The Phillies are willing to move Cliff Lee (middle), but only for a massive return. (USA Today Images)
The Phillies have fallen and they can’t get up. They have lost eight games in a row. They don’t hit. They’ve kicked the ball around the field. The expensive and lately undependable closer is pointing fingers. The best pitcher has a stiff neck. Ownership is sick to its stomach after dishing out Mercedes money and getting a Yugo ride.
These are tough times for GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Busy times, as well. Though the team gets a break Monday to bandage its wounds after an embarrassing 1-8 road trip, Amaro is hard at work taking offers on expendable players before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.
Today is July 29 and that often has been one of Amaro’s favorite days to get things done. He picked up Cliff Lee (2009), Roy Oswalt (2010) and Hunter Pence (2011) on this date.
But those were happy acquisitions, pieces that helped the Phillies win division titles. For Amaro, this year’s work is more similar to last year’s, when he presided over another disappointing team and rode things to the final hours before the trade deadline before unloading Shane Victorino and the aforementioned Pence.
The Phillies open a nine-game homestand on Tuesday night. The schedule card says it could be a happy, happy homestand with well-deserved fetes to Brad Lidge on Thursday, Curt Schilling on Friday and the 1993 Phillies on Sunday. While those events will provide some reason for club officials to put on a happy face, the smiles will be fleeting. The team that the Phillies put on the field in Game 9 of the homestand could look a lot different than the team they put on the field Tuesday night.
Best we can tell, there are only three players that can’t be had in trades –- Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown and Chase Utley. Hamels’ tough season is viewed by the organization as an aberration and the Phils want him to lead their pitching staff into the future. Brown has answered all challenges and become a young power bat in an organization that needs to add more of them. There was a time earlier this summer when the Phillies would have listened to offers for Utley, but it now appears both sides want to continue their relationship, and sources say they are discussing a contract extension.
As for Cliff Lee, nothing really has changed since the all-star break when we reported that the Phillies prefer to keep Lee and pair him with Hamels at the top of the 2014 rotation, but that preference could be bought off with a huge return of top prospects. In other words, a team can get Lee if they blow the Phillies away. If not, he stays.
Boston is the team that seems to want Lee most. The Red Sox inquired about Lee last winter and were told he was not available. The Sox are still angling for Lee, but CSN New England's Sean McAdam reports that the Sox are reluctant to trade outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. or infielder Xander Bogaerts. That reluctance points to the Phillies keeping Lee for the start of next season or until they get a deal that blows them away.
Third baseman Michael Young is still getting significant interest from AL East clubs like Boston and New York, and he could be a fit in Baltimore, as well. ESPN has reported that Young’s former team, Texas, has interest in a reunion and baseball sources have confirmed that. The Rangers could need a right-handed bat if Nelson Cruz feels the pinch of the Biogenesis investigation. Texas is also on the lookout for some catching help. The Phillies would be open to dealing Carlos Ruiz.
As for closer Jonathan Papelbon, who blew five saves over the course of 14 appearances from June 17 to July 14, he remains very much available. The Tigers spent a lot of time watching Papelbon earlier this summer, but the right-hander’s struggles and big contract (he’s guaranteed a total of $26 million for 2014 and 2015) chilled their interest, and they picked up Jose Veras from Houston on Monday.
The trade deadline is almost here. Stay tuned.