There was a lot of talk about the future seven months ago when the Phillies finished their little wife swap with the Blue Jays and Mariners. Some of the rationale -- Halladay for three years versus Lee for one --made a lot of sense at the time. Some of it -- trading away two birds in hand, namely Lee and Drabek, because the one in the bush was Halladay -- made a little bit of sense at the time. And some of it -- namely leaving the organization with a net loss in starting pitching depth without addressing either of its other glaring weakness, catching and middle infield -- won't make sense unless J.C. Ramirez, Tyson Gillies and Phillippe Aumont realize the vast upside they are said to have (No pressure, guys).
But while fans may have been frustrated by all of the talk about "future" in the wake of a second straight World Series berth, they can only hope that similar talk dominates the Phillies' internal conversations as they hold out hope for a third.
And within that conversation, the question: Is it possible to lock up $12.75 million or $16 million in another starting pitcher next season while parting with significant minor league talent without hampering the Phillies ability to upgrade the various other areas of the team that have emerged as concerns this season?
They already have $130.35 million committed to 15 players next season. Like it or not, the Phillies operate on a budget. Every dollar they spend on a pitcher is a dollar less they can spend elsewhere. We don't know what that budget is. This year, all indications pointed toward the $140 million mark. Even if ownership OK's an increase to $155 million, the addition of Oswalt would leave them $9 million to pay another starting pitcher (J.A. Happ, if he isn't traded?), a right fielder (Domonic Brown?), three bench players, and four relievers.
Look, upgrading now and upgrading in the future are not mutually exclusive. And the Phillies seem to be thinking along those lines as they target Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren. Both pitchers would help this season. And both would help next year. There is no argument about either statement.
What there is some argument about is whether the acquisition of either man would be worth the sacrifice it could take in other areas of the team.
The Phillies have lost six of eight games since the start of the second half of the season. They entered today seven games behind the Braves in the National League East, and four games out of the Wild Card, with five teams in front of them. They've overcome a similar deficit in far less time. But it is important to note that even in 2007, when they came back from 7 games down with 17 to play, they were 4 games back in the NL East and 2 back in the Wild Card at the non-waiver trade deadline.
You can't ignore their past history of getting hot quick. But you also can't ignore the odds.
More than anything, though, you can't ignore the fact that this team is a lot farther away from serious postseason consideration than a starting pitcher who is going to take the mound in 10 to 12 of their remaining 68 games. And the reasons they are a lot further away might not simply disappear over the offseason.
Maybe Raul Ibanez is due to bounce back. Or, if he isn't, Ben Francisco can break out. Or, at the very least, the two can form a platoon. Maybe Domonic Brown will be Andrew McCutchen, and the Phillies will have another superstar to pair with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Maybe Brad Lidge will pitch like an $11.5-million-a-year closer, and Danys Baez will pitch like a $2.5-million-a-year reliever, and Ryan Madson will continue to be Ryan Madson, and the other four bullpen spots can be filled by cheap homegrown players. Maybe Jimmy Rollins will be the player he was in the last three months of 2009, and not the player he has been in his four other healthy months over the last couple of seasons.
Maybe none of those guys will get hurt, and the Phillies will be able to get away with paying a Juan Castro-type $700,000 for his glove and versatility. And maybe they won't need to add a competent fourth outfielder.
Maybe Roy Halladay and the new pitcher, be it Haren or Oswalt, stays health despite 5-to-10 years of 200+ innings on their arms.
If all that happens, then maybe adding another top-flight pitcher makes sense. And maybe trading away a cheap, controllable starter like J.A. Happ makes sense. And maybe, if you trade away Jayson Werth, shipping those presumably promising prospects to a Houston or Arizona instead of keeping them makes sense.
Maybe the first four months of 2010 were a fluke, and this Phillies offense is in a brief recession instead of a steep decline, and the Phillies can enjoy these next two seasons while their mother lode of young talent in Class A works its way toward the majors.
Or maybe not.
Which is why any move that the Phillies contemplate over the next eight days should involve some heavy meditation on the ramifications for next season and beyond. That means financial ramifications as well as personnel ramifications.
As tempting as Oswalt or Haren may be, perhaps the Phillies really would be better served focusing their efforts on other areas that would still improve them this season while also leaving them more flexibility in the future.
At this point, we're just throwing names out there as hypotheticals. But take a guy like Jose Bautista, who could play second base until Utley returns, and outfield afterward, and would be around next season to either provide some right-handed power off the bench or work into the outfield rotation (He has killed lefties in his career, although not as much this season), while also providing some infield depth? What if you could get him and a reliever, both of whom would be around next season, from the Blue Jays? And what if you could get them for half of the minor league talent it would take to get Haren or Oswalt, while also saving $4 million in salary that could be spent elsewhere?
Again, hypotheticals. All things, I'm sure, the Phillies have discussed amongst themselves. The big question is which philosophy they will err toward. Over the offseason, it was away from immediate organizational depth and toward three years into the future when they traded away Drabek and Lee. It's safe to say that has yet to work out as planned.
This year, it will be fascinating to see what they do.
Consider this, though. . .
Back in 2006, the Boston Red Sox were barely hanging onto first place in the AL East as the trade deadline approached. Josh Beckett was having an awful season. The only starting pitcher in their rotation with an era under 4.60 was an aging Curt Schilling. Rookie starter Jon Lester had only recently been called up.
There was pressure on the Red Sox to go all-in in the trade market. They won the World Series in 2004, then lost in the ALDS the next year despite winning 95 games. They had a declining closer in Keith Foulke, who lost his job to rookie Jonathan Papelbon. As the trade deadline neared, names like Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen were in the thick of trade rumors.
But when July 31 had come and gone, the Red Sox had stood pat. They added no salary. The parted with no prospects. And they finished in third place in the AL East.
But the next season, they signed outfielder J.D. Drew and pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka to big deals. They promoted Dustin Pedroia to second base. They added reliever Hideki Okajima and paired him with Papelbon. The Red Sox won the World Series that season.
The Phillies don't have prospects like Lester and Papelbon. The comparison isn't perfect.
But as you clamor for another top-of-the-line starter to replace the departed Lee, keep it in mind.