It's been discussed often here and elsewhere, the idea that the Phillies can sell off a few seemingly expendable pieces while simultaneously buying and contending. The deeper you look into it though, the harder it is to buy into that thinking.
Let's start with Michael Young, who many think can be traded and replaced by Kevin Frandsen. Those who favor that move see Frandsen and Young similarly, and in reality they are. Both are .280-.300 hitters with gap power who play below-average defense at third base.
But there are a few problems with that. First, you have to consider how hot Young has been for the last six weeks. He's hit .321/.355/.500 over his last 39 games with 17 extra-base hits. It's not an empty batting average, Young has been keeping the ball off the ground and hitting it with authority.
Young's increased production does increase his pricetag -- teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Reds and Dodgers are in on him -- but it would be tough to trade that away. Young has consistently solid at-bats and is one of the few players on this team capable of laying off borderline pitches and fouling tough ones off. You need that at the top of the order after Jimmy Rollins.
One must also consider what the Phils would lose if they were forced to play Frandsen everyday -- an extremely valuable bench bat. Frandsen leads the majors in pinch-hits (12) and batting average as a pinch-hitter (.364), and is second in RBI (9). If he has to play everyday, who is the first right-handed bat off the bench? John McDonald? Erik Kratz? Yuck.
With Papelbon ... yeah, you trade him if it makes sense. "Makes sense" has a few meanings. For starters, you must receive a close-to-major-league-ready prospect. It should be a position player. You must also -- if you hope to contend -- turn around and deal for a Tom Wilhelmsen or a Steve Cishek, two guys who have very good stuff, elite strikeout rates and experience closing and setting up.
The problem with that, though, is the cost for Wilhelmsen or Cishek, or any effective, young reliever who is cost-controlled through 2017, will be enormous. That would mean you're probably offsetting whatever you get for Papelbon with what you give up for Wilhelmsen or Cishek. Papelbon is better, but he's also about $10 million more expensive per year.
There really isn't a gray area here. You buy or you sell. If the Phillies go 4-2 or 5-1 against the Cardinals and Tigers, Ruben Amaro Jr. should add those two pieces -- outfielder and reliever -- by July 31. If they go anything less than that, you have to enter sell-mode and just hope for the best. The Phillies were a .500 team last year and have spent 2 of 99 games over .500 this year. It would be time to be realistic.
If the Phils sell and make a Bobby Abreu-less run like they did in 2006, that's great. The point is it will be very difficult to sell while also buying and expect it to make a positive short-term difference. Long-term, sure, it might. But if you're still thinking 2013 playoffs, you have to be realistic about what Young and Papelbon provide and how ill-equipped this team is to lose its most patient bat and best relief arm.