July 28, 2016
It was a year ago today that Ruben Amaro Jr., Pat Gillick, and Co. began their most active run as a trade deadline seller by shipping disgruntled closer Jonathan Papelbon to Washington for starting pitching prospect Nick Pivetta.
In the days (and weeks) that followed, Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere, and Chase Utley were traded away, too. The fire sale led to new opportunities for younger players on the team (including Ken Giles, who went on to increase his own future trade value for two months as a closer) and brought in a bounty of prospects to bolster the farm system.
While you can argue the younger players getting a chance part (rising right-hander Jake Thompson and outfielder Nick Williams, two of the team’s top three prospects, could get to the big leagues earlier through trades) it’s fair to say the 2016 trade deadline (and the waiver trades that can also be completed in August) won’t have a similar impact on the Phillies team today or the one they hope to field two years from now, either.
With that said, there are deals the Phillies will try to make in the coming days. As first-year general manager Matt Klentak said a week ago, the front office isn’t in the position where they feel they have to make a trade, but they are obviously huddled up at Citizens Bank Park this week considering all of their options.
It would be more than a little surprising if they don’t make at least one trade before the arrival of Monday’s deadline. It could be an opportunity for Klentak to continue to add inventory to the “waves of pitching” he talked about the day he was hired last fall.
Here are three ideas that may or may not work:
The Marlins would be in the one-game wild card playoff with the Los Angeles Dodgers is the season ended today. But in order to fend off the Cardinals, Mets, and Pirates in the next two months, they will need more quality starts from a pitching staff that’s depth has been an issue throughout the season. And that depth took a blow this week when left-hander Wei-Yin Chen landed on the disabled list with an elbow strain.
The Phillies certainly do not have to trade Hellickson, a 29-year-old pending free agent. They could hold onto him, extend him a qualifying offer, and then receive a compensatory draft pick when his agent, Scott Boras, lands him a multi-year deal with another team this winter.
Teams talking to Phillies about Jeremy Hellickson say they want "one of your top 5 prospects" - or they'll keep him & take the draft pick— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 27, 2016
And that makes sense. Except when you remember this: any prospect the Phillies receive back in a Hellickson trade will almost surely be closer to the major leagues than the player that select with that pick in next June’s draft. And the closer a prospect is to the big leagues, the more certainty you have about what that player will be if and when he arrives to the big leagues.
So it’s not exactly a coin toss: the prospect you get now, as long as it’s one you like and aren’t simply settling for, should hold more value to you than the compensatory pick (which will also cost you real dollars in the draft).
Castillo, 23, might be a bit of an overpay as he features an electric fastball. He was recently rated the Marlins sixth-best prospect (and fourth-best pitching prospect) and, despite his age and success this season, he’s still in A-ball for whatever reason. In a market where starting pitching is dire, Castillo would seem to be the kind of guy the Marlins might have to part with for the stability of Hellickson in the next two months.
And if the Phillies have to throw in another prospect (as they did in the Giles deal) or eat the rest of Hellickson’s salary this season in order to score a prospect such as Castillo, it would seem to be the right price to pay to consummate a deal like this.
There are more than a handful of teams in the Jonathan Lucroy sweepstakes, meaning there will be at least a handful of teams that won't land the top catcher on the market when those sweepstakes end. Carlos Ruiz is not on the level of a Jonathan Lucroy for a number of reasons, including age, productivity, team-friendly contract. But Ruiz can still surely be a useful piece for a contending team seeking depth at the catching position.
Detroit has been one of the aforementioned teams reportedly in on Lucroy, and while they have a history of being fairly aggressive at deadline time in order to reel in talent, the guess here is Lucroy ends up with the Mets or Indians instead.
Again, Ruiz would not bring the same difference-making bat to the lineup like Lucroy would, but Detroit is currently using a combination of James McCann (.197/247/.313) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.206/.328/.438) at the catching position. Detroit catchers have combined for a .281 OBP this season; only three teams in baseball have a lower OBP from their catchers (Tampa, San Diego, and Cleveland).
