Only 16 days remain before the July 31 trading deadline, and the team’s general manager is living up to his reputation as the worst in baseball. And why isn’t he seriously shopping Cole Hamels (photo above)?

By Sam Bush

Phils fans are restless, and they’re expressing that through the ticket office: The team’s attendance has plummeted, from an incredible 44,021 per game just two years ago to the current 30.438. That’s a 31 percent drop-off.

So Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. should make deals. There are desperate teams all around baseball right now, and, although the team’s outsized contracts probably will keep Amaro from making great trades, he can still make good trades, eating some dollars while adding prospects and carving out some space in his budget and building openings for a different roster that Phillies fans apparently want.

But the Phils’ faithful has seen this movie before. The team starts slowly, the front office pooh-poohs the naysayers, claiming the established stars with come around. And when they don’t, it is too late to get the best value in return.

Such as now — 16 days before the trading deadline with the Phils’ 2014 essentially over.

The fans saw the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 and field the best regular-season team in 2011, but then the team fell back to .500 in 2012 and won just 73 games last season.

At the current pace, Philadelphia will win just 72 games this season, which is an extraordinary failure, given the amount of money the team has invested. With the problems of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and the Phillies — three teams with massive payrolls — 2014 is shaping up to be like a baseball version of the banking industry. Too big to fail, indeed.

Whatever the thinking was behind the Phillies’ decision to hold together their core group of expensive veterans — while adding more older players to the mix — it is playing out to be a debacle, on the field and in the eyes of the Phillies’ faithful. What this really means is that there is clear opportunity for the Philadelphia front office, should it choose to take it: The Phillies have nothing to lose and everything to gain in the last 20 days before the trade deadline. They have hit rock bottom, and they have a chance to move forward from here.

There are teams looking for pitching right now, whether it’s the Yankees or the Los Angeles Angels or the San Francisco Giants Los Angeles Dodgers, so the Phillies have potential suitors for Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. There are teams in need of power, and Marlon Byrd’s muscles could be a coveted resource in the marketplace. The Oakland Athletics would be a perfect fit for Chase Utley, as would the Giants. The St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds andPittsburgh Pirates, all hit by injuries in the past week, will be looking for help. The market is defining itself.

If the Phillies believe financial flexibility could help them moving forward, they can at least see what’s possible in Cole Hamels‘ situation. They could ask teams such as the Dodgers how much Philadelphia would need to pay down to make it possible to glean good prospects, or even a great prospect.

Look, the Phillies have to know this: By the time the team is ready to contend again, Lee will probably be gone. The same is true for Utley and Papelbon.

So if the Phillies can glean any kind of dollar savings that would enable them to rebuild the roster, they might as well do it. If they can get even Grade B prospects for Lee, while absorbing a chunk of his salary, they might as well do it. They have been in a three-year spiral leading to nowhere, and they should aggressively force change and move ahead. They know from their attendance that their fan base is ready to move in another direction.

Rollins, Utley, Hamels and Lee have been all-time greats for the Phillies, and they’ll be brought back for reunions for many years to come, but it’s pretty apparent from the box office returns that running out the same core roster into 2015 would be like serving the same plate of cold cuts at dinner parties day after day.

The fans are losing interest in this current team. They want something new.


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