"What if..." Scenarios Surround Phillies

We're hitting the time of year when every team starts reassessing what they've got and what they don't got. The trading deadline is starting to sneak up on everybody and it's time to fish or cut bait as they say at the shore. The Phillies have some decisions to make as they kick back to look at where they've been, where they are and what lies ahead for the 2003 season and beyond.

With the offense struggling to near pitiful levels, it's tempting to say, make this deal or make that deal. Tempting doesn't always equal smart and the Phillies are wisely assessing what they can and should do.

Exhibit A is Pat Burrell. Get it out of your head right now, the Phillies are not going to trade Burrell and they are not going to send him to AAA. No, nix, absolutely not. He may be benched for a short time or for a game here and there, but they are not going to move him off the roster. Get it out of your head. Actually, they shouldn't move him. Even if trading him was anywhere near an option, now is not the time to trade him. Offers would be low to say the least and the return would be nowhere near the investment. Burrell has gone on record as saying that if the Phillies sent him to AAA, "there would be a problem." Even if the Phillies did give it a thought, you can't send Burrell to Scranton on those terms.

Actually, the outfield is set. Marlon Byrd is coming along in center field and Bobby Abreu is a fixture in left field, so there's not much to debate there.

On the infield, Jim Thome is certainly not going anywhere and neither is Mike Lieberthal. By the way, where are all those that were talking about how Lieberthal was a waste of a roster spot when Lieby suffered an offseason injury and then a flare up of an old pelvic injury late in spring training? Just thought I'd mention it. Jimmy Rollins to Oakland for Miguel Tejada has been rumored, but is not likely to happen. Even though he gets thoroughly disgusted with him, Larry Bowa loves Jimmy and the Phillies are trying to get the young head case, uh, shortstop signed long-term. He needs to realize that he's got just warning track power and he eventually will. Defensively, Rollins is among the best.

Second and third base are interesting positions. Made especially interesting by Chase Utley and Travis Chapman at AAA Scranton. Few players ever get to experience the type of tear that Utley is on right now at Scranton, hitting .500 in his last 60 at bats. The kid is ready. Chapman is basically ready as well. His average is up to .301 and he is playing steady ball for the Red Barons. It's ironic that Placido Polanco and David Bell are struggling as they are, since the guys playing their spots at AAA are red hot. Bell is showing signs of life and plays all out at all times. Polanco is expendable. There is some serious thought being given to adding Polanco into a package of young players to get some relief pitching. In that scenario, Utley comes to the majors and gets the second base job. A little risky, but the Phillies believe that Utley would do no worse than Polanco. The other option would be to keep Polanco – whose contract runs out at the end of the season – and trade Utley. There is no shortage of teams looking to acquire Utley, so that could be accomplished. Problem there, is what if you trade Utley and can't re-sign Polanco? Suddenly, Nick Punto or Tomas Perez are penciled into the lineup as your second baseman. Dealing Polanco saves a little money and you still have Utley as a long-term fixture at second. Unfortunately, Chapman's path is likely blocked unless he can learn to play other positions and become a utility player. Although not as sought after as Utley, Chapman has drawn some interest from other clubs.

The Phillies will be slow to make any move that would disrupt the everyday lineup, even though that lineup is struggling to win games. They want to win this year, but are also keeping an eye out for the future, so dealing away a lot of prospects isn't likely. Polanco, Chapman, Jason Michaels and some select prospects are the likely trade bait. Getting Utley away from the Phillies would take pretty much, as would getting a guy like Ryan Madson or Geoff Geary. Guys like Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels are near untouchables, if not completely untouchable.

When you look at the Phillies, look at who is locked up long-term. The outfield, first base, third base, all of the starting pitchers except Kevin Millwood and only the young guns in the bullpen are locked up long-term either by contracts or by virtue of not being eligible for free agency for a while. Rollins is close to getting a long-term deal and still has some time until free agency. The Phillies could lose Millwood and there is no guarantee that they can either sign or trade for an ace that would appropriately take his place, so giving up young pitching isn't likely. With Terry Adams, Rheal Cormier, Turk Wendell and Jose Mesa eligible for free agency, the Phillies will be looking for relievers one way or another, but might still deal young relievers since they know they can't stock the entire bullpen from the farm system. By the way, Mesa has a couple clauses that are likely to kick in, guaranteeing him another year on his contract. If things go badly between now and the end of July, Mesa himself could be on the trading block.

There are going to be a lot of rumors flying around over the next few weeks. Don't fall for them all. Look at what the Phillies have and realize that they don't need to mortgage their future to win at all cost this season. This is a young team and the Phillies know they have the nucleus signed for the foreseeable future. Ed Wade will watch the next couple of weeks with great interest. If the Phillies rebound and move toward the top of the division, that's one thing. If they sink deeper in the quicksand that is the National League East, that's completely another. Wade too, will know how negotiations with Rollins and Millwood are going. While it's unlikely that he would deal Rollins, should the Phillies fall out of contention and Millwood and his agent Scott Boras give indications that the ace will go elsewhere next season, moving Millwood wouldn't be out of the question. It's an unlikely scenario, but one that could happen.

Watch too for young players like Jason Michaels who suddenly find some extra playing time. It could be a showcase for others to see. If Bowa finally does bench Burrell for an extended period and give the playing time to Michaels, something could be up. If Chase Utley is summoned to Philadelphia, there could be something in the works. It's that time of year when any move could mean something to watch for and it all needs to be watched, but taken for what it is. The rumors will be there and all we have to do is watch for actions that back up the scenarios that are floating around the Phillies like balloons at a child's birthday party.

A major deal, a minor deal or two or sit pat and let it all play out. It's easy to see scenarios that fit all of the potential moves that may lie ahead for the Phillies.


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