Buried in the National League East standings with a diminishing chance at a postseason berth, the Phillies made two big trades before baseball's Trade Deadline.
The Phils sent fan favorite Shane Victorino, who was part of the core group that won the 2008 World Series, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for right-handed reliever Josh Lindblom, Double-A right-hander Ethan Martin and a player to be named later or cash. They also shipped Hunter Pence and cash to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Nate Schierholtz, Double-A catcher Tommy Joseph and Class A right-hander Seth Rosin.
The Phillies made those trades with an eye on the future, which looks rather murky just a season removed from a franchise-record 102 victories.
Prospects acquired from Giants
Tommy Joseph, C: The 2012 Futures Gamer was ranked No. 5 on the Giants' Top 20 at the time of the trade. Drafted in 2009 out of the Arizona high school ranks, his calling card was his bat, with many feeling he wouldn't be able to stay behind the plate long-term. The bat was on display in 2011 as he broke out as a power-hitting run producer. He hasn't been as dangerous in Double-A, but he still has solid hitting skills. His defensive game has improved tremendously -- a strong arm in particular helps control the running game -- and questions about him staying behind the plate have ended.
Seth Rosin, RHP: Rosin was the No. 19 prospect on the Giants' Top 20 at the time of the trade. Taken out of the University of Minnesota in 2010, he began his first full season as a starter, but moved to the bullpen. Out of the 'pen, his fastball hits the upper 90s in shorter stints, and he commands it well. He has a very good changeup to go along with it. His breaking ball isn't as good, but he can thrive with two pitches in relief.
"Clearly, we were built for, and we were hopeful to make, another run at a championship," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Tuesday evening sitting in the visitor's dugout at Nationals Park. "The chances of doing that right now are a little more remote, obviously, with the way we've played. We did not play very good baseball the first part of the season. We never really got untracked. I still think we have an outstanding ballclub and a lot of talent on this club. We'll see what happens over the next couple months. We'll get to see a couple of things. We'll see if guys are playing better baseball, which is an important element in this. And we'll see if guys are prepared to take jobs out there."
Ninety-four teams since 1900 have won 100 or more games in a single season. Just five finished the following season with a losing record. The Phillies could be the sixth. They also could finish with the lowest winning percentage (.441) in baseball history in a season following a 100-win season.
It has been quite a fall.
That is why the Phillies made the moves they made.
Not only did the trades provide an opportunity for somebody like outfielder Domonic Brown to play regularly the final two months of the season, but they filled a need in the bullpen with Lindblom, got a big league outfielder in Schierholtz, and provided depth to a farm system that has been depleted following trades in recent seasons that brought them Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Pence.
It also moved the Phillies underneath the $178 million luxury tax threshold and provided payroll flexibility for next season.
Those were important aspects in these moves.
Prospect acquired from Dodgers
Ethan Martin, RHP: Martin was the No. 7 prospect on the Dodgers' Top 20 at the time of the trade. A 2008 first-round pick, Martin has been a little slow to develop, but patience can be a virtue when it comes to high-ceiling, strong young arms. Martin still has the raw stuff that made him a hot commodity coming out of the Georgia high school ranks four years ago. He has a plus fastball and curve and his changeup is continuing to improve. In his second taste of Double-A, it does appear like things are starting to come together. His command has improved, though he still needs to refine that to be a starter at the highest level. His power stuff would play well coming out of the bullpen, but at age 23, it might be too early to give up on him as a starter, especially given his improvement this season.
"It was a part of it," Amaro said. "It wasn't the end-all, really. But it certainly played a little part of it, because the tax is what it is. This puts us a little underneath it right now. It was an element in the decisions that we made, but not the ultimate decision."
First-time offenders of the luxury tax pay a 20 percent penalty for every dollar over the threshold. (The penalty changes to 17.5 percent in 2013.) Two-time offenders pay a 30 percent penalty. In other words, if the Phillies finish the 2013 season above the $178 luxury tax threshold, they will pay a 17.5 percent rather than a 30 percent penalty.
That money could come in handy as the Phillies try to restock a roster with plenty of holes, which Amaro said are likely to be filled through free agency rather than trades. The Phillies will need to find everyday players at third base, left field, center field and right field. They also need bullpen help.
The Phillies had plenty of irons in the fire over the past couple weeks. They would have traded Cole Hamels had he not signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension last week. They came close to trading Joe Blanton to the Baltimore Orioles, although Baltimore balked at the $2.8 million remaining on his contract. (Blanton could be moved before Aug. 31, although he must clear waivers first.) They talked to teams about Lee, who is owed $87.5 million beginning next season. (Lee could be moved in the offseason, providing the Phillies even more payroll relief.) They also talked to teams about Jimmy Rollins, who the Phillies believe is expendable with Freddy Galvis impressing the front office and coaching staff earlier this season.
Amaro said the Phillies could make more trades before Aug. 31, but deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players have cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings, and if he is claimed by one of the teams, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player.
"We haven't shut the door on doing things," Amaro said. "We're going to continue to try to improve. In fact, we were trying to do things to add to the club up until the very last seconds. We're built to win still. It's a matter of making sure that we put the right pieces together to do it."
Victorino could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he tweeted, "Mahalo to the @Phillies and the AMAZING fans in Philly for a great run. A lot of unforgettable memories in this city. I'll miss you guys!"
Victorino become one of the franchise's most popular players. He provided the organization some of the most memorable moments in the 2008 postseason, including the grand slam against CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the NL Division Series and game-tying home run in Game 4 of the NL Champiosnhip Series. He was a two-time NL All-Star (2009 and 2011) and won three Gold Glove Awards (2008-10). He is franchise's all-time leader with 30 postseason RBIs.
"Shane was a little brother," Rollins said. "He really was. His career isn't over and our run isn't over. We just got a little break in it."
The Phillies sent a boatload of prospects to Houston last July to acquire Pence, who told Comcast SportsNet that he was surprised to be traded.
"I don't think anybody really anticipated the season that's gone on this year," he said. "Just the perfect storm of injuries and just things didn't go right for us. That's the way the business of the game is. You have to understand that. I think we had a great run, and I'm now being sent on."
Amaro thinks there are more great runs in the Phillies' future. He seemed confident of that, which begged one question:
"Because I know we have a lot of talent on this field and I know we can't control the injuries that happened," he said. "But what I do and believe in my heart of hearts is that we have the core and the nucleus of players to be a championship-caliber club. I could be wrong. I've been wrong before. But I think with some of the flexibility we have now, and the base of talent we have out here, I think we still have championship-caliber talent."