A Trade Deadline Travel Guide for the Phillies

The July 31 trade deadline is fast approaching and the Phillies are in an unenviable position. They reached .500 just as the first half ended, the Braves are limping and their stranglehold on the NL East has weakened, and the Nationals have been uninspiring for three and a half months. Arguably, the NL East is more winnable now than it was at any other point during the season. But their core is old and injury prone. Several key players become free agents after the season. The Minor League system still needs some help. This is why Phillies chairman Bill Giles called it “the most difficult July I have ever seen“.

Fortunately for the Phillies, I think I have a pretty good plan for navigating the next two weeks with style, under the assumption the team is serious about contending in the NL East.

The Phillies must trade Michael Young

Among Phillies who have logged enough plate appearances to qualify, Michael Young leads the team in on-base percentage at .344. At first glance, trading your best OBP player seems counter-intuitive, but Young kills any value he provides offensively with his predisposition to ground into double plays and his inability to play even passable defense at third base.

The Rangers are paying $10 million of Young’s $16 million salary this year, so the Phillies could very easily consume the remaining ~$2.5 million on his salary. This would allow them to get the maximum return in a trade. Ken Rosenthal lists the Yankees and Red Sox as two of about a dozen teams interested in Young’s services.

Once Young is gone, the Phillies can plug Kevin Frandsen in at third base. Frandsen has actually been significantly more valuable to the team than Young has: Baseball Reference lists Frandsen at 0.9 WAR and Young at -0.1; FanGraphs lists Frandsen at 0.9 and Young at 0.3. In 119 trips to the plate, Frandsen is hitting .297/.390/.446, so he has actually been significantly better than Young in the on-base department, though some regression is to be expected. Defensively, Frandsen still needs work at third base, but he is markedly better than Young nevertheless.

So, by trading Young, the Phillies would not only recoup value on an aging, soon-to-be free agent, they would actually be upgrading by putting a better in-house candidate at the position.

The Phillies must trade Jonathan Papelbon

The Phillies have a huge bullpen problem. At 4.43, their bullpen ERA is the second-worst in all of baseball. And despite a bad last month, Jonathan Papelbon has been their best reliever with a 2.33 ERA. Trading him would significantly weaken the ‘pen, no?

Thanks to manager Charlie Manuel‘s repeated misuse of his relievers, Papelbon only pitches in the handful of high-leverage situations every week that fall into a ninth-inning save situation. The rest of the terrible bullpen has tended to handle high-leverage situations outside of the ninth inning.

As mentioned recently, Papelbon has seen a significant decline in velocity on all of his pitches, and as a result, he hasn’t been able to live up in the strike zone and generate swings and misses the way he used to when he was one of the league’s most dominant relievers. Papelbon has drawn interest from a few different teams including the Tigers and Red Sox. Cutting bait on a clearly declining Papelbon, who is 32 years old and owed $26 million over the next two seasons and an additional $13 million in 2016 if his option vests, would actually impact the Phillies very little. If the Phillies are interested in improving the bullpen, they would need the current crew to improve overnight, or start a complete redesign.

Furthermore, Papelbon could net the center fielder Ruben Amaro says he wants. Or he could bring back a couple useful prospects. Either would be more beneficial to the team than Papelbon is now and will be over the next two seasons.

The Phillies must avoid star players

The Phillies crippled their Minor League system in the summers of 2010 and 2011 trying to bring in a star player to bolster the roster for a second-half run. Though Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were more than productive in their short time in Philadelphia, they never could have provided a good enough return on investment unless the Phillies reached the World Series.

The defending champion San Francisco Giants are a good example of how to handle July trades. Last year, they traded Charlie Culberson, a mediocre hitter in Triple-A, to the Rockies for Marco Scutaro. With the Giants, Scutaro hit .362 until the end of the regular season, and then hit .328 in the post-season. Aside from trading fourth outfielder Nate Schierholtz to the Phillies for Hunter Pence (paying a much cheaper price than the Phillies did with the Astros), they did nothing else.

