There’s no good reason for the Phillies to sell right now

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It’s easy to see why the Phillies are discouraged. Despite possessing the highest payroll, they currently have the 12th-best record of the 16 National League teams. They’re on pace for 72 wins, which would be their lowest total since 2000 and a whopping 30-game drop from last year.

Still, a shakeup just doesn’t make much sense.

Chase Utley is back. Ryan Howard is on target to return immediately after the All-Star break. Roy Halladay is throwing without pain and could be back within three weeks.

Carlos Ruiz is having a great year. Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence both excelled during June. Juan Pierre is still hitting, believe it or not, and even Placido Polanco has gotten his act together of late.

On the pitching side, the bullpen aside from Jonathan Papelbon has been a mess. However, Cole Hamels is an All-Star. Vance Worley has a 2.92 ERA. Cliff Lee may be winless, but he has an 89/19 K/BB ratio in 89 1/3 innings. For that matter, Joe Blanton is at 89/15 in 104 innings.

Despite the absences of Utley and Howard, the Phillies rank seventh in the NL in runs scored per game. Last year, their 102-win team ranked seventh in the NL in runs scored per game. The problem is that the pitching has taken a major hit. However, there’s no reason to think the rotation won’t finish strong.

Look at my standings column from earlier this afternoon; no NL teams are running away and hiding. The Mets and Pirates are on pace to tie for the second wild card with 87 wins, and in all honesty, it seems optimistic that either team will really finish that well. The Phillies won 63 percent of their games last year. If they can do that over their final 81 games of 2012, they’ll finish with 87 wins. Even 85 could make them a possibility for the postseason. It’s an uphill climb for sure, but it’d be crazy to write them off. Instead of thinking about trading Hamels and Shane Victorino, the Phillies should go get themselves as setup man and try to make a run.

Sign-stealing penalties could be ‘unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history’

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Early this morning we learned that Major League Baseball was planning to talk to former Astros Carlos Beltrán and Alex Cora as part of the sign-stealing investigation. Late this morning Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that the investigation is, actually, going to go much wider than that.

Passan reports that Major League Baseball will not limit its focus to the 2017 Astros, who were the subject of the report in The Athletic on Tuesday. Rather, it will also include members of the 2019 Astros and will extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentions the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Oh, it also includes recently-fired Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, who the league plans to interview but who, Passan says, has hired a lawyer. Which is sort of interesting in its own right, but let’s stay on topic.

Passan:

The league is attempting to cull tangible evidence from the widespread paranoia of front offices and teams around the game about others cheating and has indicated it will consider levying long suspensions against interviewees who are found to have lied, sources said . . . The penalties for illegal activity are determined by commissioner Rob Manfred, though if the league can prove wrongdoing, the severity could be unlike anything seen in the sport’s recent history, sources said.

The Cardinals were fined $2 million when an employee, Chris Correa, hacked the Astros computer system. Correa, of course, was permanently banned from baseball and served prison time. Former Braves GM John Coppolella was likewise given a permanent ban for lying about the team’s circumvention of international signing rules. If Passan’s source is right and the league is going to level heavy penalties here, that’s where you have to start, I imagine.

To me, the stuff about Coppolella’s lying and the bit about interviewees lying mentioned in the block quote is key.

Will anyone have the hammer brought down upon them for being responsible for stealing signs? Hard to say. But they likely will if they are not forthcoming with league investigators. Which is actually a pretty decent way to handle things when one is conducting an internal investigation. Maybe you don’t give amnesty to wrongdoers in the name of information-gathering, but you do signal to them that cooperation is incentivized and lack of cooperation will be punished.

It’s an approach, by the way, that Major League Baseball notably did not take in the course of its PED investigations a decade ago. That led to a final report that had massive gaps in information and caused the league to focus on and publicize only the lowest-hanging fruit. As I argued at the time, if information-gathering, as opposed to P.R. considerations was its true aim, MLB would’ve handled it differently.

In the early stages here, in contrast, it does sound like baseball is taking this seriously. That’s a good thing.