Jimmy Rollins became the Philadelphia Phillies’ career hits leader last week.
The question now is how much longer Rollins will be suiting up for the only major league team he’s known.
With the Phillies at the bottom of the NL East, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. may be tempted to move some of his top veterans and start the rebuilding process in earnest. As the trade deadline approaches at the end of next month, the spotlight will be on teams that have fallen out of contention – because they might still have valuable players they can swap for talented prospects.
Philadelphia could be the best example. Even at 35, Rollins has been solid at shortstop, and second baseman Chase Utley may be the team’s best hitter.
“I can’t say there are any untouchables,” Amaro told reporters recently. “Some guys are less touchable than others, so to speak.”
Rollins and Utley have been with the Phillies their whole careers, and they have veto rights on any trade. Right-hander Cliff Lee and closer Jonathan Papelbon may be more likely to go if Amaro decides to break up the roster.
Of course, the underwhelming Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are complicating matters. Neither of the division’s favorites has been able to pull away, so right now the Phillies – as poorly as they’ve played – are only 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Braves.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, are 11 1/2 back in the NL Central, so right-hander Jeff Samardzija could be elsewhere before too long. The floundering San Diego Padres can offer closer Huston Street, who has yet to blow a save in 2014.
The most surprising sellers might be the Tampa Bay Rays, who have been in the postseason four of the last six years but have plummeted to last place in the AL East. Star pitcher David Price, who can become a free agent after the 2015 season, has been the subject of trade speculation for a while. He’d be one of the top names on the market if available.
Here are five things to watch around the majors this week:
CENTRAL SHOWDOWN: The Kansas City Royals have won seven straight and trail Detroit by 1 1/2 games atop the AL Central. The Tigers won the season’s first five meetings between the teams by a combined 32-12, but Detroit has looked increasingly beatable lately. The Royals begin a four-game series in Motown on Monday night.
MARQUEE MATCHUP: Tim Hudson (1.81 ERA) of San Francisco faces Chris Sale of the White Sox (1.97) on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago. Sale has 68 strikeouts and nine walks on the year.
ROLE REVERSAL: From 1987-93, the Toronto Blue Jays finished ahead of the New York Yankees in the standings every year – but that hasn’t happened since. First-place Toronto now leads New York by 4 1/2 games in the AL East, with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium set to start Tuesday night.
BEST OF THE BUNCH?: The Braves and Nationals may not have separated themselves from the rest of their division so far, but the sense is that they’re still the most likely postseason candidates in the NL East. They begin a four-game series in Washington on Thursday night.
RISING STAR?: The debate over who is the National League’s best catcher has centered on Buster Posey of San Francisco and Yadier Molina of St. Louis. But Jonathan Lucroy is quietly emerging as a standout for NL Central-leading Milwaukee. He’s currently second in the league with a .336 average.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel has struck out 431 hitters in 254 2-3 career innings. For context, consider that when Nolan Ryan set baseball’s modern single-season strikeout record in 1973, he fanned 383 in 326 innings.