This is a guest post by Ben Skalina. You can follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina. If you would like to submit a guest post, send an email with the subject “guest post” to crashburnalley [at] gmail [dot] com.
Where have all the prospects gone? An examination of the Phillies’ habit of trading prospects for veterans.
Beginning in 2008, Ruben Amaro and Pat Gillick have made a series of headline-grabbing deals for Major League talent, leveraging the Phillies strong minor league system for help to push the senior squad over the tap. The deals, in order:
- Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman and Matt Spencer for Joe Blanton (2008)
- Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Donald for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco (2009)
- Michael Taylor, Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay (winter 2009)
- Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar and JA Happ for Roy Oswalt (2010)
- Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana and Josh Zeid for Hunter Pence (2011)
I am going to withhold comment on the Pence trade for now, as all involved are roughly at the same place they were when the deal was consummated in July.
The Blanton Deal
Kentucky Joe was brought in to provide a steady innings-eating presence in the middle of the rotation in July 2008, and the move paid off big-time as Blanton helped the Phils win their first World Series in 28 years. Despite dealing with injury issues, Blanton has been productive when healthy. He figures as the fifth starter next year.
The Athletics got two of the Phillies top five prospects at the time in return — Outman and Cardenas. Outman has been decent when healthy but has yet to establish himself as capable of holding down a rotation spot for a whole season and has struggled with control as well. Cardenas has yet to make his major-league debut, and as a 24-year-old infield prospect with a .303/.368/.413 career minor-league line projects as more of a utility guy than a starter. Spencer was mostly a throw-in and has not exceeded those expectations.
The Phillies properly assessed Outman’s mechanical difficulties and Cardenas’ ceiling and sold the pair before their value dropped. Blanton’s roughly 5 WAR with the Phillies hasn’t set the world on fire, but he has been a useful player for the team, and his injury problems this season were probably made worse by the team’s poor management of said health issues.
The Lee Deal
This was Philadelphia’s introduction to Ruben Amaro the Dealmaker. All the smoke around the trade deadline centered on the rookie GM trying to pry Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays without giving up Domonic Brown. In the background, though, Amaro quietly found himself an ace who wasn’t even on the trade market. The deal was widely praised, as Amaro was able to pick up Lee and Ben Francisco for a deal centered around a fireballing 18-year-old in A-ball (Knapp).
Knapp has been hurt since the deal went down; he has recorded just 40 innings in the Indians organization to go with a pair of shoulder surgeries. He could get healthy and move quickly, but the odds get longer every time a surgeon cuts his arm open.
Carrasco was pegged as a midrotation talent at the time of the trade, and he seemed to fulfill that potential this season, posting 1.4 wins above replacement on the strength of a 4.28 FIP over 124 innings. He limited the walks and kept the ball on the ground, and looks to be a big part of the Cleveland rotation for the next few years.
Marson and Donald have both settled in as backups, generating a combined 2.6 WAR with the Indians. While both their contributions could have been useful for the Phillies, their relatively fringy impact isn’t something the front office is worried about.
On the balance, both teams got what they needed out of this swap. The Indians were able to get some controllable young talent in exchange for a player they were going to have to trade away. The Phillies got an elite starting pitcher in his prime and a useful fourth outfielder, and sold Knapp at his absolute peak value.
The Halladay Deal
Roy Halladay. The end.
I’m sure the Phillies would like Travis D’Arnaud back, however. The .311/.371/.542 (.231 ISO)(!) line he put up at AA last year would fit in any lineup, and elevated D’Arnaud to one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball.
Again, both teams got what they wanted in this deal. The Phillies dealt from their organizational strengths at the time and the Blue Jays got back a nice mix of high-upside talent. If you include Anthony Gose as part of the Blue Jays’ return for Halladay (via Brett Wallace via Michael Taylor) they got back three potential above-average regulars, a nice haul considering they had little leverage in the deal.
The Oswalt Deal
This was another coup for Amaro, as he nabbed one-and-a-third seasons of Oswalt (plus $11 million to cover something like half of his salary for that time) in exchange for little more than Anthony Gose. Oswalt was fantastic during the 2010 stretch run, posting a 3.13 FIP and 7-1 record, and overall contributed 4.5 WAR to the Fightins at a cost of $12 million, assuming the team takes his $2 million buyout this winter.
A lottery ticket centerfield prospect, Gose made a huge jump forward in 2011, posting career highs in walk rate and Isolated Power. His final .253/.349/.415 line bested league average by 24 percent. When you throw potential 75-80 grades for his throwing arm and baserunning (69 steals in 84 attempts this year), he represents the complete package in a centerfielder. With a good start at AAA in 2012 he could be in the majors sometime next year.
Villar was aggressively promoted to AA alongside Gose for 2011, and kept his head above water with a .231/.301/.386 line. Considering he only turned 20 in May, it was a pretty good season.
Overall, the Phillies shouldn’t regret this deal, but they did pay a heavy price, giving up two choice up-the-middle prospects for Oswalt. That said, Oswalt filled a need relatively cheaply and ranged from good to great when he was healthy for the Phillies, and neither Gose nor Villar was essential to the future.
In total, the Phillies have given up six blue-chip prospects — Knapp, Drabek, D’Arnaud, Gose, Singleton and Cosart — plus several others who project as big-league subs at worst. Looking at the current Phillies roster and the holes to be filled this offseason and next, there isn’t a ton of overlap beyond Shane Victorino and Anthony Gose.
Still, the Phillies have not mortgaged their future. The ATM machine that is Citizens Bank Park continues to spit out cash for the Phillies’ management team to spend. If Jimmy Rollins isn’t at shortstop, and Ryan Madson isn’t closing, there are appropriate resources to patch those holes.
The important thing to note is that the machinery which produced these useful trade chips continues to churn out talent. The fivesome of Trevor May, Jesse Biddle, Brody Colvin, Jon Pettibone, and Julio Rodriguez are regarded highly both in the organization and around baseball. Freddy Galvis made huge strides in 2011. The draft brought a pair of high-upside shortstops to the system in Tyler Green and Mitchell Walding. Teenagers Brian Pointer and Maikel Franco had strong showings in the low minors. I could go on and on.
Can the Phillies afford to trade away three or four of their top 10 prospects every year? Maybe they can. They have shown they will do what it takes to hold onto the true cream (Domonic Brown) while letting other teams pick at the seconds. And despite all the trades, they system has produced plenty of talent for the big club: Brown, John Mayberry, Antonio Bastardo, Vance Worley, Michael Stutes and Michael Schwimer all saw extensive action in 2011, and Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery and Phillippe Aumont figure to join them in 2012.
The sky is not falling. The window is not closing. Even if Jimmy Rollins leaves in free agency this year, and Shane Victorino does next year, new players will take their place. The Phillies will continue to win.
Thanks to Ben for the submission. Follow him on Twitter @TweetaSkalina.