In hunt for a big bat, the future is now

Carlos Beltran has a .366 batting average with 11 home runs in 22 career playoff games. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

If you can access the repressed memory, think of the dark day when Ruben Amaro Jr. traded away Cliff Lee. The Phillies, Amaro said, needed to replenish their trade-depleted farm system in order to extend the current era of success for years to come. That was more important than having Lee and Roy Halladay in the same rotation.

That does not sound like a man who would give up top prospects to rent Carlos Beltran for a few months, does it?

Ah, but Amaro also sent young players to Houston for Roy Oswalt and shocked the world by signing Lee as a free agent last winter. Those were win-now moves, not stay-competitive-for-a-decade moves.

So what to make of the reports out of New York that the Phillies are front-runners to acquire Beltran from the rebuilding Mets before the July 31 trade deadline? First, it must be stressed that the reports are originating with the team trying to create a bidding war for Beltran.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson has already declared the fire sale by trading closer Francisco Rodriguez. The other night, he told reporters that "the next three or four years are more important than the next three or four months."

The opposite is true for the Phillies, who have the best record in baseball.

Amaro has declared himself incommunicado until the trade deadline. With the media, that is. Given his track record, Amaro is certainly in constant communication with his fellow GMs. That track record also tells us that he is likely to go for the best possible player available, and that would be Beltran.

Should he do it? If the Astros won't part with Hunter Pence as part of their salary-dumping project - or if GM Ed Wade just can't get caught helping his former team out again - then yes.

Within reason, anyway, Amaro should go ahead and sacrifice some of that future to get Beltran.

Domonic Brown? It would hurt to have a player who is often compared to Darryl Strawberry blossom into a superstar with Strawberry's old team. But who has a better chance of contributing in the World Series this year, Beltran or Brown?

Beltran has a .366 lifetime average with 11 home runs and 1.302 OPS in 22 postseason games. Most of that production came in 2004 with Houston, when he was playing for a new contract. That is exactly the situation Beltran will be in this year.

If the Phillies find themselves in another tough playoff series against top pitching - remember the NLCS against San Francisco last October? - they will be much better off with Beltran in the lineup behind Ryan Howard.

Many reports suggest Alderson would like to get young pitching in return for Beltran, and might even pay most of Beltran's remaining salary (between $6 million and $7 million) to get the right prospects. That could mean Vance Worley, who keeps pitching superbly as a fill-in for the injured Roy Oswalt, or it could mean one of the young pitchers in single-A ball, like Jarred Cosart.

Do you do it? Yes, you do.

In a perfect world, Cosart, Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone, and Brody Colvin - the so-called "Baby Aces" - will mature into successors for Halladay and Lee as their careers here wind down. It is not a perfect world. It is especially imperfect when trying to project the futures of even the most promising young pitchers.

There was some trepidation when J.A. Happ was included in the deal for Oswalt last year. Happ, 28, is 4-11 with a 5.88 earned run average this season. Jason Knapp, the hard-throwing prospect included in the Lee deal, is out for another season after a second shoulder surgery.

Kyle Drabek was an untouchable when the Phillies traded for Lee two summers ago. Amaro reluctantly gave him up in the deal that brought Halladay from Toronto. Drabek may be a future Cy Young winner, but for now he's a 23-year-old recently sent back to triple A.

Would you trade what Halladay has done, and will do, in a Phillies uniform for Drabek's unknowable future? You may have a different opinion in 2015, but for now, the deal looks awfully good to Phillies fans.

There's no guarantee Beltran will rise to the occasion here the way he did in Houston in 2004. But he has been an outstanding hitter from both sides of the plate, he would be energized by escaping from the woeful Mets, and he'd join a professional, winning atmosphere in Philadelphia.

It isn't Beltran or bust here. Pence is 28, hitting .315 with Houston, and could be a part of this team for years to come. Jeff Francoeur or Ryan Ludwick would add new blood to the lineup.

Amaro has earned the benefit of the doubt, whatever he might choose to do. But he shouldn't worry about mortgaging the future. Not when the future is now.


Contact Phil Sheridan

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