Amaro is looking to replace Ben Revere in center field and there just aren’t many center fielders available. The White Sox are open to trading 32-year-old Alex Rios and the current fielder has logged nearly 3,600 defensive innings in center field over his career. Rios is earning $12.5 million this year, which means the Sox still owe him about $5.1 million. He is owed another $12.5 million for 2014 with a $13.5 million club option and $1 million buyout for 2015. Rios, who has been worth one win above a replacement-level player this season, is not the type of player worth dealing precious Minor League talent to acquire.

Mets GM Sandy Alderson has gone on record saying he is not in a rush to trade Marlon Byrd, who has had a rebirth in Queens. He has a slugging-heavy .818 OPS, but is 35 years old and a free agent after the season. There is no chance the Mets are thinking about offering him a multi-year extension, so they will eventually realize their move is to trade him by July 31 and get some value before Byrd parlays his great season into his last chance at a rich deal in the off-season. As of July 6, the Mets hadn’t taken any calls on Byrd, but that may have changed since then. Still, teams may be put off by his age and the seeming flukiness of his season, which would be great for the Phillies.

Another option is to re-acquire Nate Schierholtz and platoon him in center field with John Mayberry. Schierholtz has posted an .862 OPS against right-handed pitching this year, while Mayberry has gone .769 against lefties. Schierholtz has minimal experience in center field, but plays great defense in right and it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t transfer over to center in a pinch.

The Phillies must trade or cut Delmon Young

Aside from the two-week stretch between June 26 and July 9, when Young posted a 1.043 OPS, he has been a black hole both offensively and defensively. Even with that two-week stretch, which accounted for 22 percent of his 232 plate appearances on the season, he still falls below the league average with the bat. And watching him patrol right field has been a slow-motion car wreck. Overall, he has been worth -0.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference.

If the Phillies are serious about pushing for a second-half surge to win the NL East, they will need to acquire two outfielders: one to replace Ben Revere, and one to replace Young. Fortunately, finding a right fielder is easier than finding a center fielder. If the Phillies go after Byrd, they could use Mayberry in right field. If they find a left-handed hitter and use a platoon in center, Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox could be a trade option. He is earning $2.075 million this season and will enter his second year of arbitration eligibility going into 2014. Unless he is a superstar-in-hiding, the Phillies could non-tender De Aza the way they did Schierholtz if they would prefer to reconfigure their outfield after the season.

The Phillies must sign Chase Utley to a contract extension

This is the most important item on the list. If the Phillies want to make a post-season run in 2013, they will be forgoing the opportunity to trade Chase Utley. Utley, more than Papelbon, could breathe new life into the Minor League system by helping the team get a significant return on their soon-to-be free agent second baseman. Keeping him for a second-half surge, however, means Utley can walk into free agency and the Phillies will be left with nothing more than a first-round compensatory pick. That risk far outweighs the expected value in attempting to climb atop the NL East, so the Phillies need to reduce that risk by signing Utley to a short-term, incentive-laden contract extension — soon.

Both Amaro and Utley have publicly stated they wish to continue the relationship. As long as the Phillies don’t try to lowball Utley, it’s quite possible he would pass up what could be his final opportunity to get a rich contract.

If Utley isn’t willing to play ball on an extension, the Phillies should disregard everything written above, go into complete sell mode, and get as much value for Utley as possible. It is more important to get a good return on Utley in a trade than anything else at this point in the timeline.

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174 comments

  1. Larry

    July 18, 2013 10:05 PM

    I’m all for a big bat like Cory Hart. I like that. That’s the big right handed bat that would make sense.

    So Hart, Brown, and Revere with Mayberry getting some bats against lefties.

    Infield is Cano, Rollins, Howard, and a new 3rd baseman, but you still have Frandsen or Franco. Also you still have Ruf. You can keep Cliff Lee, Hamels, KK, and then a battle of 4th and 5th with the other guys, unless you can get 1 more pitcher.
    You still need help in the bull pen especially if you are dealing Paps.

