- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Now it's Carlos Ruiz who is hurt for the Phillies, joining Roy Halladay and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and seemingly the rest of the ballplayers in the eastern half of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
After their loss Friday, the Phillies are now nine games out of first place in the National League East, and after losing just 60 games in the 2011 season, they have 35 losses already, and 31 victories. The Phillies had the easiest schedule in April, and now they are facing a brutal slate of games in July and August, including a West Coast trip right after the All-Star break and a bunch of games against the best teams in the NL Central.
Some rival executives have come to believe that unless the Phillies run off a string of victories over the next 46 days, they will seriously consider offers for left-hander Cole Hamels. Philadelphia has not made any progress in contract talks with Hamels, who is now about 20 starts from free agency.
But as the Phillies approach those crossroads and seriously weigh the question of whether to keep the left-hander, the decision will be extremely difficult. One can imagine general manager Ruben Amaro sitting down in his office with a yellow legal pad, drawing a line down the middle and filling out two columns -- the pros and cons.
Why the Phillies should keep Hamels: There are Phillies who can testify firsthand, from their experience of running down the Mets in 2007, that overcoming a huge deficit in a short period of time is possible. Utley will be back soon, in all likelihood, and Howard could follow shortly thereafter, and as the Nationals prepare to shut down Stephen Strasburg later in the summer, a two-week burst of success could draw the Phillies right back into the wild-card race, at the very least.
That cannot happen, though, unless the Phillies keep Hamels; if he and Cliff Lee and Vance Worley spearhead a comeback, and Halladay makes it back, Philadelphia could be dangerous again. A trade of Hamels would effectively end the competitive part of their season.
Keep in mind that the Phillies' fan base is now accustomed to winning, given the recent run of division titles. The fans support the team well and fill the ballpark -- from the cheapest seats to the most expensive -- and some won't take kindly to a white flag being waved by the front office with a third of the season left.
Hamels would undoubtedly be the best pitcher available on the market if the Phillies dangled him, with more consistency than Matt Garza (who is being talked about a lot more in recent days, executives say) and better pure stuff than Ryan Dempster and less risk than Wandy Rodriguez. But it's possible that the Phillies won't get a game-changing prospect for Hamels, as the Mets did last summer, when they swapped Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler, who has been described by one evaluator as a "right-handed Matt Moore."
Remember, this is the first year in which a team that acquires a prospective free agent during the season won't be eligible for draft-pick compensation; according to an AL executive, a player had to be traded by Opening Day for that to happen. In the past, teams could trade for a free agent-to-be knowing they probably wouldn't sign him, while feeling comfortable that at the end of the year they would be in line for draft-pick compensation. That's what the Brewers did when they traded for CC Sabathia.
So there is no value recoup on Hamels for a team that trades for him, and that figures to have an impact on what some teams will offer the Phillies.
Lastly, while there is reason for the Phillies to believe that Hamels is going to leave in the fall as a free agent for a whopper contract -- their best chance to sign him was probably last fall, and that window of opportunity was missed -- trading him may effectively slam the door on his return to the Phillies.
Why the Phillies should trade Hamels: Amaro and the Philadelphia front office will take an honest assessment of the team, and right now, they don't look close to being a team that can win a division, let alone make a dent in October. Their staff ERA is 3.94, which ranks 14th in the majors, and manager Charlie Manuel has spoken about how the team just hasn't played with the same level of confidence; they are the hunted these days, rather than the hunters. The Phillies really have no idea what they'll get out of Utley or Howard or Halladay; they cannot speak with confidence that any of those players can get back to being difference-makers this summer. An honest appraisal is that the outlook for the rest of this season is bleak.
The Phillies have traded for high-end talent in recent years in an effort to augment the team's chances to win in October, making deals for Lee and Halladay and Hunter Pence and others, and now the credit-card bill has come due. Rival executives say the Phillies' farm system is very thin, and while Amaro may not get an A-plus prospect for Hamels -- someone like a Dylan Bundy of the Orioles -- he would get badly needed young talent in return.
And if the Phillies were going to sign Hamels, they would have done it by now, because they are fully aware that his price is only increasing. An $80 million offer last fall probably wasn't good enough, and Hamels' market price shot up to at least $112.5 million after Matt Cain signed, and when multiple teams are bidding on him in the fall, he'll be in position to get a Johan Santana or Lee type of deal.
The Phillies, already pushed against the luxury-tax ceiling by other contracts, are boxed in. If they know internally they aren't going to sign Hamels, it frees them up to decide to take draft-pick compensation for him in the fall -- or for players closer to the big leagues in a deal this summer.
Philadelphia fans will continue to support the Phillies so long as they win, and trading Hamels for prospects would arguably put them closer to winning in 2013.
It won't be an easy decision for Amaro.
• It was deja vu all over again for the Jays, who saw a pitcher go down in the first inning, again: This time it was Drew Hutchison, and his injury occurred just hours after the Jays announced that Kyle Drabek has a ligament tear in his elbow and that Brandon Morrow will miss 4-to-6 weeks.
• The Marlins seem to have fixed what had ailed Logan Morrison, getting his head in a better position -- before, he had seemed to be too far forward -- but for Miami, there is concern about the condition of Emilio Bonifacio, who will try to come back this summer from a thumb problem. If Bonifacio struggles to do that, the Marlins will be looking for someone who can play center field regularly, and that's why they would be among the first in line if and when the Twins ever decided to market Denard Span.
