As the Philadelphia Phillies begin the second half of the season — with a three-game series in Atlanta starting tonight — manager Ryne Sandberg is poised to look forward.
He didn't want to dwell on the fact that the Phillies entered the All-Star break 10 games back in the NL East. He didn't want to talk about the club being nine games below .500.
He knows how the club did and was quite frank when he expressed how he felt about the team's first half performance.
"Not pleased," said Sandberg. "Not pleased with the record."
He wants to look toward the future because he sees some positives that he thinks the team can build off of.
"We showed spurts of improvement as of late but things to look forward to the second part of the season — having Cliff Lee back in a short period of time, [Carlos] Ruiz will be back — so we do get to pretty much full strength," Sandberg stated. "I'm anxious to see Grady Sizemore a few more games. Cody Asche is swinging a good bat and playing well so, [we have] some things to look forward to."
The Phillies don't have the easiest schedule coming out of the break. Philadelphia's first seven games come against the Atlanta Braves, who have won four straight against the Phillies, and the San Francisco Giants.
Both of those teams are above the .500 mark and the Phillies went just 20-32 against that competition in the first half.
Still, Sandberg isn't the only one convinced this team can put something together after squandering the momentum of their second five-game winning streak of the season in their final series before the break.
"I don't think we're going to look at the last two games [both losses] as a whole," said Asche. "It's what we've done the past seven games. I think there's a good feeling with the team that if we play good baseball like we have the last seven games that we can make a run at things."
If the Phillies do have something to show, they'll have to turn things around on the offensive side, especially at home. It's also looking more likely that they'll have to do that without some of their best players.
Before the All-Star break, the Phillies hit .232 at home. In all of baseball, only the lowly San Diego Padres had a worse batting average in their own park. The Phillies also have had trouble with runners in scoring position. Their .229 average in that situation is 27th out of 30 teams.
"That part's been surprising," Sandberg said. "It has, as long as it's lasted. When we've had our good series and played our good games, we had offensive punch in there but it would turn overnight and turn cold. That's something — consistent offense and key hits — that'll be needed in the remainder of games."
Marlon Byrd, who is on pace for a career high in home runs and RBIs, is the only reason those numbers aren't worse. At the break, Byrd led the team in home runs (18) and slugging percentage (.479) and he was second in RBIs, doubles and runs scored.
The issue for the Phillies is, their most consistent offensive piece in the first half, has the biggest chance out of anyone to be wearing another jersey come Aug. 1.
Byrd is wrapped up in a number of trade rumors, one of the latest from the Seattle Times' Ryan Divish, sending him to the Seattle Mariners. However, that team is one of the four on his contract's no-trade clause. Whether that stands in the way of a deal has yet to be seen.
The report said the right fielder would be willing to waive his no-trade clause, however, Byrd told Comcast SportsNet's Leslie Gudel he would consider it only after the deal was already made.
The possibility of change doesn't stop there, and if the number of opposing scouts at Citizens Bank Park during the last homestand suggests anything, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will be a very busy man. Representatives from the Giants, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees were among those in Philadelphia recently.
And while Sandberg mentions Lee as one of the reasons he's excited about the second half, it's not a stretch to say that the left-hander could make just two more starts for the Phillies this year.
Lee, recovering from a left elbow strain, made his final rehab start with Single-A Clearwater last week. It didn't go as planned — he gave up eight hits and eight runs, three of which were earned, while walking one and striking out two in 42/3 innings.
Despite the shaky results, Lee is slated to rejoin the major league rotation Monday against the Giants. That outing, along with his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks, will be crucial in determining the value and interest in the 35-year-old. With Masahiro Tanaka out for at least six weeks after sustaining a partially torn UCL, the Yankees might be the best fit.
Other Phillies that have a legitimate chance at being sent away come the July 31 non-waiver include Jonathan Papelbon, A.J. Burnett and Cole Hamels.
If the Phillies can find a suitor for Papelbon, now would be the ideal time to unload the closer, who is having a career year. He's also the only Phillie so far that has said he would welcome a trade because he wants to play for a contender. Leading up to the break, Papelbon posted a 1.21 ERA over 371/3 innings and if you take out his first two appearances of the season, he has a 0.50 ERA.
The Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, Pittsburgh Pirates and Orioles are all teams that could use a proven closer and Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles reported Thursday that the Dodgers will likely pursue Papelbon.
The Orioles are also a fit for Burnett and Hamels as the AL East leaders could use a boost in their starting rotation.
Burnett is signed through the end of the year but has a mutual/player option for 2015. He should garner interest since he has not allowed more than three earned runs in his last seven starts and has failed to go at least seven innings just once in that stretch.
Hamels is the least likely to be traded out of the bunch, however, he would command the biggest return. If a team like the Dodgers are willing to give up enough to get him, something could happen. Even though they have some ground to make up coming out of the break, recent reports have both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as the Blue Jays, showing interest in Hamels. The righty is signed through 2018, with a 2019 option.
If the Phillies do the right thing and begin rebuilding for the future, things won't be any easier as they move through the post-All-Star break schedule.
Sandberg is right to be looking forward, but with major changes seemingly imminent, he'll need to be looking at the next few years rather than the next few months.