It's time for the Philadelphia Phillies to give up on 2013 and start building towards the future. With the team sitting three games under .500 and eight games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has some tough choices to make in the days leading up to the MLB trade deadline.
The Phillies on-field performance has made one decision easy: the team has to sell.
That doesn't mean the Phillies have to trade away all of their stars. Cliff Lee, who the Phillies traded once before, is too important to the team's future to send away. The same goes for Chase Utley, a player in the final year of his contract, but who is still one of the team's most reliable position players.
But there are still some high-profile players who could fetch a decent price at the trade deadline. Three players on the current roster, including closer Jonathan Papelbon, shouldn't fit into the team's rebuilding plans and have to go before July 31.
Jonathan Papelbon and his $50 million contract don't make sense for this team. If the Phillies were still contenders, spending for a top-flight closer would make sense. But the Phillies aren't close to contending this year, and part of what's holding the team back is Papelbon's contact.
Unfortunately that same contract could make trading him a very tricky proposition according to ESPN's Jayson Stark.
"He's just not that valuable with that contract," says one AL exec. "If the Phillies want premium players back, they'd have to take half the contract [which has two years, worth $26 million, remaining, plus a vesting $13 million option]. I don't see any team giving up an A-list prospect and taking that entire contract. You'd be taking the worst two or three years of a bad deal and giving them a premium prospect. That just doesn't make sense."
The Phillies are going to have to eat part of Papelbon's contract at some point, unless the rebuilding process includes paying a 35-year-old closer $13 million in 2016. The contract was bad when they signed it, and it's just going to get worse over the next three seasons.
Even though he has blown five saves this year, Papelbon is still holding a 2.27 ERA, his lowest since 2009. If the Phillies do eat part of his contract, $6-7 million per year is a much easier pill to swallow for one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball.
Trading Papelbon not only could bring some bright prospects in return, but it would free up some money to improve an otherwise disappointing bullpen. As long as Papelbon's contract is on the books, the Phillies are unlikely to get the kind of pitchers they need to hand him a ninth inning lead.
There is no way the Phillies are bringing Michael Young back for another season in 2014, so trading him now is an easy decision. Young has been a solid, dependable hitter this season, carrying a .280 batting average and .751 OPS through 94 games, but his replacement is sitting in AAA, and Young could command the highest price of any player not named Cliff Lee.
Young can play any infield position and would make a passable designated hitter for an American League club. His salary is also minimal, thanks to the Rangers, who are picking up $10 million of his $16 million check this season.
The good news for the Phillies is there seems to be genuine interest in the veteran player. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports that both the Yankees and Red Sox are interested in him. Young would make either of these teams better, but the Yankees make the most sense with four infielders currently sitting on the disabled list.
Even if the Phillies get pennies on the dollar for him, moving Young is addition by subtraction. Trading him opens up a spot on the major league roster for Cody Asche, who is hitting .294 with 12 home runs and 60 RBI through 99 games this season for AAA Lehigh Valley. Asche is ready for the majors, and calling him up for the final two months would be the perfect way to ease him into a starting role in Philadelphia.
The Phillies really should have cut ties with Ruiz last season when he was at the top of his game, but like his slugging percentage, Ruiz's trade value has sunk this season. Just look at Ruiz's stats, according to baseball-reference.com, compared to a year ago:
2012: .325 BA, .540 SLG, .935 OPS
2013: .252 BA, .280 SLG, .581 OPS
That said, Ruiz is hitting .350 with an .801 OPS this season against left-handed pitching, according to fangraphs.com. He still has value as a platoon catcher, which is the role he is better suited for at this point in his career.
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal thinks the Phillies may hold on to Ruiz because he has "fan identification" as one of the team's most popular players.
Keeping him would be a costly mistake, though, and hopefully the front office understands this.
He may not command the same price that he would have last season, but trading Ruiz now is still the best option. With Erik Kratz taking at-bats away from him on a regular basis, and Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle waiting in the minors, re-signing Ruiz after this season would be a mistake.
Ruiz, along with Papelbon and Young, needs to be traded at the deadline. All three have value to contending teams, but are worthless to a Phillies organization that is in need of a rebuild. If Ruben Amaro and his staff are smart, none of these players will be wearing a Phillies uniform on August 1.
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