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On the Rebound

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Should Cameron Rupp be trade bait?

With the Phillies in the midst of a run of prosperity that recalls the fat days of early May, when fans kept track of wild-card standings, and reporters tried to figure out if the good times would last, El Hombre decided Monday to take a break from America’s birthday celebration to do a little math. The good news was that he didn’t need to remove his shoes and socks to calculate the Home Nine’s place in the NL playoff hierarchy: a reasonable (gasp!) eight games out of the post-season.

OK, perhaps that exercise was akin to figuring out exactly what one would do with the spoils of a Powerball victory—feed the hungry, help wipe out disease, buy an island. But it also shows that perhaps this Phillies team isn’t as bad as everybody thought it was during its late-June nine-game face-plant.

Sweeping the Diamondbacks and taking two of three from the defending World Series champs completed a 7-3 stretch that brought some excitement beyond NBA draft mania. All of a sudden, Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos are hitting, and even (Hail Julius) Cesar Hernandez has figured out what to do with a bat, after manager Pete Mackanin threatened him with a wonderful drive up the turnpike to Allentown. For the last week-plus, it has been fun to be a Phillies fan.

And now it’s time to slow it all down. It would be fun to see the Phils continue this recent success, and it’s no doubt the team would like to sell a few more tickets than it did Sunday, when a meager Sunday crowd of 20,473 found its way to the Park to watch the win over KC. But that’s not the goal of this season. The Phils shouldn’t go into full tank mode and let Ryan Howard play every day, but they also shouldn’t allow a moment of affluence dictate how they approach the season’s second half.

If the team can find suitable trade partners for pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and catcher Cameron Rupp—who’s hitting .324 over his last 30 games—it should absolutely make the deals. The goal now is the accumulation of young prospects, and sacrificing those two, while hard, would make more sense than holding onto them and making a bid at 75 wins.

This is the time of year when teams try to decide whether they’re buyers, sellers or holders. For the fetid Twins and Braves, the decision is easy. For the White Sox and Pirates, it’s a much tougher choice. Even though the Phillies haven’t sunk to the depths they reached last year, when they secured the top overall pick in the draft, they aren’t anywhere near the team they want to be in a couple years. If Hellickson and Rupp are attractive to other teams, then the Phillies should make the best deal possible. Who knows, they might get a pitcher who can help out of the bullpen at some point, or somebody who can turn into a future factor.

That doesn’t mean trade the two for a bag of batting practice balls— but if there’s any value available, it should be acquired. That’s the hard reality of a rebuilding team: It’s important to keep the pieces that will be helpful later, but short-term ones need to be jettisoned when they can be.

It has been fun watching the Phillies succeed of late, but the fun is bound to abate. As July rolls on, and the trade deadline approaches, GM Matt Klentak should be entertaining every offer he gets. If Hellickson and Rupp are in demand, make the trade.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: If anyone was surprised that the NBA’s top—or even mid-level—free agents didn’t line up to sign with the Sixers, he should be heavily medicated immediately. The franchise is not an attractive destination right now, and though things might be different next off-season, the short-term feeling about the franchise is one of “show me.” For now, Jerryd Bayless is the top of the heap.