Last year at this time, the talk around the Phillies focused on Kyle Drabek and Domonic Brown and just how untouchable they were. The Phillies pulled off a major coup when they acquired Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians and didn't have to include either Drabek or Brown, and the deal was widely held as a masterpiece for GM Ruben Amaro. Of course, over the winter, Drabek became touchable in a deal to get Roy Halladay, who was needed because the Phillies had turned the masterpiece that was the Cliff Lee trade into something more reminiscent of kindergarten art when they dealt him to Seattle.
Through all of the rolling waves of trades though, Domonic Brown has remained and he's just as untouchable this season as he was last season and perhaps more. Last season, he was at Clearwater and so much of his talent was still somewhat "projectable", because he hadn't reached the Double-A level. Now, he's at Double-A and showing that those projected talents were indeed real, which only adds to his value. Plus, since the Phillies haven't seen much of anything to gloat about from their deal with Seattle, the farm system wasn't exactly as replenished as they thought that it would be, making any talent in the organization all the more valuable not just to other clubs, but to the Phillies. Complicating matters is the fact that the Phillies are prepared to hold the line on their payroll, so the flexibility to build through free agency isn't as flexible as it used to be, so again, minor league prospects go up in value.
The Phillies do have a huge question in their outfield in the presence of Jayson Werth. There's no clear cut way for the Phillies to be able to avoid having Werth sign elsewhere when he enters free agency at the end of the season and the Phillies don't even appear to be able to keep him away from free agency by getting a deal done now. That leaves a gaping hole in the Phillies outfield and it just happens to be in right field, where Brown calls home. Technically, the Phillies would be better off if the could move either Brown or Werth to left field in place of Raul Ibanez, but he's got another season left on his deal and it wouldn't be easy to find another team to pick up too much of the $11.5 million that Ibanez is owed for next season. Considering his performance, the Phillies definitely reached on giving Ibanez a three-year deal rather than a two-year deal, but at the time, they had to do it to get him into red pinstripes. And with the payroll issues, the days of eating a contract - like they did with Adam Eaton - are likely over. The Phillies would also rather replace Ibanez with Brown because they're both left-handed hitters. Replacing Werth with Brown gives the Phillies a very left-handed lineup.
Either way, the Phillies have a spot for Domonic Brown next season if they deem him ready and all indications are that he should be ready to play in the majors next season.
While Brown's position and the Phillies potential need for someone to fill just that hole add to his untouchable factor, the same can't be said for Jonathan Singleton. All Singleton - at the tender age of 18 - is doing, is hitting .432 (32-for-74) in his first 20 games in the South Atlantic League. Being a first baseman in an organization where Ryan Howard is anchored and has a long-term deal, doesn't exactly speak well for job security. Perhaps, Brown would have enough athleticism to move to the outfield, but there are no guarantees that could happen or will happen.
Like Brown last year, much of Singleton's value is in his "projectable" numbers. He's playing at Low-A Lakewood and was drafted just last June, meaning that he hasn't really had time to show a whole lot and there are a lot of players who look great at the lower levels, but for various reasons, stumble when they hit the higher ranks. That makes Singleton an interesting potential trade target, because there are likely teams that would be interested in him as part of a trade, but his trade value hasn't gone anywhere near its peak just yet.
Remember that last summer, Cleveland valued pitcher Jason Knapp, who was an 18 year-old who had only reached as high as Low-A Lakewood, but was considered key to the Cliff Lee deal for the Indians. In other words, he's got the same sort of pedigree that Singleton has now and he was an important piece in a key deal for the Phillies. Of course, Knapp has been hurt for much of his time in the Indians organization and pitched just 11 2/3 innings in the minors for them last season before being shut down and he hasn't returned to game action since.
While Singleton would seem to be the real deal, it wouldn't be likely that he's being deemed as untouchable by the Phillies front office. After all, he plays at a position that is locked up at the major league level for the foreseeable future and there are other minor league prospects at that same position, although Singleton is the best of the bunch.
You have to even wonder if Brown would be truly untouchable. With Roy Oswalt likely to hit the trade market and the slight potential of reacquiring Cliff Lee, who Seattle appears likely to make available, there could be some pitching available through trades if the Phillies decide to go that direction as they did last season. Should the Phillies need an impact player and another team mentions Brown, the Phillies aren't likely to immediately pull away from the discussion and would at least listen.
As we enter the in-season Hot Stove League, it would appear that the Phillies do have just one untouchable in their organization, and there are even question marks there. The bad news is that they also don't have a lot of options for dealing and certainly don't have the deep farm system that they had last season. At this point last year, when someone asked about Brown, the Phillies could mention Michael Taylor as a substitute. When Cleveland asked about Drabek, the Phillies made Knapp available; there were always other options for the Phillies to put into deals and they don't really have that luxury this season. Instead, teams are likely to start by asking for Brown and the only other option the Phillies would have would be to bring up Singleton.
It's still a little early to tell just who will be on the trade market and what the price will be for them. One thing that is sure is that the Phillies aren't in as good of a spot as they were last season, because they don't seem willing to take on much salary and they don't have the depth in terms of prospects that they had last season. It could make for an interesting, and perhaps frustrating, trade season for the Phillies as they look to improve their club.