August 26, 2020
This already strange MLB season is about to get a bit stranger.
That's because on Monday, the MLB trade deadline will arrive, despite teams having played anywhere between just 19 and 32 games so far. But, in a 60 gamed season, that's about the midpoint. It doesn't, however, help the majority of the teams — almost all of them are still within striking distance of a playoff spot — decide whether they want to be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
Take the Phillies, for example. They just climbed out of last place in their own division, well below the expectations set forth at the beginning of the year. That being said, they're just a game out of the final National League playoff spot thanks to the expanded 16-team postseason this year. At the same time, they're also a game and a half from being tied for the second-worst record in the entire NL.
Beyond that, there are questions about the short-term financial futures of MLB teams operating amid a pandemic and without fans that could cause normally buy-happy teams to be more cautious than in the past. We've already heard Phillies GM Matt Klentak use that as a shield when explaining not only why the team hasn't re-signed J.T. Realmuto but haven't even re-engaged in contract talks since COVID-19 shut down spring training back in March.
It now appears that the Realmuto saga is going to carry over into the fall and perhaps even the winter, as it's looking more and more like the team could let their All-Star catcher test the free-agent waters and then try to re-sign him on the open market.
The problem with that is obvious. If Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball, hits the open market, there's a good chance that the Phillies get priced out — or, at the very least, are forced to pay well above what they might have been able to sign him for had they reached a deal before the end of the season. Players like Realmuto — he's slashing .289/.340/.622 with nine home runs — don't hit the free agent market often, and as a catcher, his skillset is likely even more coveted around the league. In other words, letting him find out what he's actually worth could spell disaster for the Phillies — and might be the last straw for general manager Matt Klentak.
It doesn't seem like contract negotiations are going to pick back up this season. That, however, doesn't mean Matt Klentak is out of options. The team could always trade away Realmuto before the trade deadline. And with a market full of buyers due to the shortened season and early (or late, depending on how you look at it) trade deadline, the Phillies should have plenty of suitors.
Still, this is a season unlike any other, and there's no way of actually knowing until you start listening to (or making) offers. Is that something the Phillies might be interested in? As it turns out, we're not the only ones wondering this.
Here's a look at some of the latest MLB trade rumors involving the Phillies, most of which center around the Phillies possibly dealing their catcher. But there's also one rumor that would suggest the Phillies, who already added a trio of relievers, are still looking to buy rather than sell.
Let's dive in...
Would the Phillies really consider trading Realmuto? That's the question Jeff Passan attempted to answer in his recent trade deadline preview.
The biggest argument for trading Realmuto now, aside from his value being incredibly high at the moment, is that it would allow the Phillies to get something guaranteed in return, rather than taking the chance he signs with another team and the Phillies are left looking like fools for trading their top pitching prospect and a young catcher for a year and a half of meaningless* service from Realmuto.
*meaningless because they didn't actually win anything.
Of course, there's no guarantee any team acquiring Realmuto would sign him to an extension before the offseason, and the Phillies could theoretically bid for his services again in the fall. But do you really think he'd jump at the chance to re-join a team that traded him away just a few months earlier when there will likely be big-market contenders vying for his services?
The Phillies would be fools not to re-sign Realmuto — and could rightfully piss off their $330 million star Bryce Harper, who came here to try to win a World Series. But if they're not going to be able to get a deal done, maybe acquiring some prospects isn't the worst idea.
Heresy, fans in Philadelphia would cry, and with good reason. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. He is also a pending free agent, and if the 10-14 Phillies get walloped this week and find themselves behind everyone in the NL except Pittsburgh, knowing six of the eight playoff spots in each league come from the top two teams in every division, could they make the calculation that the return from a Realmuto trade would outweigh the chances of a turnaround plus the draft pick they would reap if he were to leave in free agency?
Well, yeah. They could. Think about the teams that need catching help: Tampa Bay (with the best farm system in baseball), San Diego (second best), Cleveland (lots of good pitching) and others. But the idea of folding up shop, even if they struggle this week, is not just antithetical to their stated plan of contention in 2020. It would enrage fans who want to shout "Sign J.T.!" at their television and devices and want nothing more than a Realmuto extension. While fan sentiment cannot drive decision-making, anyone who says it doesn't factor in is lying. [espn.com]
That being said, dealing Realmuto would be somewhat counterintuitive when you look at the deals the Phillies made just last week, trading away prospects for major-league ready bullpen help. Although they didn't give up a ton and the acquisitions aren't necessarily rentals, that's still the sign of a team at least trying to win now. Selling one of your best players would be the opposite of that. Perhaps their intentions could shift between now and the deadline, as they have gone 2-5 over their last seven games.