In addition to being a favorite of every pitcher he’s caught for through his decade-long career, Ruiz has a penchant for getting on base (his .365 OBP in 39 games this season is right around his career .351 OBP). Entering Thursday, Ruiz was hitting .250/.356/.359 in 37 starts this season.
Following Thursday's win, the Phillies, despite being 10 games under .500 overall, are at .500 (19-19) this season in the 38 games Ruiz has started behind the plate. So he must be doing something right at age 37.
Paul Voelker, who turns 24 next month, was recently rated the 30th best prospect in Detroit's system. He has a decent K-to-BB rate at Double-A this season and is a relief arm you could plug into a big league staff as soon as September.
But trading Ruiz isn't so much about the return, anyway, and more about sending a soon-to-be free agent veteran, and one that's given so much to your organization, an opportunity to return to the postseason (not unlike the Chase Utley trade in 2015). Like the Utley deal, a Ruiz trade might not come to fruition until August.
Note: I originally had relief prospect Mark Ecker as the return, but since he was Detroit’s fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, he can't even be traded, even as a player to be named later, until after this year's World Series.
Trading Neris would be the along the same idea as trading Giles. When you first heard about trading Giles, you will surely against it – he was young, productive at an important position, cheap, and under contract for a while. But when it fetches your team five pitchers, including two top pitching prospects, then you probably come around to liking it.
Neris is under club control for five more seasons and will not be making a whole lot of money in those five seasons. If he continues to blossom into a formidable back end of the bullpen arm, there is real value there, since late-inning relievers are not cheap on the free agent market. It’s not a question of whether or not the Phillies should consider trading Neris, but a question of how much a contending team would value him as they look to solidify their bullpen for a pennant race this season (and as a more than useful piece in the coming seasons, too).
The Blue Jays have a win-now roster (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are free agents after the season) and have had real issues with the back end of their bullpen for more than a year now. Neris would seem like an obvious fit: he is back in a groove following an early summer slump, allowing just three earned runs in 17 games since June 17 (with 21 strikeouts and two walks in that span). He has struck out 30.3 percent of batters this season, which ranks eighth best in baseball. Neris could hop right in and be any team’s set-up man.
From the Phillies perspective, they’d probably want a return not dissimilar than the Giles trade, at least in terms of multiple pieces (the more you get back, the better chance that a couple players pan out).
Conner Greene and Yennsy Diaz are two of the Blue Jays top 20 prospects and Dwight Smith is the son of the former big league outfielder with the same name, an older prospect (turns 24 in October, is in his second season at Double-A) who could benefit from a change of scenery (and provide the Phils system with outfield depth).
The 21-year-old Greene, rated as the Jays 8th best prospect by MLBPipeline.com but as the third best by Baseball America, might be tough to pry away from Toronto. He has a 3.14 ERA in 20 starts between Class A and Double-A this season. But it’s exactly the kind of prospect you should be seeking if you consider trading an already proven, controllable, strikeout-inducing, young pitcher like Neris.
• Two other names that could be been moved in trades (outfielder Peter Bourjos and super utility man Andres Blanco) were not included here because they both landed on the DL this week, crushing any trade value they had. Blanco could be out for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his thumb; Bourjos landed on the DL on Thursday, a day after crashing his right shoulder into the wall in Miami, opening up a roster spot for Aaron Altherr, who missed the season's first four months following left wrist surgery in March.
• Jeanmar Gomez was also not included because the feeling here is he's not a dominating enough late-inning reliever to bring you back very much in a trade and arguably has more value to the Phillies as a dependable, unshakeable veteran arm in a largely uncertain 'pen for the Phillies this year and next. There are few things more crushing to a rebuilding young team (and a young pitching staff) than failing to win games when a bullpen falters late.