Less than a calendar year after winning 102 games, the Philadelphia Phillies are counting 2012 as a non-playoff season and planning for 2013 and beyond. That much is evident based the trades of outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on Tuesday before the non-waiver deadline.
A fan favorite from the 2008 World Series winning team, Victorino was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers for right-handed reliever Josh Lindblom, Double-A right-hander Ethan Martin and a player to be named later or cash. Pence was dealt to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Nate Schierholtz, Double-A catcher Tommy Joseph and Single-A right-hander Seth Rosin.
At first glance, it might appear puzzling while a team that entered the season with a $172 million payroll, signed closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million deal in the off-season and recently rewarded 28-year-old left-hander Cole Hamels with a six-year, $144 million contract extension would part ways with two key run-producing bats.
However, the Phillies front office believes that shedding payroll was necessary since the club wanted to stay under the $178 million luxury tax threshold and replenish a farm system zapped of talent from the trades for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Pence over the last few years.
Plagued with injuries to core players like first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley and Halladay this season, the Phillies are 46-57 and 15.5 games out of first place in the National League East. Since 1900, 94 clubs have won 100 or more games in a season. Only five completed the following year with a losing record. Even if Philadelphia does not become the sixth, the chances are remote that it could secure a wild card spot. It is best to focus on 2013, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes.
Amaro feels confident that the Phillies have the firepower to contend again next year. Howard, Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Halladay, Hamels and Lee are all signed through at least next season. Philadelphia shed payroll by finding new destinations for Victorino and Pence.
The contracts of Joe Blanton (who could be dealt in August), Juan Pierre (who could also be traded this month) and Brian Schneider expire at the end of this season. The team has club options on Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Carlos Ruiz and Jose Contreras that can be declined to free more money for free agents.
The Phillies will target established major leaguers to bolster their active roster for 2013 in the off-season. They believe the trade deadline deals immediately upgraded their farm system.
A second round pick of San Francisco in 2003, the 28-year-old Schierholtz has a career .270 average in six major league seasons. He was hitting .257 with five home runs in 175 at-bats for the Giants this year. He provides outfield depth for the Phillies and could even move into the starting lineup if Pierre is traded in August.
A 2012 Futures Game participant and a second round pick out of high school in 2009, the 21-year-old Joseph has a power bat that generated 22 home runs and 95 RBI at advanced Single-A last year. Joseph boasts a strong arm and has reportedly made tremendous strides behind the plate and Baseball America projects that he has the abilities to remain a catcher. The Phillies could decide to pick up Ruiz’s 2013 option, let Joseph continue his development in the high minors and then allow him to take over behind the plate with the parent club in 2014.
The 23-year-old Rosin was a fourth round pick out of the University of Minnesota in 2010 and was converted from a starter into a reliever. His fast ball can touch the upper 90s and he has a plus change-up. Rosin features excellent command of both pitches. He was pitching in advanced Single-A at the time of the trade and could be assigned to Philadelphia’s advanced Single-A affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.
A first round pick of the Dodgers in 2008, the 23-year-old Martin was 8-6 with a 3.58 ERA in20 starts at Double-A Chattanooga, allowing 89 hits in 118 innings and holding batters to a .214 average. During his minor league career, he has walked more than six per nine innings, so command is an issue, but he could be a starting pitcher or a late-inning reliever at the major league level.
The 25-year-old Lindblom was a second round selection of the Dodgers in 2008 and has pitched well as a reliever, logging a 2.73 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 27 games with Los Angeles last season and a 3.02 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and .241 batting average against in 48 games for the Dodgers this season.
The Pence and Victorino transactions also opened a spot for highly regarded outfield prospect Domonic Brown, who has a .239 average in 247 career major league at-bats but possesses speed and a run-producing bat. He was batting .286 with five home runs in 220 at-bats at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and slugged 20 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2010.
Brown, who will be 25 in September, has been derailed by injuries the last three seasons, including a quadriceps issue in 2010, a hamate bone fracture last year and a sprained knee earlier this season. He had a .362 average over his last 13 games at Lehigh Valley before the call up on Tuesday, and the Phillies still think he will reach his high ceiling.
Brown is one of the few holdovers from the group of top prospects that occupied the Phillies farm system before the trades to get Halladay, Lee and Pence.
When they acquired Pence from Houston at the deadline last July, the Phillies shipped top prospects Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart, and two additional minor leaguers to the Astros. Singleton, a sweet-swinging first baseman, is rated Houston’s top overall prospect by MLB.com and was No. 23 on Baseball America’s 2012 Top 50 Mid-Season Prospects List. Cosart, a right-hander starting pitcher, is considered the organization’s second best prospect and was recently promoted to Triple-A.
At the deadline in 2009, the Phillies brought in the now soon-to-be 34-year-old Lee from Cleveland for right-handed starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (a top prospect then who is now in the Indians rotation), Jason Knapp (who was once highly regarded but has not pitched in affiliated baseball since 2010), Jason Donald (a middle infielder who hit .318 in132 at-bats for the Indians last season but finds himself stuck at Triple-A Columbus since he is blocked by Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Jason Kipnis at second base) and catcher Lou Marson (who has yet to realize his projections at the major league level with Cleveland).
Philadelphia acquired the now 35-year-old Halladay from Toronto after the 2009 season and the cost in prospects was high. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is No. 19 on Baseball America’s mid-season list and Kyle Drabek is a promising 24-year-old right-hander who is on the Blue Jays roster and currently on the disabled list.
Outfielder Michael Taylor, another top prospect included in that deal, is batting .301 at Triple-A Sacramento in the Oakland organization but has struggled in short major league stints with the A’s in 2011 and 2012. Yet he was a highly regarded outfielder in the Phillies system when he was sent to the Blue Jays in the Halladay trade.
In the off-season, the Phillies will be likely be searching for a third baseman, additional outfield help and more relievers. If they trade Lee (who is owed $25 million a year through 2015 with a $27.5 million club option in 2016), more starting pitching will be required. Amaro and the Phillies front office look at the Pence and Victorino trades as a headstart on creating a World Series contender in 2013 and the long-term future.