Change in the air for Phillies in second half
Young players to get opportunities as team looks to be active at Trade Deadline
PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies opened the season with a franchise-record $180 million payroll and a healthy roster for the first time in a long time.
They expected to compete, but instead they find themselves miles from a pennant race.
The Phils have spent most of the season in last place in the National League East, and changes are expected before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. They hope to see bigger and better things from their younger players in the second half as they try to retool and rebuild for the future.
Five key developments so far
1. Where is the offense?
The Phillies believed they would improve offensively with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley healthy and bounce-back seasons from Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz. But it has not worked out that way. The Phils have struggled to score runs as much as any team in baseball.
2. Brown's blues
Domonic Brown had 27 home runs, 83 RBIs and an .818 OPS last season as he made his first NL All-Star team. But he has regressed in 2014, putting up one of the lowest OPS marks in baseball.
3. Bullpen improvement
The bullpen struggled early in the season, but it has been the team's strength for several weeks with the development of right-handers Ken Giles and Justin De Fratus and left-handers Jake Diekman and Mario Hollands. Closer Jonathan Papelbon reemerged as an elite closer, which boosts his trade value.
|MVP: Chase Utley
The Phillies' only representative on the NL All-Star team, he has been one of their few bright spots this season.
|Top starter: Cole Hamels
Don't let the record fool you. Hamels has suffered from some of the worst run support in baseball.
|Top rookie: Ken Giles
Mario Hollands deserves some consideration, but Giles looks like he could be the Phils' closer of the future.
|Top reliever: Jonathan Papelbon
. Papelbon has reestablished himself as one of the best closers in baseball. But will he still be with the team at the end of the month?
4. Byrd a bright spot
It wasn't the flashiest signing of the offseason, but Marlon Byrd has earned his two-year, $16 million contract to date. But will he be around much longer? Byrd is a right-handed hitter with power, so he has value on the trade market.
5. Rotation issues
The Phillies expected a rotation with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and A.J. Burnett to be the team's greatest strength. The rotation has been middle of the pack at best, but Lee's injury has hurt. And when he returns, he will be auditioning for other teams.
Five storylines to keep an eye on
1. The Trade Deadline
The Phillies are expected to make a trade or two (or more) before the Trade Deadline, and those trades are critically important for the organization's future. The Phils said they don't plan on a five-year plan to rebuild, which means anything and everything has to be considered. It also means their talent evaluators need to identify and acquire the right talent, something that hasn't happened in recent years.
2. Bullpen roles
If the Phillies trade Papelbon, they would experiment with Giles and Diekman in the ninth inning. Whatever happens with Papelbon, they want to see their young relievers continue to progress, so it's one less thing the front office has to worry about in the offseason.
Second-half players to watch
The Phillies want to know if Brown should be in their future plans. A strong second half could convince them to stick with him.
Triple-A third baseman Maikel Franco could get called up in the second half, but Asche could solidify his future in the lineup (either at third or possibly the outfield) with a strong performance.
Giles has impressed since his promotion from Triple-A. He could be the organization's closer of the future.
3. Outfield production
The Phillies have had some of the worst outfield production in baseball, particularly left and center. The Phils need to figure out what they have there, and figure out if Grady Sizemore is somebody who could have a future in the organization.
The Big Piece is on pace for 26 home runs and 94 RBIs, which is a good season for most people. But Howard is making $25 million a year each of the next two seasons, so they need more. Howard, who has struggled on defense, could make the Phillies feel better going forward with a strong second half.
5. David Buchanan
Buchanan is in Triple-A, but he could be back soon. If the Phillies trade Lee or Burnett or both, and Kyle Kendrick signs elsewhere in the offseason, the Phils certainly will need Buchanan in the rotation next year. So they need to see improvement from him in the second half.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.