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December 07, 2016

Winter Meetings: Plenty of bats still there for the taking as Phillies seek upgrade

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The second day of the Winter Meetings produced a gargantuan trade (Chris Sale joining the Boston Red Sox) and a few other smaller moves, too.

Boston also acquired long-time Texas Ranger Mitch Moreland, the Rangers re-upped with Carlos Gomez, and late Tuesday night (and still being finalized on Wednesday) the Cubs and Royals were prepared to swap a closer (Wade Davis) for an outfielder (Jorge Soler).

The last of those transactions is interesting in how it could relate to the Phillies ability to make another trade this winter to reel in a second bat to fortify their young lineup, something manager Pete Mackanin still would like even with the addition of Howie Kendrick last month.

The Phillies do not have a closer of Davis’ pedigree to trade. But they do have a rising reliever who can close (just as they had last year with Ken Giles) in Hector Neris, a cheap, pre-arbitration eligible pitcher who is an attractive backup plans for teams not looking to pay the $80-$100 million it’ll likely take to snag Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman off the free agent market.

The Phillies do not have an outfielder like Soler, a 24-year-old Cuban import with real power potential and a very manageable salary (just over $17.6 million, total, for the next four seasons). But they do have a talented position player at a premium position in Cesar Hernandez, a 26-year-old entering his first year of arbitration and under club control for four years.

So can the Phillies get an outfield bat the equivalent of a Wade Davis by using one of their young trade chips? Again, their track records may be short, but their salaries and club control are as attractive as their rising talent. In short, yes, the Phillies have attractive chips should they decide to put them on the table.

Earlier this week, reported again about using Hernandez as a trade chip and with the Detroit Tigers as a potential suitor should they find a taker for Ian Kinsler’s salary. And, perhaps, the Phillies would be able to further help Detroit clear payroll by trading for outfielder J.D. Martinez.

All of that makes some sense.

The Phillies are looking for bats on short-term deals (Martinez is a free agent next winter) and moving Hernandez allows the Phils to slide Kendrick (also a free agent next winter) to second base, giving them more flexibility in an outfield that could include Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, and possibly Dylan Cozens at some point this summer. They do not want to block those young players.

But it doesn’t seem like it makes much sense to trade a young player under could control (like Hernandez or Neris) for a veteran bat that’s only a one-year rental. So perhaps the Phillies eventual upgrade comes in the form of two corresponding moves, rather than one big trade.

Here are two names that remain on the market (six trade candidates, four free agents) that could potentially fit into the Phillies 2017 plans.

Available via trade:

Martinez. Probably the name linked to the Phillies the most often because he fits the criteria they’re looking for: real power and on-base skills (83 home runs, .357 OBP in last three seasons) with a minimal commitment (owed $11.75 million in 2017, a free agent next winter). The Phillies might be doing Detroit a solid by taking on the salary, but the Tigers also aren’t giving a bat like that away, either. Perhaps the Phils can trade from their excess of young starting pitching in the majors and upper levels of the minor leagues, or find a third trade partner that would satisfy them if Hernandez was included in a deal.

Andrew McCutchen. We talked about the hottest name on the trade market over the weekend. He has an attractive contract and is still in his prime years. But the former MVP will come at a much higher cost than Martinez and seems like an unlikely fit for the Phillies and a better fit for win-now contending teams (like the Nationals or Dodgers).

Ryan Braun: Another former MVP. The Braun trade chatter has been oddly quiet at the Winter Meetings, perhaps because Milwaukee feels it has the offensive equivalent of Chris Sale (a premium, proven player on a very manageable contract: $80 million over the next four years). Braun just turned 33, however. If the age doesn’t scare the young and rebuilding Phillies off, you do wonder if they could put together a handsome package together including one their aforementioned near-big league ready outfield prospects and … Vince Velasquez?

Andre Ethier. No, this doesn’t sound anywhere near as appealing as the first few names on this list. And it’s definitely not attractive if he gets 550 plate appearances in 2017 and the price tag is two years and $35 million over the next two seasons. But if taking on his salary (which the Phillies can do with almost no commitments on the 2018 payroll) allows you to pluck a name or two from the Dodgers deep well of prospects, maybe it’s worth considering. And if you include Neris (Dodgers former closer Jansen is a current free agent) you should get even more young talent back, too.

Yasiel Puig.
Another Dodgers outfielder who has been a walking trade rumor for the last year. Puig, celebrating his 26th birthday today, is eight years younger Ethier and a good deal cheaper, too (approximately $17.5 million, total, for the next two seasons). The Phillies and Dodgers have been popular trade partners over the last five years. But could they be a match for Puig? Even with his very uneven run in 2016, the Dodgers are probably going to want a lot back for the mercurial former All-Star. The Dodgers are looking to improve against left-handed pitching and Hernandez (who excelled in that area) could at least be a start.

Curtis Granderson. After re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets are looking to trade from their crowded collection of outfielders. They’d much rather trade Jay Bruce, as Granderson has the ability to play center field for them. But if they can’t find a taker for Bruce (who has slashed .231/.295/.440 in the last three years) then Granderson would surely be an intriguing upgrade for the Phillies. It should be noted that the NL East rivals don’t deal very often: the last trade involved Turk Wendell. As for Bruce as a fit … see his uninspiring .295 OBP in the last three years. Eh.

Available on the free agent market:

Jose Bautista. If I was the general manager of a contending team, and waiting for the price to drop on Edwin Encarnacion, I think I’d quickly scoop of Bautista instead if he’d be interested in a three-year deal. It’s hard to see Bautista – coming off an injury-plagued season, entering his 36-age season – getting a long-term deal. Again, the Phillies are looking for short-term commitments. If the market completely plummets on Bautista, who has the flexibility of playing the corner outfield and corner infield positions, it’d be pretty fun watching him rake at Citizens Bank Park with the idea of going back on the market next winter. Highly unlikely, but, fun to think about.

Michael Saunders. Like Bautista, the former Blue Jay was listed here last month as a potential free agent fit for the Phillies. Not a whole lot has changed. Again, if the Phillies consider moving Cesar Hernandez in a trade, Howie Kendrick moves to second base, giving the Phillies room in the outfield for a guy like Saunders (or a lot of others on this list, really) without blocking the paths of Quinn, Williams, Cozens, and others.

Brandon Moss. See Saunders, and another guy we wrote about last month. Add in his left-handedness and ability to be a possible platoon with Tommy Joseph at first base, and Moss makes a lot of sense on a one-year deal … although his bat may be in rapid decline.

Justin Turner. He plays third base and the Phillies have a promising one of those. But if the Phillies included Tommy Joseph in another trade they could move Maikel Franco to first. Turner should have more logical suitors (including his old team, the Dodgers). But he would fit the profile of a proven, veteran professional hitter Mackanin seeks perfectly if the price is right. Again, more on the fun-to-think-about move than a likely signing.

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