Before the season, most people picked the Philadelphia Phillies to finish third in the NL East behind the Nationals and Braves. Some picked them second, but those expecting the Phillies to return to the playoffs were few and far between. So here we are at the All-Star Break, and while the Phillies *are* third in the division, they're only 6.5 games out of first, and just a half game behind the Nationals for second place in the division. Philadelphia is also 5.5 games behind the Reds for the NL's second wild card slot, and GM Ruben Amaro has seemingly shifted his team from seller mode into buyer mode. But is that really the best decision going forth? Should the Phillies be buyers at the trade deadline in two weeks, or should they be sellers?
While the Phillies are 48-48 this season, that record is a little misleading. The team's -45 run differential is fourth-worst in the NL this season, ahead of just the Padres, Brewers, and Marlins. Though you can't really blame them for this, the Phillies have also feasted on the Miami Marlins so far this season, going 9-4 in their 13 games against them. With just five games remaining against the Fish in the second half, the Phillies will be losing an opportunity to feast on the bottom-dwellers of the NL East. Philadelphia has also already finished their season series with the cellar dwelling Brewers, depriving them of another chance to beat up a cupcake. On the bright side for the Phillies, they still have three games left with the Padres (at Citizens Bank Park, nonetheless) and haven't played the Cubs once yet this season. With six games left against Chicago after the trade deadline, the Phillies have an excellent opportunity to feast on a club that will likely be stripped for veteran parts over the next two weeks.
Sticking on the schedule for a minute, it's a favorable one for Philadelphia. They don't make another trip to the west coast all season. Their longest road trip in the second half is nine games, and that comes right after the All-Star Break and begins with three games in New York with the Mets, which really isn't much of a road trip. And for better or worse, the Phillies have 12 games left with the Braves and nine with the Nationals that could make or break their season.
Looking at the Phillies roster however, and you really see the hallmarks of a club that shouldn't look to deal prospects to make a run. Their first baseman, Ryan Howard, is still signed for three more seasons and might not play again this season after having meniscus surgery. Their center fielder, Ben Revere, just broke his foot and will miss 6-8 weeks. Their right fielder, Delmon Young, is a below replacement level player thanks to his horrendous defense and league average bat. Their shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, has been awful. Their catcher, Carlos Ruiz, has been awful when he's been in the lineup. Chase Utley has been great, but is a free agent after the season and turns 35 in September. Michael Young has been hideously defensively, will be a free agent after the season, and turns 37 in October. Three relievers are on the DL, and while neither of the three were very good this season, Philadelphia's bullpen as a whole this season has been a disaster. Their rotation isn't exactly the "four aces" model of prior years.
In all honesty, the Phillies are in a terrible position. This isn't last year, when the team was 13 games under .500 at the All-Star Break and dumping off veterans made a ton of sense. At the same time, they're not one piece away suddenly jumping into the thick of the postseason race. Amaro is probably going to take the Phillies right down to the deadline in terms of buying or selling. They have eight impending free agents after the season, including Roy Halladay (assuming his option is declined), both Youngs, Utley, and Ruiz. It would probably make the most sense for Amaro to look to move those free agents instead of players like Lee and Rollins in an attempt to get some value for them as opposed to re-signing some of those aging pieces and tacking even more money on to Philly's payroll for next year, which is already at nine figures with just six players under guaranteed contracts. There's also the stubborn mentality of Amaro refusing to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon, despite him being a luxury option for a team that doesn't need to be spending $13 million on a closer.
I think the worst part of the situation was Amaro's insistence on not blowing the team up and alienating the fanbase. The Phillies' average attendance is down by 13% this year, and they've fallen out of the top five in baseball for the first time since 2007, also the last year they averaged under 40,000 fans per game. You know what brings fans to the ballpark? Winning. You know what doesn't bring fans to the ballpark? Stars. The Angels have seen their attendance drop by 8% since 2009 (their last playoff berth) until this year, despite the additions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. Why? BECAUSE THEY'RE NOT WINNING! The Phillies can field a $150 million payroll next season with Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, and all of those big name stars on the field, but if they finish .500 yet again, attendance is going to keep going down.
Philadelphia isn't Houston. They don't need a full rebuild. They have a solid core of players highlighted by Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Domonic Brown. There isn't just one hole that needs to be patched in Philadelphia, and patching one of them wouldn't turn them into a playoff team, with the added bonus of potentially damaging their future.