Phillies trade outfielders Victorino and Pence
WASHINGTON - The End looked like this: a few teammates solemnly saying goodbye to Hunter Pence in an almost-empty clubhouse about five hours before Tuesday night's first pitch. Shane Victorino never made it to Nationals Park; he saw what friends he could find at the team hotel in Virginia.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. proclaimed it was time to see others play, meaning there will be no October baseball in Philadelphia for the first time in six years.
That was guaranteed well before Tuesday, the day the Phillies erased two-thirds of their outfield with two trades in less than two hours. The end was swift for the National League's oldest and most expensive payroll.
"Very surprising," said Pence, who carried his red Phillies bag to a pennant race in San Francisco.
A two-month life of irrelevancy for these Phillies will be jarring, especially without two faces ingrained in Philadelphia's baseball identity. First, Victorino was dealt to Los Angeles for a middle reliever and a minor-league starter. Shortly thereafter, Pence was shipped to San Francisco for three players.
The Phillies gained payroll flexibility and a deeper inventory. The two trades saved them almost $6 million and allowed them to sneak under the luxury tax limit for this season. That could compel them to exceed the $178 million mark in 2013.
Amaro believes that he has enough money to be a player in this winter's market for a major signing.
"Maybe more than one," Amaro said.
In the here and now, the product is diluted and almost unrecognizable at times. The Phillies are easily on pace to become the third team in baseball history to post a losing record one season after winning at least 102 games - only the 1971 Cincinnati Reds and 1994 San Francisco Giants share that ignominious distinction.
The outfield will undergo a massive renovation. Domonic Brown rejoined the club Tuesday and will play every day for the remainder of the season. John Mayberry Jr. is the new centerfielder, but it's likely the Phillies will pursue Victorino's ultimate replacement through free agency. Nate Schierholtz, acquired in the Pence trade, could assume right field.
Manager Charlie Manuel will be asked to manage a losing team, something he has not done since 1987, when his Portland Beavers stumbled to a 45-96 mark in the Pacific Coast League.
When asked how he will balance his desire to win daily with developing players, the manager bristled.
"Everything about development relates back to winning," Manuel said. "In order for us to win, we have to have winning players, a winning attitude, and the whole part goes together."
The hauls for Pence and Victorino were significant. The Giants included their No. 2-ranked prospect, catcher Tommy Joseph, who instantly becomes the top position-player prospect in the Phillies system. Schierholtz is cheap and serviceable, and single-A righthander Seth Rosin has a high strikeout rate.
Victorino netted the Phillies a 25-year-old righthander with decent numbers named Josh Lindblom, double-A righty Ethan Martin, and a player to be named or cash.
The Phillies had not sold at the deadline since 2006, the last time they missed the postseason.
"I remember Pat Gillick made the deals in 2006, and he stood up and said we won't contend until 2009," Manuel said. "I came right behind and said I knew our guys in our clubhouse and I know we're going to still compete. I still have that same attitude. . . . We'll see where it takes us. I don't look at nothing as given up. We're still playing. That's how I see the game."
If the Phillies use Brown and Schierholtz in the corners, they could make a run this winter at Michael Bourn, who will be a free agent, for center. B.J. Upton also will be a free-agent centerfielder.
While a Victorino deal was expected, trading Pence was a surprise. The Phillies had discussed his name with teams, but dealing him would leave an outfield full of questions. They opted for that scenario, while shedding what would have been a $15 million corner outfielder in 2013.
Not only is the outfield in doubt, but so is third base.
"We have some holes to fill and some things to improve on, obviously," Amaro said. "I think this gives us a better chance to do that."
The Phillies surrendered a bounty, including their best hitting and pitching prospect, to acquire Pence from Houston last summer. "It was the right thing to do then," Amaro said. Pence, 29, hit .289 with 28 home runs in 155 games with the Phillies and endeared himself to fans with his goofy disposition.
But without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup, Pence floundered as a middle-of-the-order bat. His defense in right field was suspect. He likely will demand a lucrative contract come free agency after 2013. His value was at its highest now.
The Phillies never seriously explored a multiyear extension for Victorino. The lack of a new contract weighed on him. A season ago, his .491 slugging percentage and .847 OPS represented career highs. He is on pace to achieve career lows in both statistics this season.
The Phillies traded him because they were unlikely to make a qualifying offer this winter, which would have netted them a draft pick as compensation if Victorino were to sign elsewhere. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams cannot receive picks unless they offer a one-year deal commensurate to the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. That figure is expected to approach $12 million.
He departs having played 987 games in eight seasons with the Phillies. He won three Gold Gloves and made two all-star teams. Not bad for a player selected seventh in the 2004 Rule 5 draft, in which teams merely hope to find depth.
"He's been part of everything we've accomplished around here," Manuel said.
The Dodgers originally selected Victorino in the sixth round of the 1999 draft only to twice leave him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft. As they make a postseason push, he returns.
"It happens and the shock isn't there," Howard said. "As a teammate, you are going to miss him, hearing that voice from across the room. You want the best for him."
The Phillies think they did the best for the organization, too, on a day that eventually could define Amaro's legacy. They undoubtedly will spend lavishly again and enter next spring with the highest of hopes, but everyone will remember the summer day a baseball machine was humbled.
Contact Matt Gelb at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @magelb.