For transactions nuts, the three weeks or so between the all-star game and the trading deadline might be the most interesting part of the baseball season. Teams have to make often-painful decisions about whether to fold on the season or go all-in, sacrificing talent or salary flexibility tomorrow for a better shot at the title today. (As the 2006 Phillies showed, sometimes these decisions are reversible--but not often.) The deciding factors include not just the black-and-white reality of the standings, but the likely effect on clubhouse morale, attendance for the rest of the season, and how the team is perceived within its market and around the baseball community.
There's been some debate within the Philadelphia press as to whether the Phillies should be buyers or sellers. While this is an interesting topic and strong arguments can be made on either side, I have the distinct feeling that unless the team spends the rest of July as they did early and mid-April--with a 3-10 faceplant--they won't be selling. Charlie Manuel's teams have always played better after the break, there's reason for hope with the presumably imminent return of relievers Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, and attendance has been so good (the Phils are on pace to draw more than three million fans for just the third time in 125 years of play) that I can't imagine ownership would put that at risk by running up the white flag.
So they'll be buyers, though whether they plan to browse at K-Mart or The Sharper Image remains to be seen. On that premise, let's look at what they have to shop with:
OF Aaron Rowand (.310/.385/.478; 11 HR, 43 RBI, 5 SB)
Why they'd trade him: Rowand himself alluded to this in a story today--the team has two possible centerfield replacements already on the roster in Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn. Plugging in either wouldn't necessarily mean giving up on 2007. He's a free-agent-to-be who turns 30 this month, so teams with budget limitations or uncertainty but with a shot to make the playoffs this season likely would find him attractive.
Why they wouldn't: Rowand plays a key role in both the lineup and the clubhouse. Unless Pat Burrell's recent resurgence is for real, he's the only viable right-handed bat in the lineup, and he's evidently loved by his teammates. Rowand isn't as much of a fan favorite as ownership probably thinks--those guys who get Chris Wheeler all gooey, from Rex Hudler to David Bell, rarely are--but he has helped the team develop its identity. As we've said many times (and I know everyone doesn't agree, but that's what the comments are for...) just because that stuff isn't quantifiable doesn't mean it's not there.
Most likely trade scenario: Remember the Rowand-for-Scott Linebrink rumor? It still makes a certain amount of sense. Both are impending free agents, the Padres still could use an outfield bat, and the Phillies need all the pitching they can get. If Rowand goes, it most likely will be in a need-for-need deal with another contender.
OF Michael Bourn (.256/.337/.329; 0 HR, 5 RBI, 13 SB)
Why they'd trade him: If the Phillies do want to re-sign Rowand, there's no position for Bourn. He's been compared to Juan Pierre with a better arm and more patience; Juan Pierre has made a lot of money over his career. Given his youth, skill set, and low low price, Bourn possibly has more value than anyone on this list. But he's not can't-miss, and the Phillies might conclude that he won't become anything more than the valuable backup he is now.
Why they wouldn't: See: youth, skill set, low low price. Bourn seems like a Pat Gillick player--athletic, great motor, "makes things happen" offensively, Gold Glove defense. Gillick craves payroll flexibility, and slotting in Bourn for 2008 at near the minimum means he has that much more room to go get other pieces.
Most likely trade scenario: Maybe I'm projecting here (hell, it's likely)--but I think the Phillies would part with Bourn for the right return. That would have to be a pitcher who's under contract for awhile, likely to succeed in CBP, with a good track record of health. If the Giants pull the plug on 2007, Bourn as the centerpiece of a Matt Morris deal would seem plausible.
C Jason Jaramillo (AAA Ottawa: .275/.353/.368, 5 HR, 37 RBI)
Why they'd trade him: While Jaramillo hasn't set the world on fire in his three full minor-league seasons, he's moved up steadily and should be ready for big-league duty at age 25 next year. It looks likely that he'll be a league-average performer for low cost at a position of scarcity. But the Phillies already have a slightly superior version of that player in Carlos Ruiz, who's four years older than Jaramillo but has more of a track record and, arguably, not that much more mileage on his body. (Ruiz didn't start playing serious competitive baseball until he signed his first pro contract.) Additionally, the Phils have decent depth in the position further down the minor-league chain: Lou Marson at high-A, Jesus Sanchez and Travis D'Arnaud in rookie ball. JJ is both desirable and expendable.
Why they wouldn't: I'm honestly not sure. Maybe Ruiz's injury history scares the team; maybe Ruiz is worth more in trade (though it's also not like a 2007 contender would want to go to war with Coste and Barajas and Jaramillo for the stretch run). They did like Jaramillo enough to draft him twice.
Most likely trade scenario: There are plenty of teams out there with aging catchers who might have some good things to offer--Houston comes to mind pretty quickly. Jaramillo could be a nice centerpiece in a deal for pitching help from a non-contender.
P J.A. Happ (AAA Ottawa: 1-3, 4.97, 63.1 IP, 67 H, 37 BB, 67 K)
Why they'd trade him: Happ's 2007 has been something of a disappointment. After getting nosed out by Zach Segovia (a much bigger disappointment) for a chance to start the season with the Phillies, he's been inconsistent, then hurt, then ineffective. But he's still just 24, and still averaging a strikeout per inning. Given that he's unlikely to emerge into an ace, and might be overtaken by higher-ceiling prospects like Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman, the Phillies probably could be persuaded to part with him; given that he's young, cheap, has a good track record and "knows how to pitch," and seems to be basically healthy, other teams probably would be interested.
Why they wouldn't: Given his 2007 struggles, there might be a concern that dealing Happ now would constitute selling low. Of all the Phillies pitching prospects, Happ is probably the easiest to envision emerging as a decent #4 or #5 starter by 2008; if this year has taught us anything, it's that a player of that description can be really valuable.
Most likely trade scenario: Happ probably would be an attractive second piece in a deal centered around Bourn or, if the Phils really wanted to take a risk (IMO a dumb one), Ruiz. By himself, he might be able to get an older second-line pitcher.
P Matt Maloney (AA Reading: 7-6, 4.04, 100.1 IP, 93 H, 38 BB, 88 K)
Why they'd trade him: Like Happ, Maloney is a lefty who can strike guys out. Double-jumped from Lakewood to Reading this season, the 23 year-old has held his own and was even a longshot callup possibility last month. Also like Happ, it's unclear that he has ace potential and he might be quickly overtaken by the likes of Carrasco, Outman and others.
Why they wouldn't: You can never have too much pitching, and it's not unreasonable to think Maloney at least could contribute as a spot starter or relief option by 2008.
Most likely trade scenario: Again like Happ, Maloney could make sense as the second player in a deal with a rebuilding club.
P Kyle Kendrick (Majors). On the off-chance the Phils make a real splash for someone like Javier Vazquez, I could see Kendrick, with his impressive big-league performance to date, as the second player in a trade.
P Andrew Carpenter (High-A Clearwater). This 2006 draft pick is sort of a right-handed version of Happ or Maloney; he knows how to pitch, could move fairly quickly, and doesn't have ace-like upside.
OF Greg Golson (High-A Clearwater). The former first-round pick is having his best pro season and still shows the tools that led the Phillies to select him over the likes of Philip Hughes. I doubt the team would deal him, but I also don't think they'd turn down a major trade over him.