Teams wrestling with buying or selling at Deadline
Can doing the right thing for your franchise also get you dismissed? There surely are general managers asking themselves that very question.
OK, maybe it's best to put the conversation in another context. At what point, does a general manager pull the plug on his season? And if he is ready to make that call, how does he explain it to the team's bosses and fans?
Did injuries kill the season? Or did some players fail to do what they were expected to do? In other words, does he acknowledge that the blueprint was flawed? What are the consequences of that?
For instance, there are the Kansas City Royals, who are behind the Tigers in the American League Central, eight out in the AL Wild Card race. Royals general manager Dayton Moore has made dozens of terrific decisions in seven years on the job. He has hired good people and meticulously built a solid farm system.
So far, though, all those good decisions haven't gotten the Royals back to the playoffs for the first time since 1985, and it would take an amazing rebound to get them there this season.
So should he trade his best pitcher? Ervin Santana might be out of the Royals' price range when he becomes a free agent after the season.
On the other hand, dealing him would be an acknowledgement that this season is over. Never mind that he might bring the Royals a package of prospects similar to the one the Cubs got from the Rangers for Matt Garza.
Fans in Kansas City are tired of prospects, tired of being told good days are around the corner. There's no right answer for any of this. There's also no reason to tear up the blueprint. The Royals do have talent and appear very close to being good.
So in these days leading up to Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Moore will be getting dozens of telephone calls from general managers who think Santana might be the difference between finishing first and second for their club.
The Mariners are in a similar place. In five years on the job, general manager Jack Zduriencik, one of the most respected personnel men in the game, has put one solid Draft class on top of another. And yet, Seattle seems likely to miss the playoffs for a 12th consecutive season.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, not after an offseason in which Zduriencik acquired veterans Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay and Joe Saunders to go with all those kids.
Most nights, the Mariners are running out a young lineup that ought to get fans excited -- third baseman Kyle Seager, second baseman Nick Franklin, catcher Mike Zunino, first baseman Justin Smoak and shortstop Brad Miller.
The Mariners are playing their best baseball of the season, having won eight of nine, but they're 11 games behind the A's.
Does Zduriencik make Ibanez and Morales available? In a marketplace with very little offensive firepower, he might get a bundle of prospects. He'd also be ending the hope for a season that began with such promise, which would lead to thousands of empty seats and doubt about the direction of the franchise.
Or does he stay the course and hope that the Mariners sprint right to the finish line, put some heat on the Rangers and A's and send a message about what's ahead in 2014?
The Phillies are like that, too. They're built to win now. With five division championships and a packed stadium, they have tried to keep the band together hoping for another magical run.
They're eight games out of first place in the National League East. Even with all the problems the Braves and Nationals have had, the Phillies have been unable to make a serious run at contention.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. faced a similar reality a year ago and dealt Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton. The Phillies have gotten younger this season as Domonic Brown has emerged as a big-time player, and Ben Revere and Darin Ruf look like they'll be contributors in the years ahead.
Does he trade Utley and maybe even Cliff Lee? Or does he think the Phillies can still go back to the postseason in 2014?
In evaluating those three teams -- with Morales, Ibanez, Santana, Utley and others -- it's a reminder that the overall talent level available at this Trade Deadline isn't dramatic.
Most teams simply don't allow their best players to ever hit the free-agent market, so the Trade Deadline has become largely a marketplace for complementary pieces.
That decision comes with a downside, too, and that's what the Royals, Mariners and Phillies -- and others -- are wrestling with as Wednesday approaches.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.