PHILADELPHIA -- It is getting very late for the Phillies.
The calendar turns to July on Tuesday, when the Phillies open a 10-game road trip in Miami. Major League Baseball's non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, which is 26 games later, and recent developments must have the Phils' front office leaning heavily toward selling their most valuable assets in a move toward the future.
The Phillies are in this spot because they followed a 9-2 stretch earlier this month with a 2-8 stretch, including a 2-6 homestand against the Marlins and Braves. They are on pace to lose 91 games as they sit in last place the National League East. Philadelphia is hitting .242 with a .673 OPS, which would be the organization's lowest marks in both categories since 1991. The club is averaging 3.84 runs per game, which is its second-lowest average since 1988. The Phils averaged 3.77 runs per game last season, which means this season's offensive struggles are part of a longer trend.
If the team intends to save itself, a killer road trip through Miami, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee is a must.
"The time has been now for two or three weeks," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.
Here are a few thoughts as July 31 approaches:
1. Everybody must go? No.
One thing to keep in mind as the Trade Deadline approaches: The Phillies are not a small-market team desperate to shed salary, so they will not feel pressured to trade everybody for anybody. They are going to want value in return. Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. already has said they would be willing to eat salary for the proper prospects, which should help their cause. But the feeling here is that Philadelphia will not take an inadequate deal in July when the club knows it can still trade these players in the offseason or even next July.
A team wants to shortchange the Phillies because they have concerns about Cliff Lee's health? OK, then they can trade him in November or December when he has proven himself to be healthy. That is the right way to play it. The Phils need to get more in return than what they have received in recent trades. As bad as things are, now is not the time to get desperate.
2. Are you really ready to trade two icons?
It is unclear if they are the vocal minority or not, but there are Phillies fans who say (rather flippantly) the front office should trade Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley to jump-start the rebuilding process -- never mind both have said recently they are unlikely to waive their 10-and-5 rights. The basic idea makes sense. Rollins and Utley are in their mid-30s, so they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. But they still have value and could bring back something nice in return. But keep in mind these are not average players. Rollins and Utley are the greatest shortstop and greatest second baseman in franchise history.
Fans often talk about the lack of loyalty among professional athletes, how they are hired guns, ready to run to the highest bidder. Rollins and Utley both have said they do not see themselves going anywhere, which would put them in line to play their entire careers with one organization, like Mike Schmidt, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., Mariano Rivera, Tony Gwynn, Chipper Jones, Robin Yount, George Brett and Barry Larkin. There is something special about that.
And be very careful here. If Rollins leaves, who plays shortstop? Freddy Galvis, who has a career .596 OPS? Top prospect J.P. Crawford is still a couple years away, if he continues to develop. See Triple-A third baseman Maikel Franco for can't-miss prospects who have stumbled along the road to the big leagues. Rollins' .752 OPS ranks 13th among 28 qualifying shortstop this season. He is still productive, offensively and defensively.
Who would play second base? Cesar Hernandez? He has more upside offensively than Galvis, but are fans willing to trade two iconic players for the inherent risks in acquiring prospects?
Remember, Philadelphia received Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez from Seattle for Lee; the Blue Jays received Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud and Michael Taylor from the Phillies for Roy Halladay; the Indians received Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp from the Phils for Lee; the Marlins received Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo from the Tigers for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis; and the Indians received Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson from the Brewers for CC Sabathia. The point here is Lee, Halladay, Cabrera and Sabathia were four players in their primes, and Brantley is the only prospect out of 20 that has turned into something nice. Rollins and Utley are not in their primes, so they won't get the package those four players got. That isn't to say the Phillies shouldn't explore trading them, but extra care should be given because of their significance to the organization.
3. What about everybody else?
It makes more sense to aggressively try to trade Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, Antonio Bastardo, etc. If Lee is healthy and pitches effectively before the Trade Deadline, he seems more than likely to accept a trade if the Phillies want to send him to a team on his limited no-trade list. The Phils would have to eat some of the $37.5 million remaining on his deal, but it would be smart to do. The Phillies aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and it is best to trade Lee before it is too late.
The same holds true for Papelbon. He is pitching well, but he has one year remaining on his deal at $13 million, plus a vesting option for 2016. Philadelphia doesn't need an elite closer on this team, especially with the recent emergence of relievers like Jake Diekman, Ken Giles, Justin De Fratus, etc. The Phillies also have three effective left-handers in the bullpen in Bastardo, Diekman and Mario Hollands. The Phils should try to move Bastardo for that reason, which could net them something of value in return, plus take money off the books next season.
A trade for Byrd should be explored. Teams need right-handed power bats, and Byrd is that. It is unlikely to happen, but Ryan Howard could make sense on an American League team, although the Phillies would have to eat a huge portion of the $60 million remaining on his contract following the season. Would the Phils consider trading Cole Hamels? He is owed $96 million following the season, but it would be interesting to see what they could get.
4. Find some outfielders.
If the Phillies trade anybody before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, can they get an outfielder that might help them in the future? They must try. Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are not playing like long-term answers in left field and center field. The Phils need help offensively and in the outfield more than anything else on the roster.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.