Phils Full of Question Mark Players

The Phillies likely lead the league in having the highest number of players that are hard to figure out. The question marks run high and the Phillies must start to address and answer key questions if they're going to win now or in the near future. With that in mind, here are the key questions and some proposed answers to each.

We have called them dead wood. We have called them heroes. It changes from day to day and from game to game. That kind of inconsistency can't be tolerated and the Phillies have to make key decisions on some key players:

Jim Thome - Is his season a fluke or is Jim Thome simply nearing the end of his career? This is likely the biggest decision that the Phillies face. Much like Pat Burrell's 2003 season, this year is seemingly lost for Thome. Combine that with the fact that the Phillies have Ryan Howard in hand and the decision gets much tougher.

The bottom line is that nobody can say for sure whether or not Thome is at the end of his career. He's still a fan favorite and it would be a huge shame to deal him only to see him return to form elsewhere. It would be an even bigger shame to deal Howard elsewhere, have Thome flop and Howard go on to be a superstar elsewhere. One or the other is likely to happen, so cut your losses and if you have to deal one or the other, deal Thome.

But there are conditions.

First, don't do it now. Having Thome and Howard on this club can only help. The bench is weak anyway, so the presence of both of them here can't hurt. It also shows that the Phillies can exist with both and doesn't put them in a position where they must trade one or the other, which would clearly lower the value of whichever one is traded.

Second, if and when you do deal Thome, get the right deal. The other team has to eat at least half of his salary and give talent in exchange. Thome's season can be written off due to injuries and he's still got the potential to be one of the elite players around, especially if he can be a designated hitter. If he shows anything over the final portion of the season, his value stays high.

Vicente Padilla - Who here thought Padilla would out pitch Dontrelle Willis on Sunday? Put your hand down, you didn't seriously believe that. Then again, there was Padilla pitching seven shutout innings against a decent offensive club. When you put on a show like that and your ERA lowers, but is still above the 5.00 mark, you know things are bad. We never know what Vicente Padilla is going to do. He has become the definition of inconsistency, frustration and pessimism all in one.

The bottom line is that if Padilla can string together a few good outings before the deadline, deal him. Do it quickly. We have suffered with him for too long and patience has worn thin. There are questions about his character, his commitment and his health. Plus, he's about to get much more expensive in the very near future. As the saying goes, "sell high". Get him on a high note and send him out of town. Perhaps he could be packaged with a young prospect to bring a quality starter to town.

Mike Lieberthal - Don't look now, but our beleaguered catcher has hit three homeruns in four games. The fact that he was being "rested" a little more in favor of Todd Pratt going into the break may be a coincidence or it may not. Either way, Lieberthal is playing better, but the Phillies have to decide what to do with him. With his option for next season vesting earlier this year, he will be owed $7.5 million in 2006. The Phillies were betting that would never happen, since Lieberthal was a frequent visitor to the disabled list. Still, here we are.

The bottom line is that like Padilla, Lieberthal must be dealt. He has a no-trade clause, but would likely accept a ticket to the Dodgers. As for LA, they could use an upgrade behind the plate and have been known to have interest in the past. Dodgers catchers have a total of nine homeruns, 45 RBI and a .236 average this season. Lieberthal would be just a slight upgrade, and would actually be a drop in RBI numbers, but there is something else to consider. Lieberthal, who is from Glendale, California, loves to hit in Dodger Stadium. He's hit .500 in LA over the past three seasons and has hit over .400 in Los Angeles during his career. Swallow some of his salary, get a decent player or two in exchange and he's yours.

As for what we do behind the plate, the job goes to Carlos Ruiz. He's done well at Scranton and figures to help at the major league level next year. Let's see just how good he is. Plus, he can benefit from the presence of Todd Pratt. Of all the moves, this is the riskiest, since there is no definite, strong replacement and you're not likely to get one in exchange. You can always look for help behind the plate during the off-season if you figure Ruiz can't handle things on his own. Plus, there are young catchers not too far away in the minors and they can be fast tracked.

David Bell - When you have to resort to saying that someone is "great in the clubhouse," it's not good. The fact is though that Bell is awesome to have around for his behind the scenes leadership. He is often injured and you never know what you're going to get from him or how long it will last. You simply hope for the best.

The bottom line is that David Bell has one more season left on his contract. There is also nobody in the organization to even consider replacing him. With that in mind, you have to keep him, but with an asterisk. He has worn out left-handed hitters this season, while struggling against right-handers. Fine, sit him against most righties. That rests his back and gets playing time for other players. Tomas Perez, Ramon Martinez and anyone else could potentially get some at bats against right-handers, while Bell simply tears apart lefties. If you can find a replacement during the off-season, fine, but for now, swallow hard and get what you can out of Bell.

What prospects can we trade? This is a toughie. Take the names Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard off the table immediately. From there, work down to the likes of Keith Bucktrot and deal them only if you can find the right deal to make. There are a number of good outfielders in the organization. Rank them and start dealing from the bottom up. That means the Phillies will need to decide between the likes of Chris Roberson and Michael Bourn. You've got good minor league people in the front office, put them to work and decide who is expendable.

The bottom line is that there are tough decisions to make and the Phillies must decide on a course of action. Inconsistency can't be tolerated. You don't win that way. Maybe the first decision to be made is whether or not Ed Wade is the right choice to make the call on these and other players. His track record would seem to indicate that he's not and that should probably be where the Phillies start. Then again, it's a little late in the trade season to change horses and expect the right moves to be made, unless someone from within the organization takes over at least on an interim basis.

Needless to say, there's a lot of work to be done.

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