The Purge

A few weeks ago, a rumor popped up that the Cincinnati Reds were interested in Juan Pierre. Nothing ever came of it. Last night, a second rumor popped up that the Baltimore Orioles were interested in trading for Placido Polanco. Both teams’ interest is well-founded. Pierre, at least for the moment, is hitting .305/.346/.370, a combination of OBP and speed (don’t tell the Reds he’s actually an awful baserunner) that would look good atop a lineup that has, more often than not, featured Zack Cozart (.292 OBP) and Drew Stubbs (.289 OBP) batting first and second.

For the Orioles’ part, their third basemen have hit .233/.291/.383 this season, and while Polanco wouldn’t be much of an upgrade offensively, the difference he’d make with the glove over Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit is enormous. Both the Reds and Orioles are within sight of a playoff spot and could use any help they can find.

Of course, the Phillies don’t really care whether the Orioles or Reds make the playoffs. But it still begs the question: if the Reds or Orioles asked about Polanco or Pierre then why the hell haven’t they been traded already?

As far as the playoffs are concerned, the Phillies are done. They’re 11 games under .500, with playoff odds below 1 percent, closer in the standings to the Houston Astros, who have the worst record in baseball, than they are to the Dodgers, who currently hold the second Wild Card place. With 2012 over, there is one reason and one reason only why the Phillies should refuse to trade any free agent-to-be is if they intend to re-sign him. Both Polanco and Pierre are in the mid-30s and obviously in decline. Whereas Cole Hamels would be a huge cog in the Phillies in 2013 and beyond, Polanco and Pierre are easily replaceable. There is nothing more to gain by their continuing to play them every day, except maybe winning a couple of games that would drop the Phillies in the draft order. Their trade value, as would-be free agents whose careers are nearing a close, is minimal–any return, whether it’s salary relief or even minor-league depth, would have to be seen as a fantastic return.

For Shane Victorino, that question is a little more complicated. Victorino is a good enough player that he could have a significant influence on a pennant race, so he doesn’t fit the same profile as Pierre and Polanco (and probably Joe Blanton as well) where literally any return is a good return. But with the new CBA having changed the rules for free agent compensation, the only intelligent thing for the Phillies to do with Victorino is trade him. Almost 32 years old, and in line for a significant payday, Victorino just doesn’t make sense anymore for a team that has more important things to do with its payroll.

Up until this season, there would be an argument to keep a would-be Type A free agent like Victorino and just take the compensation picks if no one made a compelling trade offer. However, nowadays, the Phillies would need to make a qualifying offer equal to the average of the top 125 contracts, likely in the neighborhood of $12 million a year, in order to even get one pick back. Given Victorino’s stated preference to play here, odds are he’d sign such a contract offer. Again, the Phillies aren’t going anywhere this season, and thus have nothing to gain by keeping Victorino on, particularly when they could pick up a prospect of some kind by trading him.

As an aside, the first obvious question when discussing any Shane Victorino trade is “Who would play center field in his absence?” My answer to that is: “Who cares?” Maybe they get a young outfielder back in the trade and stick him in center. Maybe John Mayberry and Jason Pridie fill in. I know they’re both awful, but what’s the worst that can happen–the Phillies don’t make the playoffs?

As for the risk that fans will stop showing up if the Phillies trade Polanco, Blanton, Victorino and Pierre, I doubt anyone is coming to the park to see any of those players specifically, with the possible exception of Victorino. And if you’re convinced that the fans that are buying tickets to see a team that will most likely have its first losing season in a decade will stop doing so, en masse, because Shane Victorino goes…well, I guess you’re welcome to believe that. I find the notion completely absurd, but I guess we won’t know for sure until he’s traded. The Marlins just did this with Anibal Sanchez, trading the free agent-to-be to Detroit in a package that netted them pitching prospect Jacob Turner, a massive return for a pitcher like Sanchez. The Seattle Mariners, who are only scarcely more out of it than the Phillies, just sent Ichiro to the Yankees yesterday afternoon. They didn’t get much back, but they saved some money and removed any pressure to re-sign the franchise’s biggest star. If trading Victorino is an admission of defeat, it’s because the Phillies have indeed been defeated.

Hunter Pence is a more complicated story. He’s got another year’s worth of arbitration left, and so could help the Phillies in 2013 if they think they can return to playoff contention. However, that year of arbitration makes Pence a more valuable trade chip than any other asset they could dangle, except, possibly, Cole Hamels. Scuttlebutt is that the Phillies are listening to offers in an attempt to avoid giving Pence an eight-figure arbitration payout. They won’t get a package as good as the one they sent to Houston for two reasons: Hunter Pence wasn’t worth anything close to what they paid in 2011 and being a year older and a year closer to free agency, Pence is worth less now than he was then anyway.

