- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A fan unconcerned that the Philadelphia Phillies were playing in Washington walked around the team’s ballpark Tuesday afternoon with a sign that read: “Will play outfield for food.”

After trading two-thirds of their starting outfield, the last-place Phillies need all the help they can get. The five-time NL East champions turned into sellers before the non-waiver trade deadline, sending Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Hunter Pence to San Francisco.

“When you’re in last place, you can try any damn thing,” manager Charlie Manuel told reporters before the opener of a three-game series against the first-place Nationals. “If you want to try something, why not? You don’t have nothing to lose.”

Perhaps more surprising is that no one else was traded. Pitchers Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton, outfielder Juan Pierre and infielder Ty Wigginton garnered interest from other teams, but the cost-cutting Phillies didn’t get the return they wanted.

So, they jettisoned Victorino and Pence for now.

“We’re going to miss who they are and everything like that,” Manuel said. “But also, I think where we are and where we want to go, we’ve got to do some things and we’ve definitely got to try some things to get better.”

The Phillies got reliever Josh Lindblom and minor league pitcher Ethan Martin for Victorino, who can become a free agent after the season. Philadelphia also gets a player to be named or cash.

Trading the two-time All-Star center fielder made sense because Victorino didn’t fit into Philadelphia’s future plans. He’s making $9.5 million this season and will seek a lucrative long-term deal in free agency.

The Phillies received outfielder Nate Schierholtz, minor league catcher Tommy Joseph and minor league right-handed pitcher Seth Rosin for Pence. They also sent about $500,000 to the Giants, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

Moving Pence helps the Phillies avoid paying the luxury tax this season and possibly next. It also could allow them to target other free agents in the offseason. The two-time All-Star right fielder is making $10.4 million this season and stands to get a raise in arbitration next year.

“Everything is understood,” Pence said. “The Phillies are going in a different direction. We had a great run at it. Now I’m going a different way.”

This was quite the contrast from the way the Phillies handled the trade deadline the last three years. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Lee in 2009, Roy Oswalt in 2010 and Pence last year.

But these aren’t the same Phillies who won a World Series in 2008, won the NLCS in 2009 and finished with the best record in the majors in 2010 and 2011.

With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, their Nos. 3-4 hitters, missing nearly the entire first half and ace Roy Halladay sidelined two months, the Phillies struggled mightily. They are 17-32 since June 1.

“Absolutely no chance if you would’ve told me at the beginning of the season that on July 31, I’d be traded and Hunter Pence would be traded,” Victorino said on MLB Network. “I still think that team, the Phillies, can turn things around.”

Only last week, it seemed the Phillies could make a run. They won four straight games in their final at-bat, including a three-game sweep over Milwaukee on the same day Cole Hamels signed a $144 million, six-year contract.

But the Phillies lost three in a row to wild card-leading Atlanta, forcing Amaro to rebuild.

“You don’t have anywhere to go but up,” Manuel said.

John Mayberry Jr. started in center field and Laynce Nix was in right field on Tuesday night. Domonic Brown, the Phillies‘ top prospect, was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and will get a chance to play every day in the outfield. Schierholtz also will be at least part of a platoon.

Brown was expected to replace former All-Star Jayson Werth as the starting right fielder last year, but was injured in spring training. After returning, Brown hit just .245 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 54 games and struggled defensively. He lost his starting job when the Phillies acquired Pence from Houston, and was sent back to the minors.

The 24-year-old Brown hit .286 with five homers and 28 RBIs in 60 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

“It’s time to turn him loose and let him play,” Manuel said.

The Phillies are hoping this is a one-year aberration. If Halladay, Lee and Hamels pitch to form, the starting rotation still is one of the best in the majors. All-Star Jonathan Papelbon is a reliable closer, but giving him leads to protect has been a problem.

Lindblom should help in a setup role. The 25-year-old righty has a 3.02 ERA in 48 relief appearances this season.

Amaro will have plenty of work to do fixing the offense. Pence and Victorino were the two youngest starters in an aging lineup that has suffered from a drop-off in production from everyone except All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Joseph is valuable because he could help the Phillies get an outfielder or third baseman in a trade. Joseph was San Francisco’s No. 2 ranked prospect by Baseball America. He’s hitting .260 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 80 games for Double-A Richmond.

The Phillies already have one catching prospect at Double-A in Sebastian Valle, so it’s possible Joseph will be trade bait in the offseason.

It’s fitting the Phillies are playing the Nationals on a day they unload players. There’s been a changing of the guard in the NL East this season, and Washington is the new team on the rise.

“Our division has undergone a real sort of metamorphosis I think this year if you look at what Miami did in the offseason and now what they’ve done here during midseason,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “The same is true with the Phillies. On the other hand, Washington is playing very well. Atlanta continues to play well. But there’s certainly an appearance of change taking place in the division. I don’t think it’s totally unexpected. I mean, it’s difficult to be as successful as the Phillies have been over a long period of time, and I’m sure they have the ability to turn this season around in a hurry as well.”

Fans can only hope, or that long sellout streak will be in jeopardy and protesters may be joining the guy with the sign outside Citizens Bank Park.

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