Making The Second-Half Better Than The First

The season is officially half-way with the Phillies winning game number 81 in Toronto on Sunday. Unfortunately, those 81 games have produced just 37 wins and the Phillies need to make changes and start thinking about 2007 and beyond.

We've changed managers, we've changed GMs and none of it has worked. This team is a team that looks pretty good on paper, but falls apart in every other way that you compare them. The same core of players has been together and haven't been able to get over the proverbial hump, so it's time to change the players. It may not require a drastic, explosive approach, but certainly will require more than tinkering and something much closer to the explosive end of the scale than to the tinkering side of things.

Th Phillies have to build around the next generation of players; Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The two all-stars should be untouchable when Pat Gillick talks to other clubs. They're the rare constant performers on this team of players who insist that they're giving their all to get the team to the next level. Aaron Rowand, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins would be on the next level of untouchables, but could be had if the price were right.

Where do we start? Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell will be tough to deal, because they've got pricey contracts and no-trade clauses. Abreu has all but said "no" to going to Detroit when those rumors surfaced, but seemed open to a move to New York and the pinstripes of the New York Yankees. The Yankees need an outfielder, so deal him. Don't worry as much about getting the Yankees top prospect (pitcher Phillip Hughes) as you do about simply getting something in return for Abreu. Get a useable part that can be plugged in somewhere either now or in the future and if possible, do it without having to pick up too much of Abreu's contract. After all, these are the Yankees and they've got some money to work with.

Burrell may be more difficult, but again, simply getting something in exchange rather than looking to get a team's top prospect is a plus. Talk to Burrell about where he may be happy - the Angels and Dodgers come to mind - and see what can be done. After all, even if we were to deal both Abreu and Burrell, David Dellucci, Shane Victorino and Chris Roberson are all waiting for full-time auditions and the Phillies could use all three to fill the two spots, in order to get a look at them. Speaking of Dellucci and Victorino, they're decent players and the Phillies should be thinking more of ways to get them playing time rather than dangling them as trade bait. The bigger the bait, the bigger the fish that you catch and Abreu and Burrell are bigger bait, even with their contracts.

Rollins isn't a leadoff hitter. Look for one in the deals that you make with the bigger names and at least drop Rollins down in the order. Problem is though that he's likely to start swinging for the fences if he's lower in the order and return to the disappointing offensive player that he's been in the past when he was looking to hit the longball. Instead, deal him. Find a taker who is willing to give up a top prospect for him and move on. Rollins' contract isn't huge and he's an affordable player, especially for a team looking to add a shortstop. Be picky, but if possible, send him elsewhere.

Move pitchers. There are always clubs looking to get veteran pitchers at the deadline. Jon Lieber, Cory Lidle, Ryan Franklin and even Ryan Madson can go elsewhere. Arthur Rhodes and Tom Gordon aren't untouchable and teams can certainly be encouraged to make offers for them.

Don't even get me started on the likes of David Bell and Mike Lieberthal.

If all of this sounds like a fire sale, you're right. The key though is to balance which of the moves that you make. In other words, pick and choose. Let's say you can move either Burrell or Abreu, that would allow you to put Victorino in the lineup and have him leadoff to show what he can do in that role. Then, Rollins becomes a little more expendable and maybe you can package him with a pitcher to get a young shortstop in return. Make room for Cole Hamels to stick in the rotation and also leave room for Randy Wolf when he's healthy and yes, for Gavin Floyd. Bring Floyd back to the majors and tell him that no matter how badly he pitches, he's in the rotation for the rest of the season and he's either going to have to learn how to challenge hitters with his best stuff or not be a part of the Phillies plan going forward.

Scott Mathieson simply isn't ready for the majors and needs to be at AAA for the rest of the season. Next spring, we'll give him a look and go from there.

By August 1, the rotation could be Hamels, Wolf, Floyd, Brett Myers and either Eude Brito or someone else that we get in a trade. The Phillies could do the same thing with Brito that they should do with Floyd and throw him into the deep end and tell him to learn how to swim.

The second-half of the season should be about getting answers. We know the answers on Burrell, Abreu and others. We don't know the answers on guys like Victorino, Roberson, Carlos Ruiz, Floyd and Hamels. This team right now is no better than the Florida Marlins, but the Fish have two advantages; they've spent a lot less money and they're getting answers on young players. Not a bad result from a fire sale that had made the Marlins the butt of jokes around baseball this past spring. When you consider the price tag on the Phillies salaries and the results that we're getting, the Phillies are now a much bigger joke than our friends in Miami.


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