January 02, 2017
Happy New Year.
When we last left the Phillies, they were locking up their one, proven everyday player to a long-term deal and then jumping at the chance to add a proven veteran starter to their rotation at minimal cost. The team reports to spring training six weeks from today.
But is its offseason really over? Probably not.
In adding Clay Buchholz, the Phillies suddenly have an abundance of starting pitching. Even more so than they had a month ago, when general manager Matt Klentak was asked at the Winter Meetings if the abundance then could mean a potential trade match to acquire a non-starting pitcher (read: a bat).
“That would be the idea,” Klentak said four weeks ago. “If we are trading from an area of perceived depth or surplus, you try to find a fit in an area that we aren’t quite as deep. But all along – and you guys have heard me mention this before – the minute that you think you have enough starting pitching is the minute that the baseball gods will come get you. We have to be mindful of that as well.”
This is true. Teams often need beyond the starting five or even a half dozen starters to make it through the duration of a six-month schedule. Due to the usual array of yearly injuries (ones that claimed Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Charlie Morton for significant time), the Phillies had eight pitchers make at least five starts in 2016.
Even with that said, the Phillies are currently about 10 men deep, with Buchholz, Nola, Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez as the early favorites to form the Opening Day starting rotation and Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Ben Lively, and Adam Morgan heavily in the mix at Triple-A, with Ricardo Pinto, Nick Pivetta, and Mark Appel also on the 40-man and more than ready for the IronPigs, too.
This is, of course, if every one of those pitchers makes it through Clearwater healthy, which seems unlikely. Still, that’s an awful lot of names.
It almost makes too much sense for the Phillies to explore a trade, subtracting from that surplus to address a need elsewhere. And after finishing with arguably the worst offense in baseball last season, and upgrading it slightly with the addition of Howie Kendrick, the Phillies obviously still need some offensive help. And they have made it clear they'd like to add more offensive help.
Here are a trio of teams that could be potential trade partners for the Phillies this month:
This is a team that was built to win now, as evidenced by their last deal with the Phillies, unloading five prospects in order to pry former World Series MVP Cole Hamels away. This is a team that clearly had an interest in Vince Velasquez six months ago.
Could the Phillies somehow use Velasquez (and others) to make a run at power-hitting prospect Joey Gallo? It’s not crazy, at least from the Phillies perspective.
Gallo, a left-handed hitter with perhaps the best pure power tool in the minor leagues, can play the corner outfield and corner infield spots. It remains to be seen if the 23-year-old will blossom into Adam Dunn or Russell Branyan, though: in limited big team time in Texas, the 6-foot-5 Gallo has struck out 76 times in 153 plate appearances.
Still, he’d be an intriguing bat that’d fit nicely into the Phillies lineup, whether it’s sharing time at first base with Tommy Joseph (assuming he’s not in the trade) or plugging into a corner outfield spot (where Kendrick, Roman Quinn, and Aaron Altherr are currently in the mix for playing time to begin the season).
Texas' rich farm system has more than Gallo, of course. And since they’ve already lost a few bats this offseason (Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond) the Rangers could be reluctant to trade a big, near MLB-ready bat.
But their previous interest in Velasquez makes them worth watching.
One of the quieter teams this winter, the Brewers can make a big splash before heading to Arizona next month and reshape the face of their team. In Ryan Braun, they’re holding onto a trade chip that’s not unlike the Phillies wielding Hamels two years ago.
Does Braun make sense for the Phillies? That’s debatable. Klentak has said throughout the offseason that the Phillies are seeking players on short-term contracts, veterans that would fit nicely into the roster for 2017 but also wouldn’t stand in the way of prospects when those players are deemed ready for big league playing time in the next year or two. (But you could easily make room for him in 2017 by moving Kendrick to second base and including Cesar Hernandez in any trade).
Braun, who slashed .305/.365/.538 last season, just turned 33. He is owed a minimum of $80 million over the next five seasons. The Phillies have the payroll flexibility to take on that kind of money, money that smaller-market Milwaukee could be eager to shed (especially since they’re unlikely to compete for a postseason spot anytime in the near future).
Could the Phillies put forth a Hamels-like package to entice the Brewers to deal their former MVP? Surely, if the Phillies think they can contend as soon as, say, 2018,, and that Braun can remain productive over the next five seasons. And you can unblock some of those aforementioned prospects by including them in such a trade (why wait for unknown potential when you can replace it with a sure thing?).
Of course, the Phillies, even if they had interest, wouldn’t be the only team lining up if Braun becomes readily available. But it’s an intriguing idea (if you’re not scared off by Braun’s age).
The Tigers are kind of the new Phillies, at least the 2012-14 Phillies teams that were heavy on aging veterans and still trying to make a run at a postseason berth, even if it wasn’t the best idea at the time. The Tigers won 86 games last year … and 74 the year before that … and 90 in 2014.
With that uneven trajectory, good luck projecting what’s to come for Detroit in 2017. But with just under $500 million of future salaries committed to the foursome of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, and Jordan Zimmermann alone, this isn’t a team that can easily break up its band, either. They’re still trying to win, for better or worse.
So how would they match up with the Phillies? Given all of that future payroll commitment, Detroit entered the offseason attempting to shed salary.
Second baseman Ian Kinsler has been linked as a player of interest to the Dodgers. If that were to happen, the Phillies have a talented and cost-effective replacement for the Tigers in Hernandez. Detroit also has a right-handed, corner outfield bat in J.D. Martinez that would fit nicely into the Phillies' current game plan, since he’s a free agent after the 2017 season (and thus not blocking any prospects).
The Phillies are not trading Hernandez (under club control for four years) for a one-year rental. But there does at least seem to be some pieces in place to get a conversation started on a trade that could benefit both teams.