Phillies need to be smart when it’s time to sell

Here’s my column that ran in Saturday’s paper:

I don’t need to tell you the Phillies should be sellers as trade season approaches.

That’s a foregone conclusion by now.

Despite a four-game sweep of NL Central leader Milwaukee that got them to 10 games under .500, the Phillies aren’t a good team.

Part of it is lack of talent on a roster poorly assembled by Ruben Amaro, Jr., but much of it is old age and injuries that have taken large tolls on players who used to have all-world kinds of skill.

So come July 31 or Aug. 31 (I’ll get to that later), the Phillies might look dramatically different than they did while winning five NL East titles, two National League championships and one World Series from 2007-11.

But just because the Phillies should sell, doesn’t mean they have to.

Doing something just to do something is rarely productive. And I’ll agree with team president Dave Montgomery that blowing up the team will be far too detrimental to attendance.

Whoever the Phillies decide to sell, and there’s no shortage of players on that list, they have to be smart about it.

And when I say that I mean they can’t overplay their hand or allow other teams to take advantage of them.

The Phillies will have to eat money on just about anyone they trade. Maybe not on Kyle Kendrick or A.J. Burnett, but guys like Marlon Byrd and Jonathan Papelbon have vesting options that will most likely force the Phillies to send money along.

Papelbon made it clear he wants to play for a contender, but his $13 million salary for next year is too steep for a reliever. A vesting option for 2016, which kicks in with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15, won’t making dealing the temperamental closer easy.

Byrd is having a very productive season and is due $8 million in 2015, but he can vest an $8 million option for 2016 with 600 plate appearances in 2015 or 550 PA in 2015 and 1,100 PA in 2014-15. That would make Byrd an expensive 38-year-old (he’ll turn 39 on Aug. 30, 2016) outfielder/designated hitter.

The Phillies’ most attractive trade chip is Cliff Lee, but there are major issues with moving him, too. He hasn’t pitched since May 18 because of a sore left elbow. Lee has made two rehab appearances this month and is on track to return to the Phillies after the All-Star break. Money is another, with Lee guaranteed at least $37.5 million (that includes a potential buyout for 2016, but that would vest at $27.5 million if he pitches 200 innings in 2015) after this season.

Lee will make three starts before July 31, but if the Phillies can’t find a suitable buyer or good trade package they can always try to pass him through waivers and deal him by Aug. 31.

Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley could help contenders, but both have 10-5 rights and would have to waive them. Neither has expressed a desire to do that.

All of that puts Amaro in a tough spot.

He has to be smarter than he was when he traded Hunter Pence and Lee. The future of the Phillies depends on it.

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