What they can do is get a legitimate prospect or young major leaguer back, someone who could start at a position of need either immediately or in the near future. People say the Phillies should “retool” or “reload” rather than “rebuild,” and by trading these five players, the Phillies would net a noteworthy, if not franchise-altering, return in young talent, but most importantly, it would free up enough money in salary to re-sign Cole Hamels long-term and add another free agent on top of him.

Purging the roster might seem like a cynical move, but it’s not. This season cannot be punted because the Phillies don’t have even a remote hope of making the playoffs–trading Pierre, Victorino, Polanco, Blanton and Pence isn’t giving up. It’s acknowledging reality. Then, in 2013, with Hamels re-signed, Domonic Brown in the outfield, the bullpen shored up with another wave of young reinforcements, a healthy Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and some money to play with on the free agent market, the Phillies can get back to where they want to be rather easily. And with a top-10 draft pick and some newly-acquired talent developing in the minor leagues, they’ll have the potential to stay there well into the future.

But they can only do this if they’re pragmatic about where they stand in the next seven days. Otherwise, we may very well be in for more of the same for a long time.

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22 comments

  1. JA

    July 24, 2012 01:27 PM

    Yes yes yes yes yes! Let’s do it..Interested to see which contenders will go after Pence/Victorino,any ideas?

  2. nik

    July 24, 2012 01:29 PM

    What’s the problem with paying Vic $12 mil next year? Not like Gillies is ready to take over. That’s a huge dropoff to the next best guy.

  3. The Citizens Bankers

    July 24, 2012 01:31 PM

    Excellent take on the upcoming trade deadline. I love all of it, do everything. Trade all the players!

  4. Richard

    July 24, 2012 01:34 PM

    Pretty good post, agree with most of it (I think there’s some value in offering Victorino the qualifying offer), but I’m curious where you get the idea Juan Pierre is a terrible baserunner. This season he’s about break-even (+0.2 runs). His last few seasons look like this: 7.6, 1.2, 2.7, 6.8, 4.9. This season he’s even 23 for 27 stealing bases, after being merely adequate in previous seasons.

  5. mratfink

    July 24, 2012 01:35 PM

    apparently the reason polanco hasn’t been traded yet is because the orioles hesitated at trading for Polanco because he has a back issue that he has been playing through

  6. BradInDC

    July 24, 2012 01:52 PM

    Have I disagree with you that Vic would sign a one year tender for $12Mil. He’ll get more guaranteed money in the open market, so unless he’s like friggin dying to stay in Philly, he’ll get himself a better deal on the open market. Not saying the pick they net in return is worth what they’ll get in trade. Likely the trade will still be a better return in prospect(s) than the comp pick his signing elsewhere nets them. Picks are dreaming on potential, while high level minor leaguers are closer more accurately projectable.

  7. BradInDC

    July 24, 2012 01:53 PM

    Also, allow me to say “open market” again.

  8. John Mcaluney

    July 24, 2012 02:13 PM

    I can see Phils trading Poli and Blanton for help at 3rd and left field. Pence could be signed an extension but they can trade in offseason for another right field.
    Pridie was out via DFA’d and Mayberry can play OF and 1st for rest of the year.

    Victorino has value for teams looking for a good No. 2 hitter with pop. Payroll will be an issue for the Phillies which they can deal with in the offseason.

    Does anyone remember those grand years from 1984 to 2001? Only 1993 was a bright spot. I like rooting for my winning team.

  9. JM

    July 24, 2012 02:28 PM

    Of course you should retool with an outfield of Brown, Mayberry, and Gillies as replacements for a couple all-stars and gold glove winner…..

  10. Tom G

    July 24, 2012 02:31 PM

    Perhaps the reason Blanton, Polanco and Victorino haven’t been traded yet is that they are waiting to get as much as they possibly can for them, closer to the deadline. I’m not necessarily saying this is the right approach, but it might be why.

    I agree with the others that there’s no harm, if Victorino is not traded, in offering him 1yr/$12million. No way his agent lets him take that when he’ll get at least 3 years on the open market.

    I agree with you though Michael. IF they are SHREWD about things, there is no reason they can’t get back on track for 2013.

