Buyers or Sellers
In July of 2012, the Phillies found themselves in a position to sell for the first time in a decade. Running on a string of nine straight 85-plus win seasons, the Phils were 12 games out of first place in the NL East at this time last year, and they ended up unloading Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Hunter Pence in the days leading up to the deadline.
By comparison, Philadelphia's current 9-game deficit in the standings doesn't look quite as daunting, but with the clearly superior Braves and Nationals well out front in the East, it looks like it is once again time to sell, sell, sell.
What They Need
Well, salary relief would probably be welcome. The Phillies are currently going nowhere with a $165 million payroll that ranks as the third-highest in the majors. They are saddled by the hefty price tags of aging vets like Cliff Lee ($25M), Ryan Howard ($25M), Roy Halladay ($20M), Michael Young ($16M), Chase Utley ($15M), Jonathan Papelbon ($13M) and Jimmy Rollins ($11M).
Cole Hamels was signed to a $144 million extension last summer, so he'll be a centerpiece as they move forward, but you have to imagine that general manager Ruben Amaro would be open to moving pretty much any of the names listed above in return for younger talents that might be able to factor into the next wave. Papelbon, in particular, is likely to be a hot commodity; since the Twins aren't expected to make Glen Perkins available, Paps figures to be the premier closer on the market.
What Might Work
Since both teams are pretty well locked into "Sell Mode," there really isn't a great match here. The Twins have plenty of payroll flexibility but they're not necessarily close enough to contention to justify taking on one of Philly's bloated contracts, particularly one that is set to expire like Utley or Young.
If the Phils were to take an interest in any player in Minnesota's organization, it would probably be a young, somewhat established player that could become a long-term staple, a la Ben Revere. With the veteran Young ready to hit free agency at year's end, and no clear replacement at the hot corner, Trevor Plouffe comes to mind. As was the case with Revere, Terry Ryan's price will likely be young pitching.
John Sickels of SB Nation's Minor League Ball blog ranked Philadelphia's system
No. 20 in baseball before this season, and the top prospects by and large haven't had very good years, so this isn't a premium group to rummage through. Then again, that might increase the likelihood that some players could be pried away.
Adam Morgan - LHP - Triple-A - 23 years old
After raising his stock with a fine 2012 campaign, the southpaw has struggled in his first turn at Triple-A. He was 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA before being shut down with shoulder discomfort in mid-May. If he's able to return before the deadline, he could emerge as an intriguing buy-low candidate, but do the Twins really want to take on another iffy shoulder when they've already got one in Alex Meyer?
Roman Quinn - SS - High A - 21 years old
Another one of Philly's top prospects who is having a down year, Quinn has seen his OPS drop from .778 in Low-A last season to .669 in High-A this season. He has also committed a whopping 31 errors in 66 games, so his future at shortstop is very much in question. Nevertheless, the kid has some legit wheels. He stole 30 bases on 36 attempts last year and is already 32-for-41 in Lakewood.
Ethan Martin - RHP - Triple-A - 24 years old
Much like Trevor May, whom the Twins acquired from the Phillies in the Revere trade, Martin is a right-handed pitcher with good stuff that comes coupled with significant command problems. This year at Triple-A, he has averaged 5.4 BB/9 and his mediocre overall numbers make it tough to overlook the shoddy walk rate. Still, he was ranked by Baseball America prior to the season as the No. 80 prospect in baseball.
Darin Ruf - 1B - Triple-A - 26 years old
Ruf had never been much of a prospect until last year's power explosion in Double-A, where the right-handed slugger launched 38 homers and drove in 104 runs in 139 games, posting a 1.028 OPS. Even for a 25-year-old former 20th-round pick without much of a track record, those numbers cannot be ignored. He hasn't enjoyed nearly the same kind of success in Triple-A this year, with a .266/.343/.408 line to go along with seven homers in 77 games, but he has also reportedly been dealing with a sore hand.
Cliff Lee - LHP - MLB - 34 years old
Normally we'll use this space to highlight a premier prospect who would be a tantalizing addition to Minnesota's system, but I'm going a different route. Lee's contract has become a major burden on the Phillies; he's set to make $25 million in each of the next two seasons and he has a $27.5 million option in 2016 that will become guaranteed as long as he stays healthy. Seeing as how the lefty has logged 200-plus innings in seven of the past eight years, that's a pretty safe bet (even if the option doesn't become guaranteed, it would cost a whopping $12.5 million to decline).
The Twins, of course, have no major salary commitments beyond this year outside of Joe Mauer. With young, low-cost players likely to fill the majority of the roles in the next few years, the Twins could take on Lee's enormous contract and still probably fall below their recent payroll caps. Even though he's aging into his mid-30s, Lee is showing no signs of slowing down, as he's currently one of the National League's finest starters with a 9-2 record, 2.59 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
Because he's pitching so well, the Phillies won't give Lee away for nothing, even with the massive salary attached. But if the Twins were willing to stomach the cost, he would add an elite veteran ace to the front of a young rotation, putting the club in position to be an instant contender in 2014.
Of course, there is nothing in the history of the Twins or Terry Ryan to suggest that this kind of deal has any chance of materializing, and Lee's partial no-trade clause would probably rule out Minnesota anyway. Still, it's fun to dream on...