos Ruiz, who is in the last year of his contract with the Phillies as well, has also been speculated as a player that could be traded. However, it's been pretty quiet as far as trade possibilities go for him. So it seems that he might be staying put for now.

That leaves third baseman Michael Young as the most likely candidate for a trade.

Young is hitting .277 with a .744 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has seven home runs and 32 RBIs and brings veteran experience and leadership into the clubhouse.

AL East teams like the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles are reportedly interested. However, what the Phillies could get in return is debatable, as Young is a two-month rental in the last year of his contract.

Plus, Young has a no-trade clause that he has to waive in order for a trade to happen and there is no guarantee on what he will do, should an offer be on the table.

"The first thing I want to do is talk to the Phillies about that," Young told Zolecki. "Ruben has been very upfront with me since Day 1. The entire organization has. What I went through back in May [with a son's illness], they stood by me the entire time. I certainly appreciate it. Any conversation that has to do with trades will be with them first."

The Phillies have one more game before the deadline on Wednesday. They will return home to Citizens Bank Park to open up a series against the defending world champion San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

The Giants are in the midst of a disappointing season themselves, one that has them at the bottom of the NL West and losers in seven of their last 10 games.

Coming off a nine-game road trip where they faced two division leaders in the Cardinals and Tigers and did not fare well at all, the Phillies could at least use this game to, metaphorically speaking, regain their senses after hitting rock bottom face first.

They can also stat evaluating the rest of the roster. Unfortunately, playoff aspirations are a bit too much to have now.

(Image from Hardball Talk)

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