Phillies Fall Short on Trading Chips

If you just started to pay attention to the Phillies after their magnificent homestand, you might wonder how they did all that winning. Why can't the Phillies score? Where is all the clutch hitting? Why all the errors and base-running mistakes? How come all the breaks seem to be going against them? After two sloppy series losses on the road against a pair of weak teams, the Phillies return home to Citizens Bank Park against far more difficult opponents in the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox.

The past week was a tough one for the Phillies. Randy Wolf appears done for this season and possibly even for good. He might be able to resuscitate his career with surgery and a lot of hard work, but he probably will not return to major league form until 2007, the year he turns 32. Though standout rookie Robinson Tejeda appears ready to assume a regular spot in the rotation, he is still unproven and the Phillies still may want to look long and hard at other starting pitchers who might be available for a stretch run.

Obtaining a good starting pitcher is not going to be easy. First of all, the Phillies no longer have any spare parts to trade.

Phillies GM Ed Wade had two major league bargaining chips at the outset of the season: Placido Polanco and Marlon Byrd. Both are already gone. While Wade managed to acquire an excellent reliever in Ugueth Urbina for Placido Polanco, he also made a stinker of a deal in dumping out-of-favor Marlon Byrd. Byrd was sent packing for anyone with a pulse. Light hitting speedster Endy Chavez happened to be available.

Since the trade, Byrd has hit .311 with 12 RBI for the Nationals with a .372 On Base Percentage in 74 at-bats. Endy Chavez has hit .167 with 2 RBI for the Phillies with a .205 On base Percentage in 42 at-bats.

Byrd and Chavez are both center fielders and were swapped even up, so the trade was not about needs. Nor was it about performance. Chavez, never one to reach base with any regularity, gave no indication that he had suddenly figured out a better approach to hitting. Byrd, on the other hand, showed clear signs that he had regained his productive batting stroke. His success at the plate comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone who watched him hit this spring. Only Phillies insiders know what triggered the need to dump Byrd, but the chance to nab Chavez was most certainly not it.

No, the Byrd-Chavez trade was about clubhouse chemistry, not about projected performance. Clearly the Phillies felt Byrd had to go. He must have done something to alienate himself from the Phillies organization. The trade makes no sense in any other light. Chemistry can be a delicate thing and sometimes performance on the field takes a back seat to harmony in the clubhouse. But the fact that it was the NL East leading Nationals that pulled off the Byrd heist makes the trade that much more difficult to swallow. If the Phillies needed to get rid of Byrd for something that happened behind closed doors, they ought to have demoted him to minors or at least placed him on the disabled list until a better deal could have been done.

Be that as it may, the Phillies did not get equal value for Byrd and now they find themselves in a position to have to offer top level minor league talent if they hope to acquire a starting pitcher who can help take them to the promised land. Sure, you can offer Ryan Howard, but the Phillies are understandably hesitant to deal him. Howard appears to be an impact slugger who could haunt the Phillies for years to come.

After Ryan Howard, the list of tradable players is incredibly short.

This leaves the Phillies in a bit of a pickle. If Vicente Padilla cannot hold on to the fifth starters spot or Tejeda cannot maintain his form in the four hole, the Phillies are going to have to find another starter to have a shot at the postseason. Will they finally realize that Ryan Madson is the man for the job or will they weaken an already thinned out minor league system?

In other news this week, the Phillies did an excellent job locking in Jimmy Rollins with a well deserved contract extension. J-Roll is without a doubt one of the best shortstops in the National League. Kudos to Ed Wade for getting the deal done. Congratulations to Rollins, who is one of the best reasons to be a Phillies fan.

Bad weeks happen, especially on the road. But now the Phillies must regain their focus at home. In particular, they need to take advantage of the chance to bury the Mets, who they play six times in the next nine games.

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