• If the Red Sox are waffling about whether to take a run at Ryan Dempster, he must have opened their eyes with his strong outing Friday. Again: It remains to be seen whether the Cubs and Red Sox powers that be can move past the Theo Epstein compensation debacle to make a deal.
From Dave van Dyck's story:
... [A]pparently Dempster will waive his no-trade rights if it means going to a contender.
"(Trade talks are) starting to pick up," Epstein said. "There is a little bit of chatter. Most of the phone calls are preliminary in nature, kind of feeling out calls. 'Hey, what are you looking for? What are you trying to do? Who might be available?' That kind of thing."
Plouffe has been hammering the ball, as these notes from ESPN Stats & Info show: Plouffe has five home runs in his last four games, seven in his last seven games and 10 in his last 14 games; he had only 14 career home runs in his previous 123 games.
Five of his home runs in this 14-game stretch have come against off-speed pitches (three changeups, two curveballs); he had only four homers on off-speed pitches in his career prior to this stretch. During this 14-game stretch, Plouffe has pulled 14 fly balls to left field; 10 have left the yard. Only one of his 24 career home runs has been to the opposite field.
On the season, Plouffe is slugging 1.263 when he pulls the ball to left field, which ranks third in the majors. Plouffe's isolated power (extra bases per at-bat) of .335 also ranks third in the majors this season behind Adam Dunn and Josh Hamilton.
Last five instances of players hitting 10+ home runs in 14 or fewer games
2012 -- Trevor Plouffe, Twins
2012 -- Josh Hamilton, Rangers
2011 -- Adrian Beltre, Rangers
2011 -- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2010 -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
How unlikely is this hot streak of Plouffe's? On the morning of May 28, Plouffe was hitting .156, which ranked 298th out of 303 hitters with 75-plus PAs. He's hitting .375 since with 10 home runs in 14 games.
• The Indians signed two more picks, as the wave of signings continue, under the new rules. Players are starting their professional careers quickly, and it can't be anything but good for their development.
In response to an email question, Mike Arbuckle -- the Royals' senior advisor to the general manager for scouting and player development -- wrote about the rapid signings: "It is significant, because the two months they get this summer can get a player to the major leagues as much as a season earlier.
"This obviously has huge impact on overall earnings due to earlier arbitration, free agency, etc.
"An interesting note: Players signing now will end up with as many... at-bats [or] innings as last year's picks who sat until Aug. 15, even though they were drafted a full year later."
Wrote Mark Newman, senior vice president for the Yankees' baseball operations: "It's good to get draftees earlier. For them, it's one less year to the major leagues. High school kids do not have to spend as much time in rookie league. College players who are high draft [picks] can get more easily get to AA in Year Two."
Newman added one lament, about the new system: "Of course we miss the chance to use the lower rounds more aggressively."
The Nats' unsigned No. 1 pick visited the park.
• Manny Ramirez asked for his release, and got it. Not sure how this could possibly help him, because he'll now be looking for exactly the kind of opportunity he had with the Athletics, who were completely open to the idea of promoting Ramirez once he showed some more extra-base pop in his at-bats in the minors. They had penciled him in for a May 30 promotion, but he just didn't hit well enough, effectively playing himself out of a spot, and now Ramirez's best hope is to sign a minor league deal and hit his way back to the big leagues.
• A talent evaluator's report after seeing Mike Trout in the Futures Game a couple of years ago: "He's Mickey Mantle."
• And the hits just keep on coming for the Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki is going to be checked for a sports hernia.
• The Rangers announced that Josh Hamilton was hospitalized with an intestinal issue.
Dings and dents
2. Andy Dirks' rehab hit a sticking point.
6. Nolan Reimold's MRI revealed more questions.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Gerrit Cole was promoted to Double-A.
2. Ned Yost prefers more pitching help.
By The Numbers
from ESPN Stats & Info
4: Consecutive games with a home run for Plouffe; he has 10 home runs in his last 14 games.
20: Curveballs thrown by Matt Moore on Friday, 17 more than he threw against the Marlins in his last start.
300: Career stolen bases for Carlos Beltran, who became the first switch-hitter to reach 300 homers and 300 stolen bases Friday.
1. You can't stop the Royals, you can only hope to contain them: That's four straight wins and counting, and K.C. is now within five games of first place.
2. The Tigers had a really, really, really bad inning.
4. The Brewers got some good bullpen work.
7. The Nats' winning streak came to an end.
8. The Pirates' losing streak has reached four.
9. The Yankees are on a serious roll; that's seven straight wins and counting.
11. Clayton Kershaw did not throw well, but the Dodgers won, anyway. This is their season, in a nutshell.
12. The Angels were shut down.
14. The Rockies powered up, as Patrick Saunders writes.
• Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees generated his 1,924th career RBI (ties Jimmie Foxx for sixth-most since RBIs became official stat in 1920).
Most career RBIs (from Elias Sports Bureau):
Hank Aaron -- 2,297
Barry Bonds -- 1,996
Lou Gehrig -- 1,996
Babe Ruth -- 1,988 (since 1920)
Stan Musial -- 1,951
Alex Rodriguez -- 1,924
Jimmie Foxx -- 1,924
• Within this notebook, there is word that Adam Dunn isn't embracing the idea of participating in the Home Run Derby.
• R.A. Dickey is relieved by an MLB decision.
• There still isn't a lot of respect for Dusty Baker among Reds fans, writes Hal McCoy.
• A comedian took aim at Tigers fans.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Buster Olney evaluates both the pros and the cons of the Phillies' potentially trading Cole Hamels by this year's deadline.