SportsProf

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Monday, July 01, 2013

The End of an Era

It wasn't going to last forever.

A Hall of Fame GM figured out over a half century ago that it was best to stay young, sell players right after they peaked.  It was hard to figure out when that was, of course, because players are individuals, but he parlayed good players into good players.  His name was Branch Rickey.

We knew in 2008 that the Phillies couldn't keep it going forever.  Sure, they had a good team, and, yes, they had a good farm system.  But they parlayed it for big-name starting pitchers, and the position players got old fast.  And then they added two old position players, Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco, and they got hurt.  Big contracts entered, and incentives lessened, despite protests that the players were professionals.  Binoculars were found out, as were steroids in the entire game and, also, amphetamines. Recovering from injuries became more difficult, staying peppy for 162 games all but impossible.

They declined steadily.  World Series win in '08, World Series loss in '09, NCLS loss in '10, NLDS loss in '11 and then a failure to make the playoffs in '12.

It is time to break the team up.

You can't trade Ryan Howard because his contracts is dead weight.  He hasn't evolved, and he's becoming yet another argument against long-term deals.  He was rewarded for past accomplishments, not future ones.  You are stuck with him.

But Chase Utley might agree to a trade out west.  The Giants, A's and Dodgers all could use him.  Carlos Ruiz's contract expires; he'd look good in Yankee pinstripes.  Cliff Lee might be the big prize; teams will line up for him.  He can make the difference between a short post-season run and a championship.  Jonathan Papelbon also looms large -- the Red Sox could use his services as a closer.  Michael Young also could be an extra piece for a contender.

All of the above could bring serious prospects to the team -- position players with good OPS potential, pitchers with upside.  Sure, they can say that they'll keep Lee and then build around him and Cole Hamels, and, yes, few might be able to fathom the Phillies without Chase Utley.  But at some point the whole roster will turn over, they'll get very old and either retire or fade from the game after seasons that become so partial as to be almost non-starters.  Father Time will catch up with all of them, so it's time to cash in.

Before it's too late.

While there remains significant value.

While there remains a chance to garner major prospects to re-build the team.

Okay, so it will be easy to get tickets, and, yes, the team will lose concession sales because attendance will plummet.  But at least the fans will begin to look forward to a new era, as opposed to having box seats to a sad slide.  Sure, they'll precipitate a faster downfall, but, also, a faster rebirth.

It was great in '08, wasn't it?  But what happened in '08 suggests that the formula for winning has your team having the right pieces in the right place at the right time -- an aging pitcher telling a starting pitching staff it was good enough, a bullpen without any holes and with a perfect closer, a bench with clout and position players all looking for big deals, a team on the upswing, and with everyone else being talked about at the outset of the post-season, it was the Phillies who smoked Milwaukee, dusted the Dodgers and then finished off the Rays.

Sure, there is a crisis, as the team is struggling, and the potential for awful attendance looms.  But lurking behind the bad news is opportunity -- an opportunity to trade value for future value, and to build for the future.

It is July, and there are 30 more days until the inter-league trading deadline.  It is time for GM Ruben Amaro to put up the "For Sale Sign."

It is time to close the chapter on the Chase Utley Phillies.

It is time to begin the next one.

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