It also would be quite the about-face. Philadelphia just traded for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Bryce Harper hasn't looked this good since his 2015 MVP season. Rookie Alec Bohm looks like a star. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are an awfully good 1-2 punch atop the rotation. And the NL East ... leaves a lot to be desired.
If the Phillies sold, they'd have plenty of inventory: Realmuto, Workman, shortstop Didi Gregorius, outfielder Jay Bruce, starter Jake Arrieta. But to go from trying to win to full-on sale in less than a week? No team wants to do that, and it's what makes this deadline so confusing. [espn.com]
Passan is hardly the only one wondering whether or not the Phillies will deal Realmuto. Sporting News' Ryan Fagan listed Realmuto as one of five star players who could be dealt ahead of the deadline.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies
Why he’s here: Same situation at Bauer and the Reds. Realmuto’s a free agent after the season, and the Phillies had high hopes for 2020, but like the Reds, the Phillies are four games under .500. A bad week leading up to the deadline — three at the Nationals, three at home against the Braves — could convince the front office to move Realmuto, who is one of the most respected catchers in the sport and is having an outstanding season: .960 OPS, eight homers and 22 RBIs in 23 games. Philly fans might revolt if he’s moved; they almost universally want him extended, but that hasn’t happened yet and, like Bauer and the Reds, the Phillies would have to at least consider trade proposals. And, yes, they made a trade last week for bullpen help, but it’s not like they mortgaged the future in that deal. [sportingnews.com]
Over at MLB.com, they had each beat writer come up with one trade scenario for the team they cover. And Todd Zolecki went with Realmuto. He doesn't see it as a likely scenario for the Phillies, but he does consider it an option, likely because he thinks there's a chance the Phillies could deal him and then still be able to re-sign him in free agency.
Prediction: J.T. Realmuto is traded
OK, so the odds of this happening are infinitesimally small, but what if the Phillies’ bullpen issues do not improve, even with the recent enhancements, and the team falls further behind postseason contenders in the NL? Maybe the Phillies should get what they can for Realmuto, then try to re-sign him in the offseason. Realmuto is headed to free agency, and while there certainly would be risk in trading him and expecting him to re-sign, a big pile of money can make for a pretty persuasive argument to return. -- Todd Zolecki [mlb.com]
I don't see that happening, but, hey, it worked with Cliff Lee...
What if the Phillies go the other way and decide to buy. They're just a game out of the final playoff spot and could use some outfield help. They currently have had Roman Quinn as the main centerfielder, with Adam Haseley and Scott Kingery getting some time there as well.
And MLB.com's Jon Morosi believes Arizona's Starling Marte, the 31-year-old former All-Star outfielder, could be an option if the Phillies look to upgrade.
"I really think you look at Marte's trade market, it's maybe not a very robust one, from the standpoint of the number of teams looking for a centerfielder. But, I would say the Philadelphia Phillies right now - already active so far — they've had Roman Quinn playing centerfield. I think Marte could be a really nice fit there in Philadelphia. Of course, they have the club option next year, so it's not just a rental situation." [mlb.com]
With Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen manning the corner outfield positions, the Phillies already get decent production from their outfield, but adding someone like Marte would make their already potent lineup even more dangerous.
Here's a look at Marte's 2020 numbers compared to what the Phillies have gotten from its centerfielders this season...
*Phillies production from players while playing CF.What it could come down to is cost — and the fact that the Diamondbacks are just a game behind the Phillies and not necessarily out of contention. But with Marte having another year left on his deal, they could spend a little more.
"There's not that many teams that need a centerfielder right now," Morosi added, which should help the Phillies keep the asking price down if they intend on going after Marte.
It's also worth wondering what a trade for Marte would say about how the Phillies view Quinn and Haseley's development, and how his arrival would impact their chances to improve with regular reps.
And finally, we get to the part where we warn you that there might not be any big trades at all. Pretty much every one of Sports Illustrated's baseball writers said the same thing — that this could be a very quiet deadline. The Phillies already made one
splash ripple. Could they simply be done?
I’m not expecting too much at the deadline this year, because this season is so unusual and the deadline has become a hyped event on the calendar. This year is just so different. Teams can’t trade prospects who are not in their 60-man player pool. Many otherwise good minor league trade chips have not played competitive baseball all year, so how do you judge their development? A .500 record pretty much puts a team into the postseason, so that leaves only a handful who won’t have a realistic shot at the postseason by next week. For players not under contract for next year, you’re trading for only one month of service, not two.
I do think you’ll see some pitching traded because injuries to pitchers have really thinned the ranks of truly major league-ready pitchers who you can trust down the stretch. [si.com]
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