A couple schools of thought have emerged since the Phillies went on summer break: whether the Phillies should buy or sell, and whether Charlie Manuel deserves credit for keeping his team alive. Let's take a look.
As Bob Ford indicated in his morning column, the season could be decided over the next two weeks, which would lead the Phillies right up to the doorstep of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Cardinals, Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, Pirates and Cubs are lined up in front of them. As much as the Phils hope the picture becomes clearer, it’s likely that two weeks from now, the decision whether to buy or sell will get harder, and the playoff race tighter. Oh, and here come the Marlins again (although there are rumblings the D-Train could be ticketed for a cross-country trip out West).
The consensus holds the Phillies will sit at home in October if they do nothing. However, they have less bait to dangle than most teams. That’s also the case if they become sellers. Aaron Rowand, a free agent after the season, may be worth more if he’s kept, then lost through free agency. The Phillies would receive a compensatory draft pick should the center fielder seek greener pastures (which just got greener with Ichiro's five-year extension). Last year saw David Bell, Ryan Franklin, Rheal Cormier and Bobby Abreu all change teams at the deadline. They got little or no value for those players. It would be the same for Rod Barajas, Wes Helms or any other veteran they chose to unload.
A prediction that could gain traction is the Phillies won’t become buyers or sellers, and will instead use the opportunity to look for a way out of Pat Burrell’s contract, perhaps swaping bad contract for bad contract. I wouldn’t underestimate the Phillies’ passion for unloading Burrell. This may become an opportunity for the Phils to get involved with some deal – maybe a three-way deal – with some club that’s out of the hunt, like Texas, and a team firmly in the hunt, like LAA. As for their own playoff ambitions, the Phils will take care of it like they usually do: the cheap way. Using waivers.
Let's talk about the manager. There’s this emerging school of thought that says Charlie Manuel deserves credit for keeping his team afloat amidst injuries and the pitching washout.
While they’re only 4 ½ games back of the division-leading Mets, this isn’t a squeaky clean position, and nobody would have considered a .500 record at the turn an acceptable mark before the season. The Phillies were slow out of the gate for a third-consecutive season under Manuel, stumbling at a time when they had a surplus of starting pitching. He moved Jon Lieber to the bullpen, which failed. He broke camp with Matt Smith and used him like a veteran, even though he had a terrible spring. Three starts into the season, he moved Brett Myers to the bullpen in desperation, and may have overused him.
Manuel wasn’t active enough in snuffing out injuries. Who knew Freddy Garcia wasn’t himself? The answer: Just about everyone who watched him pitch. Manuel finally cornered the injured started in the dugout tunnel after his final start to get a confession. Additionally, Tom Gordon’s "routine checkup" happened midway through March. There were enough red flags not to issue a April 2 green light, and keep using him, until he finally said uncle.
Along with the reoccurring on-field lapses and strategy, heaping praise on Manuel – who deserves very little credit if any – detracts from the real first-half victors: Chase Utley and the Phillies’ offense. Three major contributors – Utley, Aaron Rowand and Jimmy Rollins – are having career seasons. Ryan Howard has 21 homers and 67 RBIs in a first half of "disappointment." Shane Victorino has answered critics who said he couldn’t survive as a full-time player. Why should anyone give Manuel credit for Victorino’s 27 stolen bases and 11 homers? Credit Davy Lopes, maturity, his peers and nothing more. As for pitching, Cole Hamels is pitching as if greatness was his destiny. Did Manuel teach him the change-up? Jamie Moyer has been in the league since 1986.
The critical question one must ask when measuring a manager is "Can he win them games?" I can remember one game in May, which featured a lot of moves and double switches that worked according to plan from start to finish. I remember many more occurrences where readers relayed the astounded words of out-of-town broadcasters questioning one of Manuel’s decisions which ended up costing them.