  11. runnj

    July 24, 2012 02:46 PM

    Well it’s a good thing your not running the team. Blow the team up, get nothing in return. Let’s go back to the days of the Vet, when no one came to watch a game. I don’t know why I read your propaganda, because it just makes me irate. If you were so smart at baseball, you’d be working for a team somewhere not writing on Crashburn Alley blog. Good thing too

  12. hk

    July 24, 2012 02:49 PM

    I agree that they should get whatever they can for Pierre, Polanco and Blanton and that they should trade Pence for the best package offered, but I disagree with your “Victorino just doesn’t make sense anymore for a team that has more important things to do with its payroll” comment. I would be okay with Shane in CF next year for ~$12M deal. Even in this down season, the rest of the year ZIPS projection takes him to 3.3 fWAR. His K% and BB% are close to his career levels while his ISO (possibly due to the hand injury) and his BABIP (bad luck?) have dropped and his defense and base-running remain good. What I don’t want to see is the team signing him to a deal beyond 2013.

  13. LTG

    July 24, 2012 02:53 PM

    I remember when propaganda was what powerful entities like governments and multinational corporations used to beguile the public with ideology. Those were the days.

  14. hk

    July 24, 2012 03:00 PM

    JM and runnj,

    I agree. Remember how dumb the Texas Rangers looked in 2007 when they traded the former All Star and Gold Glove winner Mark Teixiera for a bunch of nothings named Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and Matt Harrison? What have those guys or the Rangers team done since then?

  15. Dan K.

    July 24, 2012 03:09 PM

    @hk,

    While I’m not agreeing with them, I think I’d take Tex over what they got in return. Salty is not on their team, Feliz appears to be tremendously talented, but he’s been hurt almost all year (great for me because I have him on both fantasy teams…), Andrus is good, but not Tex good (plus Profar is on his way), and Harrison is just kind of so-so.

    This is to say, their success isn’t because of their trades, but their drafting. And Hamilton.

  16. hk

    July 24, 2012 03:34 PM

    Dan K.

    I respectfully disagree with your take. Andrus is 8 years younger and immensely cheaper than Teixiera and his fWAR > Teixiera’s fWAR last year and so far this year. Over the last two years, Harrison, who is 5 years younger and also immensely cheaper than Teixiera, has pitched to a 3.50 FIP while facing DH’s and pitching in an extreme hitter’s park. Feliz, who like Andrus is 8 years younger than Teixiera and like both of the others is immensely cheaper than him, has been misused and injury prone, so the jury’s still out on him. Salty did not pan out in Texas, but it looks as though even he may pan out as a MLB’er and I’m not sure of what Texas received for him from Boston. In return, the Braves got 1 full season (of 6+ fWAR) and Casey Kotchmann.

  17. Dante

    July 24, 2012 03:58 PM

    It’s a shame the Phillies have waited so long to get things moving here, as they could have easily netted Turner and another decent prospect for Hamels had they realized before the Marlins (the team 4 games AHEAD of them in the division) that they were out of the race. One of the few times Amaro has been slow to react, but you are right he has plenty of pices to sell off. All we have so far is a couple fringe prospects for Thome.

  18. Eric

    July 24, 2012 06:04 PM

    Brown in left field? He obviously hasn’t shown much, but if he can even become somewhat of what we all hoped, why haven’t they already brought him up to contribute? He’d gain even more valuable experience on a losing team where the expectations and demands are less. The fact that he hasn’t been brought up to replace Pierre seems pretty telling to me.

  19. Dan K.

    July 24, 2012 08:02 PM

    @hk,

    I probably should have clarified, when I said I’d rather have Tex, I meant his whole body of work since being traded, not specifically recently. Moving forward, what they got is almost certainly the better bet, but considering Profar is likely to take Andrus’ place and Salty is gone, that means that the Rangers are really only getting value from Feliz (if he stays healthy), and Harrison (if he stays decently effective). My opinion will most likely sway towards the package rather than Tex in the next year or so, but for now I see more value in what Tex would have given them (this is not considering contracts, mind you).

    @Eric,
    I would say the reason he hasn’t been called up is because he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year. So if that’s telling to you, I guess Utley and Howard aren’t much of major leaguers this year, either.

  20. hk

    July 24, 2012 08:15 PM

    @ Dan K.,

    I see your perspective now, but I still disagree. I think the Rangers will end up having derived much more production from the players they got from Atlanta than they would have had they kept Teixiera for the last five years. Factoring the cost for that production and it becomes a no-brainer. Also, I think you underestimate what they should get from Andrus, who is likely to give them another ~0.75 WAR / month until Profar is ready at which time the Rangers should get a very nice return on a 25 year old SS with a team friendly contract through the end of 2014.

  21. jauer

    July 24, 2012 08:28 PM

    Which team do you work for, runnj?

  22. Phillie697

    July 25, 2012 12:46 PM

    Matt Harrison is just kinda so-so. That’s the funniest statement I’ve heard all week.

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