The Phillies’ most tradable commodity, Billy Wagner, has also been their best pitcher lately. Are the Phillies willing to trade him for prospects like Boston's Kelly Shoppach now that they're just 2.5 games out in the wild card hunt?
Before the All-Star break, I believed the Phils closer had been good, not great in earning his fourth career all-star bid. But since that time, Wagner has been lights out, including three near spotless saves this series alone.
With the exception of one bad appearance-in which he was overworked for 43 pitches against the Dodgers-Wags has been virtually unhittable since July 10, including a key save last night to preserve the 8-7 win against the Rockies.
I’d label Wagner the best closer in the NL right now and he's probably the best chip on the market next to Boston slugger Manny Ramirez. NBC-10 reported this morning the White Sox are making a late push for the closer, but multiple sources have indicated the Phils aren’t selling. They’re sitting just 2.5 back of Houston in the wild card race, with Atlanta starting to pull away in the NL East with a five-game lead over the fast-falling Nationals.
The Phils are competing with about six other legitimate contenders for that final playoff birth and have just as good a chance as any of them in my estimation, with Houston still earning my vote as the front-runner. The number of teams still in the hunt certainly reflects the lack of significant trades that have happened so far.
Yesterday, Eric Byrnes of Colorado was traded for essentially the same type of outfielder in Baltimore’s Larry Bigbie, smacking of a deal just for the sake of making one.
The Padres finally unloaded first baseman Phil Nevin on the Rangers, but had to settle for pitcher Chan-Ho Park in a tradeoff of overpaid players.
And Seattle outfielder Randy Winn was dealt to the Giants for a young catcher and a pitching prospect in a move between teams that are out of the hunt. What I like about this deal is the Mariners received a young catcher, but then again, they got catcher Miguel Olivo in the Freddy Garcia deal to Chicago last season and he turned into a disappointment. Olivo, in turn, was also dealt yesterday to the Padres for a catching and pitching prospect, making that two young catchers Seattle received in one day.
Young catching remains a problem area for the Phils, with the biggest available prize in the Red Sox organization in the shape of Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach is batting .260 with 21 homers and a .525 SLG in Triple-A Pawtucket. From everything I've read, he's an excellent defender and a natural leader, a product of the outstanding Baylor program.
Boston is in desperate need of a closer and their interest in Wagner is no secret. However, the Ramirez situation throws a wrench into that plan. Though Jayson Stark has reported that talks between the Red Sox, Mets and Devil Rays have cooled on a three-way deal that would send Ramirez to New York, Boston would have to send a number of prospects Tampa Bay’s way, which could include Shoppach and third baseman Kevin Youkilis, players rumored to be headed to Philadelphia. The Red Sox would be receiving Aubry Huff in the deal, which would also bring Mets outfielder Mike Cameron to town. Rays closer Danys Baez is also involved, but I can’t remember whether he’d go the Mets or Red Sox.
It’s all so confusing, but that’s been the story of the deadline season – in particular with the Phillies. In fact, the Phils may have received the best available reliever on the market in the form of Ugueth Urbina, only they made the move a month and a half ago. The idea that Danys Baez is getting this much attention is beyond ludicrous.
With speculation surrounding the seriousness of Jim Thome's elbow tendonitus, reports say Ryan Howard isn’t going anywhere. And with the turnaround of pitcher Vicente Padilla, and the three wins in Colorado aided by red-hot Billy Wagner, the Phils could stick with the team they already have.
Can the Phillies wrangle at least one young catcher or third base prospect in exchange for a player like Endy Chavez? If so, make the deal and I’d be mildly satisfied. I’d still make teams beg for the services of the best closer in the National League. I’d ask two prospects and a proven pitcher for Wagner at this point. After last night, there's no doubting his value to a World Series-bound team like the Red Sox. Urbina is also not out of the question and could fetch a hefty price. I also maintain that no starter, aside from Jason Schmidt or A.J. Burnett, would make a significant enough impact for a playoff push.
Remeber, the biggest question remains: Are they contenders or pretenders? All this series has proven to me is they can beat the worst team in baseball.
4:00 deadline update
Nothing of any significance has moved over the wire just yet as the trade deadline passes. However, I want to pass along this bit of information for those that missed it:
SUNDAY - The Washington Nationals optioned
outfielder Marlon Byrd to Triple-A New Orleans on Sunday, replacing him
on the roster with outfielder Matt Cepicky.