By Joe Giglio
At first glance, Thursday night’s Phillies game was just another loss in a season headed for disappointment. Through 51 games, the NL East cellar and a minus-31 run differential belongs to Philadelphia.
Outside of Marlon Byrd’s opposite-field home run in the seventh inning, there was little for the Citizens Bank Park crowd to cheer for. Just one night after a throwback walk-off victory supplied by a Ryan Howard blast, the consistently inconsistent Phillies went back to confounding and frustrating fans.
Yet, in the midst of a Mets victory, hope should have shined through the broadcast. As the Phillies struggled to make contact against New York’s Zack Wheeler, a blueprint for future success was displayed.
Three years ago, the New York Mets entered play on May 30 with a 25-28 record and minus-20 run differential, marks are nearly identical to what the Phillies have displayed this season. By late July, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson put a rebuilding plan into high gear by shipping outfielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants for Wheeler.
At the time, Wheeler was one of San Francisco’s top prospects, but the team was willing to part from an organizational strength in order to make a run at defending the 2010 World Series championship.
With the three-year anniversary of that trade on the horizon, Wheeler dominated Philadelphia on Thursday with a combination of a high-end fastball and an excellent curve. With swing-and-miss stuff, the 24-year-old looks like the type of arm that can help the Mets graduate from rebuilding mode to contender within the next year or two.
As June approaches, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro is tasked with evaluating his club, assessing the NL East and choosing one of three paths during the trade season: buy, sell or stay the course.
While it’s easy to scream “sell!” on the WIP airwaves, Amaro’s decision-making process is clearly more complicated than simply faciliating a total and complete rebuild this summer. With the NL East looking porous, don’t be shocked if the maligned executive fools himself into thinking that this Phillies team is good enough to make one more run.
Those suspicions were confirmed when Amaro downplayed the idea of selling off veteran parts this summer.
“It’s such a moot point, there’s nothing to discuss,” Amaro recently said. “I don’t know if we’ll completely ‘sell’ ever. We can revamp, but we can’t completely sell out.”
However, if the Phillies do sell, Wheeler’s dominant outing can serve as a reminder to what a potential return can become. No, not every executive in baseball would be willing to give up an arm with Wheeler’s potential or trade impact players for aging veterans like Marlon Byrd or Mike Adams. But, as fans have come to understand over the years, it just takes on trade partner to facilitate a major move.
To be fair, Wheeler isn’t the next Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez. Through his first 28 big league starts, the former Giants prospect has posted a 3.76 ERA and struck out 146 batters over 162.2 innings. Those numbers are solid, but not spectacular when considering how pitching-friendly New York’s Citi Field has been.
Still, he’s a building block for the next contending Mets team. If he becomes a high-end No. 2 starter and multiple-time All-Star, the trade will be an overwhelming success.
It’s easy to point out failures in trades involving established stars in exchange for prospects, especially in Philadelphia. If the Cliff Lee-to-Seattle trade had provided the Phillies any value, perhaps the team wouldn’t be in such a difficult situation now.
But if Amaro and the Phillies hit the eject button on 2014 and move veteran pieces, remember the gem that Wheeler threw on May 29. In a perfect world, Philadelphia can generate that kind of future production from a prospect acquired this summer.
Joe Giglio is a host on WIP and WFAN, and covers MLB as a Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Find him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports. Catch Joe’s next show on WIP Sunday night at 11 p.m.