The Tenth Inning – Week 9

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The Tenth Inning – Week 9 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>


By Mike Ivcic

For full disclosure, I live in suburban Philadelphia. With the Flyers having flamed out earlier than anticipated in the NHL playoffs and the Sixers getting bounced by the Celtics in a thrilling second round NBA playoff series, the focus of a city filled with sports-crazed lunatics has shifted squarely onto the shoulders of the most disappointing team in the city to date – the Phillies. Despite the club missing their two best hitters, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the fans still expected their team to be atop the NL East all season long. After all, that’s where they’ve been for the past five years, so why would anything be different this year? But it’s now Memorial Day, and the Phillies haven’t been able to climb out of last place in just about a month. So, with a fan base beginning to get restless, the two superstar sluggers still a ways away from returning to the lineup, and now a potential shoulder injury to ace Roy Halladay, general manager Ruben Amaro is in a very difficult situation. How can he fix the 5-time defending NL East champion Phillies?

Well, for starters, he can’t. With more than $20 million per year tied up in Halladay, Howard, Utley, and Cliff Lee, Amaro is living with very limited payroll flexibility. Re-signing Jimmy Rollins and importing Jonathan Papelbon from Boston used up all the salary vacated by guys like Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Raul Ibanez (as did the $12 million per year bump that Lee got in his annual salary from last season to this one). For a team that was really pushing the envelope with their payroll last year, the Phillies are in a similar position this season, and ownership will almost certainly put a clamp on any trade that includes the addition of salary. No team looking to dump and rebuilding at the trading deadline is going to add salary, so the idea of bringing in a good, cheap player is probably nothing more than wishful thinking. And with only Roy Oswalt still sitting around as a potential signing and virtually nothing worth noting at AAA Lehigh Valley, Amaro really doesn’t have the ability to do much of anything to improve this year’s club.

But that, my friends, is the beauty of being a general manager. His job isn’t just to win this year, his job is to win every year. It’s pretty obvious that – with the youth of the Nationals, the rapid growth of the Mets, the big time free agent signings of the Marlins, and the continued solid play from the Braves – the Phillies probably aren’t making the playoffs this season. The problem is that they’re now trending in the wrong direction, and need to make sure that they’re passed by those clubs for only one season, not for the next four or five. So, assuming Halladay is only slightly injured and missed just a couple of starts, the plan for fixing the Phillies is simple and, quite frankly obvious.

Trade Cliff Lee.

Most of the talk in Philadelphia has been about trading Cole Hamels, and as a Mets fan I would love that. The Phillies choosing to part ways with a 28-year-old lefthander who already has a World Series MVP on his resume would be one of the best baseball days I’ve had over the past couple of years. Why keep a 33-year-old pitcher who has a bloated contract for the next five years when you can sign a 28-year-old who has – dare I say it – been the better pitcher over the course of his entire career to the exact same contract? Now, that’s easier said than done, but let’s assume Amaro and Hamels can reach an agreement prior to July 31 on a long-term extension. That frees up the Phillies to trade Lee and still have plenty of ability to compete this season. I’m sure the Yankees wouldn’t mind taking on a pitcher of Lee’s caliber considering all of their pitching woes so far this season, and a rotation of Halladay-Hamels-Blanton-Worley-Kendrick is definitely good enough to win the division for Philly with all of the offensive pieces in place.

Ah, but the offense. What to do there? Again, it may be the unpopular decision, but the Phillies should trade Shane Victorino. Somehow, this franchise needs to get younger, and the unfortunate part is that the front office is already committed to Utley, Rollins, and Howard on the infield. Eventually they’ll probably lock up Hunter Pence in rightfield, too, and Carlos Ruiz isn’t going anywhere behind the plate. With Polanco already set to be a free agent and without a true leftfielder, the only logical move to make to improve the lineup would be to trade Victorino now. That would leave them with the ability to sign a big-time bat to play left, center, or third this offseason while simultaneously helping to restock a completely depleted farm system. Dealing Lee and Victorino should fetch at least one top-line prospect each, players who could certainly help the Phillies as soon as 2013.

It may not be completely over just yet, but it’s clear the fans in this town are starting to sense that 2012 is the end of the Phillies reign atop the NL East. The task for Amaro now is to ensure that they’re in a position to regain that crown in 2013. The old adage in business, “you have to give up something to get something” certainly applies here, and the Phillies need to give up Lee and Victorino now, or they may not get anywhere close to where they want to be for a rather long time.

Playoff “Dead” List
It’s BACK! For those that have read my columns in the past, every Memorial Day I begin a tradition of striking off one team per week from the list of playoff contenders, officially declaring their postseason hopes “dead.” Eliminating one team per week will leave us with 13 teams on September 24, the final Monday of the regular season, as which point I will eliminate the last three teams and give you the 10 playoff teams for this postseason. Only once in eight years have I ever been wrong – the Colorado Rockies in 2009. And so, without further delay, I give you…
May 28 – San Diego Padres
They’re the third-worst team in baseball at 17-32, and are the furthest behind in the division (16 games). Without a true ace and sporting a lineup filled with light-hitting role players, it’s clear that this edition of the Padres won’t be playing past game 162.

Three series to watch this week…
1) CHW @ TB (5/28-5/30) – This is suddenly a big series, with the surging Sox visiting AL East co-leader Tampa. If Chicago’s pitching continues like it did this past weekend in the sweep of the Indians, the bats will keep this team in the playoff hunt all season.
2) STL @ ATL (5/28-5/30) – A matchup of two teams going the wrong direction. The Cards have surrendered the first place to the Reds, while the Braves have fallen all the way to fourth in the jam-packed NL East. Big difference from the meeting two weeks ago.
3) DET @ BOS (5/28-5/31) – Four games between these two teams could go a long way to helping one of these teams climb pack in the race and forcing the other into desperation mode. A split probably doesn’t do much for either side.

If the season ended today, the playoff teams would be…
National League
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Washington Nationals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. New York Mets
5. *St. Louis Cardinals
5. *Miami Marlins
The Cardinals would host the Marlins in a one-game playoff to determine the second wild card team.

American League
1. Texas Rangers
2. Baltimore Orioles*
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Tampa Bay Rays*
5. New York Yankees
The Orioles would host the Rays in a one-game playoff to determine the AL East champion. The loser would host the one-game wild card playoff game.

And finally, I couldn’t write a baseball column without acknowledging the my alma mater, the Dayton Flyers, who captured their first ever bid to the NCAA Baseball tournament this past weekend by winning the 2012 Atlantic 10 Conference championship, 3-0 over the Richmond Spiders. They find out their pod and location later today, but it’s a big step for a program that has produced two major league players in the past decade – Washington’s Craig Stammen and Oakland’s Jerry Blevins. Congratulations to the players, coaches, staff, and administration at UD for a job well done!

Check out my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday and the weekly “Power Rankings” every Friday, only at

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