July 17, 2017
Major League Baseball’s trade deadline arrives in exactly two weeks – on Monday, July 31 – and some teams contending teams have already made significant moves.
Since last Tuesday’s All-Star Game, the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs acquired left-hander Jose Quintana from their crosstown rival White Sox (for a package headed by power prospect Eloy Jimenez) and the National League East-leading Washington Nationals (who have yet to win a playoff series in the Bryce Harper-Stephen Strasburg era) acquired veterans Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to fortify the only glaring weakness on its roster, an reliable bullpen.
A year ago, first-year Phillies general manager Matt Klentak didn’t make a single trade in July (despite trying to trade right-hander Jeremy Hellickson). In fact, between June and August, Klentak made exactly two trades, acquiring Jimmy Paredes in exchange for cash from the Toronto Blue Jays and sending Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers for A.J. Ellis, right-handed pitcher Tommy Bergjans, and first baseman/outfielder Joey Curletta (the latter of whom was flipped for switch-pitcher Pat Venditte this spring).
Yes, not exactly a list of exciting moves to bring new blood into the organization, as either a buyer or a seller. It’s difficult to believe Klentak will have a similar, quiet summer, not with the Phillies owning the worst record in baseball, with a roster of more than a couple of soon-to-be free agents who could be attractive to contenders, and with a fan base staying away from Citizens Bank Park in droves (and eager for something enticing to watch on a nightly basis).
It’s also difficult to believe Klentak can pull off all of the moves that could be at his disposal, because, for a number of reasons, trades aren’t always easy. Whether its burdensome contracts or the ever-changing supply-and-demand math that shapes the market, rarely does a trade deadline go by when a GM is able to check every item off his wish list.
Still, Klentak has a number of options and should be able to make at least a couple of moves. Here are a half dozen names to keep an eye on in the next two weeks listed in order of the likelihood they’ll be wearing a new uniform come Aug. 1.
For a contending team, there’s an awful lot to like about Pat Neshek. He has plenty of experience (postseason experience, too), he brings a different look out of the ‘pen as a sidearmer, he’s a free agent at season’s end who is will be owed just a little over $1 million in the season’s final two months, and he’s been one of baseball’s best and most reliable bullpen arms in 2017.
Following a shutout seventh inning in the Phillies 5-2 win over Milwaukee on Sunday night, Neshek has 38 scoreless appearances in 40 overall appearances. Only two major league relievers (Pittsburgh’s Felipe Rivero and Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel) have more scoreless appearances this season. Just about every contending team would seem to be a fit for Neshek’s skillset, including the trio of teams jockeying for positioning in the AL East: the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees.
Perhaps putting him second on this list is a bit bullish, considering Kendrick is on the disabled list for the second time since April and still needs to go on a rehab assignment before returning from his current stint (hamstring strain, since June 30). It feels like the best-case scenario is for the Phillies to activate Kendrick within a week with about another week left to play him before July 31.
Still, if the hamstring injury has subsided, there really shouldn’t be any concerns from contenders. Kendrick’s plusses – he’s a career .291 hitter with a .349/.403/.476 slash line in 33 games this season, and can play multiple positions – outweigh any serious inputs concerns, particularly for a guy with an expiring contract, and one the Phils could take on anyway to facilitate a trade and get a better return. We will add an asterisk of sorts to this entry: even if he’s not dealt before July 31, Kendrick would be moved after clearing waivers next month, just as Chase Utley (on the DL this time two years ago) was in 2015.
It only takes one team to come calling and make an offer and the guess here is it should be pretty easy for Phillies to accept any kind of prospect lottery ticket they can get for the 30-year-old Hellickson, who has served his purpose well in Philadelphia for the last year and a half but will be seeking a multi-year contract as a free agent unburdened by a qualifying offer (unlike last winter) this offseason.
No, Hellickson is not a Jose Quintana or Sonny Gray. But as we wrote a little over a week ago, second and third-tier starters have value at the deadline, too, particular for contenders with aces just looking for reliable starters to fill out the bottom of their rotation. Speaking of which: today is the 9th anniversary of the day the Phillies traded for Joe Blanton. Also notable: this weekend the Yankees lost a starter (Michael Pineda) to season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The Phillies won't be giving Joseph away just because top first base prospect Rhys Hoskins is more than ready for a big league promotion and neither player has the ability to play a second position. Joseph only turned 26 on Sunday and has all of 620 major league at-bats to his name. Plenty of young big leaguers grow as players during their first few years as players and there’s a legitimate chance Joseph, a top hitting prospect before concussion injuries slowed his progress, hasn’t yet tapped into his full potential.
Still, Hoskins, with the combo of plate discipline and power he’s showed off throughout his career and especially in the last two seasons, probably has a higher ceiling. Although that’s far from a guarantee. The Phils will have to move one of these two before long, and packaging Joseph in a multi-player deal (with someone else on this list?) in order to get a more significant return could make some sense if it also brings Hoskins to Citizens Bank Park in the near future.
Unlike fellow offseason veteran relief acquisition Neshek, Joaquin Benoit is not having a great season. But his last two months (.221/.264/.395 opponents’ slash line) haven’t been as bad as his first month. He might turn 40 a week from Wednesday, but he still throws a mid-90s fastball and has struck out 20 batters while walking just three in his last 20 outings. And he put up ridiculous numbers with Toronto after being moved at the deadline last summer following a dreadful first half with Seattle.
Benoit is far from a guy who will yield a significant prospect. He’s a guy you move to get whatever you can, and perhaps, open a spot in the pen for rising relief prospect Jesen Therrien.
No, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense for a rebuilding team that can afford to be patient for a little while longer to move a promising power hitter when his value is probably at its lowest. Franco’s .670 OPS ranked 155th out of 169 qualifying big league hitters entering play on Monday.
But Franco is also just 24 (he’s only 203 days older than Rhys Hoskins) and still has time to grow as a hitter. You can look at just about any team’s roster and find a player or two that didn’t blossom into their talents until their mid-to-late 20s.
All of the information in that last paragraph, along with Franco’s four more years or arbitration eligibility, actually make Franco a somewhat intriguing option for other teams looking to pounce on a player when his value may be a bit low, particularly teams shedding salary or looking for low-cost, high-reward young hitters under club control. Klentak has no reason at all to give in to any offer and part ways with Franco, but if it comes in the form of a trade where the Phillies are buyers and it brings back a proven veteran, it’ll surely be considered.
There has been some buzz in the last month regarding the Phils and the Marlins. If the Marlins were to part with someone like Christian Yelich, a 25-year-old center fielder with a .292/.368/.427 slash line in parts of five seasons and a team-friendly contract, it might force one of its many possible trade suitors to include a young and cheaper big league player in return, along with taking on a bad contract, too (veteran Martin Prado, who happens to play third base, is owed a total of $28.5 through 2019).
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