By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The conventional wisdom regarding the Phillies inability, or lack of desire to make moves at the trade deadline suggests two upsetting reasons. First, the front office may believe that the team, as currently constructed, is still able to compete for a playoff position, and is worth keeping at least moderately intact. Second, that Ruben Amaro, as has been suggested, is not a capable “seller.”

There is a third option that is far more disastrous than either of those two reasons: they don’t have many players that teams would want to trade for, and those who do, are likely worth more to the Phillies than to another team.

This team is in real, serious trouble. And it’s not the sort of trouble they can spend their way out of.

Cliff Lee has value, that’s for sure. How much value does Cliff Lee have? That’s up for debate. The potential deal with the Red Sox? Forget about it. Doesn’t seem realistic.

The fact is that Cliff Lee is the best player on the Phillies, regardless of age or contract. His 17 WAR over the last two and a half seasons makes him the most valuable player on the team. So if you plan to continue to be competitive, it’s only worth trading Lee if you’re getting quite a haul back. It’s unclear whether that was possible. His cost in dollars limits the number of trade partners they could have.

There’s the issue of Chase Utley as well. It’s a legitimate question, whether it’s worth trading a franchise icon at this point in his career, and with the team struggling as it is. But like lee, Utley, even with his injuries, is a player who helps the Phillies win games. And if you’re going to trade one of the few guys who does that, you’d better make sure you’re getting value back. The way that MLB teams value young players under team control nowadays, I’m not so sure there was value.

Jimmy Rollins has stated publicly that he will not waive his no trade clause.

Many asked me “why couldn’t they just trade Carlos Ruiz or Michael Young, for something? For anything?” Let me ask you, if you were a competing general manager, would you offer much for either? Ruiz is a 34 year-old catcher coming off a 25 game PED suspension who has been wholly ineffective at the plate. Michael Young’s limitations in the field, and no-trade clause limits the number of teams who could be interested. The Rangers don’t want him, which leaves the Red Sox and Yankees. Both players, as well, could likely be moved after the deadline.

Jonathan Papelbon? Hahaha, sure. Everyone wants to throw $30 million at a reliever in the declining stages of his career. There appears to be only one team who was willing to make that move, and it’s the Phillies.

The Phillies are in a lot of trouble because they just don’t have enough good players. It’s that simple. Bad drafting, bad contracts, and bad trades, as well as short-term thinking have left them in this position.

Free agency isn’t what it once was, so if you’re imagining a big Phillies splash to change their fortunes you’d be mistaken. Most players never make it to free agency in their prime. More and more, teams are locking up their young stars before they ever reach the open market. When players do become unrestricted free agents, they’re usually north of 30 years old, and you’re paying them for their decline years.

Poor drafts over the last several years, as well as trading for big name talent, have left the organization in a bad spot with young, major league ready talent. It will hamper their ability to trade for players, and will make it more difficult to plug young players who are out-performing their contracts on the field.

You’ve got to you ask yourself, what is the Phillies path back to the playoffs, if it’s not through trades or free agency? They’re not in the position to tear it all down, like the Marlins or Astros have done, because it seems pretty unlikely this ownership group is willing to to stare at that many empty seats ever again.

It’s disappointing that the Phillies did not “sell” at the trade deadline. What’s even more disappointing is that they didn’t have anything anyone wanted to buy.

Follow Spike Eskin on Twitter @SpikeEskin.

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