Tough decisions lie ahead for Brewers and Phillies
It's easy to tell the Phillies and Brewers what they ought to be doing. Any idiot can read the standings.
Neither team is in contention, and that's unlikely to change between now and the July 31 Trade Deadline.
Both teams have players who'll be in demand around that time. Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. almost certainly would get a couple of young players for Cole Hamels.
How good would the Orioles look if Hamels took over at the top of their rotation? The Mets, Dodgers and virtually every other contender could use him, too.
Likewise, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, who, like Hamels, is unsigned after this season, might be an attractive addition for a contender.
Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke also might push a contender over the top. He, too, is unsigned after this season, so there's no long-term financial commitment for a club acquiring him.
With 19 teams bunched within 2 1/2 games of a playoff berth, postseason spots could be decided by the general manager who is able to tweak his roster.
There'll be a healthy selling market, with Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Wandy Rodriguez, John Lannan, Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon likely to be available.
But Greinke and Hamels are a cut above those guys and could allow their current teams to take significant steps toward preparing for 2013.
This all sounds so simple. The problem is that it's not. For one thing, the Phils are leading the Major Leagues in attendance for a second straight year. They've got a tough core of players, guys who've won five straight division championships and believe they've still got a 2012 run in them.
The Phillies finally have Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back in their lineup. They expect Roy Halladay back soon.
Philadelphia has won five straight National League East championships with these guys, and every single one of them would like the chance to go for a sixth.
Is it improbable? Yes, absolutely.
It was also improbable for the Cardinals and Rays to dash into the postseason in the final weeks of 2011.
It would be very, very tough for Amaro to look his fans and players in the eye and tell them the time has come to begin preparing for 2013.
There's no right answer. Nothing lasts forever. At some point, the Phils are going to have to be rebuild, and that 37-50 record says the time is now.
But these players are consummate professionals, and they've won so much that it's tough to think they can't do it again.
If Amaro sees just a glimpse of hope in the next couple of weeks, if the Phillies give him and those 45,000 fans a reason to believe, he'll be very tempted to keep the band together for another run.
The Brewers are ahead of the Phils in the standings. They have just six teams to pass to get a Wild Card berth.
Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin is in an easier division, the NL Central. His team is in fourth place and eight games out.
But Melvin may look at this roster and see a club that's just not good enough. Greinke could speed along the planning for 2013.
Yet the Brewers are on their way to drawing 3 million fans to Miller Park for the fourth time in five seasons.
With all those fans and with a lineup built around Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee could be good enough to make the playoffs.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has rewarded all those fans by reinvesting in the club and keeping it in contention.
To tear it all apart now, even if it's the right thing for 2013 and beyond, would be the toughest of all calls.
Maybe the thing the Brewers and Phillies are seeking in these first days after the All-Star break is clarity. Are they in or out? Are they good enough? Should they be buyers instead of sellers?
Once they start dismantling the core of their teams, they're into a whole new day. They have no idea if the chemistry and resilience is going to be what it has been in recent years.
Regardless, neither man has an easy call. They've had teams that have been the best in Major League Baseball. Doing what might be the right thing isn't the same as doing the easy thing.
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.