    The catcher spot is OK with the backups we have when moving Ruiz. You won’t have money for everyone and if you want to compete next year, having Lee really helps your cause.

  2. Larry

    July 18, 2013 10:09 PM

    The Yankees are considering Utley, so might not have to play Texas Holdem with them.

  3. Phillie697

    July 18, 2013 10:38 PM

    My dream scenario, since joecatz already got me halfway there anyway :)

    Trade Papelbon to Detroit, get Castellanos, eat $5M a year on Papelbon.

    Trade Cliff Lee to Orioles, get Schoop and Gausman (buy low buy low!!!). Maybe we eat some money here too… $8M per?

    Pay KK his damn $6M a year.

    Assuming $175M payroll, we subtract $25M from our $105M commitment. That’s $89M to play.

    Sign Ellsbury, $20M. Sign Brian McCann, $18M? $51M left.

    Sign Kuroda. May take $15M, but it’ll be just one or two years. Worth the risk. $36M left.

    Sign Nolasco. He’s FINALLY starting to fulfill his potential. Sleeper buy here, won’t cost nearly that much. $12M? $24M left.

    Sign Utley. Schoop needs time still. $14M (he’ll take $14M). $10M left.

    So lineup is now: McCann/Howard/Utley (with Schoop in waiting)/Rollins/Asche (with Franco in waiting)/Brown/Ellsbury/Castellanos.

    Pitching staff: Hamels/Kuroda/Nolasco/Kendrick/Gausman.

    $10M left to fill bullpen/bench. Plus we got our 2B of the future.

    Or we go another route, trade Lee to Red Sox instead, get Bradley and Middlebrooks, flip Castellanos to Twins for Rosario. Have Franco be Howard’s heir instead. Now we got McCann/Howard/Utley/Rollins/Middlebrooks/Brown/Ellsbury/Bradley. The OF defense will be sick even with Brown.

    Tell me that’s not a playoff team. Plus mix of veterans and young, projectable players. And a better farm. Ah… Again, one can dream…

  4. Phillie697

    July 18, 2013 10:59 PM

    Or or or… (I love flexibility). We DON’T sign Kuroda, stick Pettibone/Cloyd in there somewhere, and sign Hart. Put Castellanos at 3B. We got some serious offense there.

  5. Larry

    July 18, 2013 11:21 PM

    Your vision certainly would put us to be a favorite to win this division no doubt. My Favorite scenario would be Michael Martinez at Shortstop, Eric Bruntlett at 2nd base, Delmon Young at right field, Joe Blanton as our ace, Chad Durbin as our closer…….Wait a minute that’s actually my nightmare lol I’m gonna have to get back to you with my scenario, but hey your vision looks good 697. I’d like to figure out a way to keep Lee if possible. After losing Victorino and Werth, I’m losing all my favorites.

    If that’s your team 697, give me your new manager. It can’t be Charlie manuel, so who?

  6. Phillie697

    July 18, 2013 11:30 PM

    Keeping Lee requires going for broke. We don’t get depth, and we don’t sign Hart/Kuroda, and we further dip into the $10M left for the bench (down to $8M). We’re stuck with Utley but with no heir apparent. I just don’t think we have the pieces to go for broke here, unless both Franco and Biddle turn into great players, and we can’t really expect that to happen. That’s why to me Lee is a luxury we can’t afford; by trading him, we get future pieces AND can turn around and spend his $25M elsewhere. The team is better off without him, as sad as it sounds.

    Manager? Who do we have to trade to Tampa Bay to get Madden? :)

  7. Larry

    July 18, 2013 11:48 PM

    “Manager? Who do we have to trade to Tampa Bay to get Madden? :)”

    Ok Madden, I like it, plus I think he lives in this area. I’m gonna check………Yes he does. I like home town guys, they show more passion to the city they live in, or at least live near.

    The reality is that RAJ is running this team, not us. No one can predict what this guy is gonna do. I can only hope that he has learned from past mistakes. Maybe his thinking going forward is more examination of all the different scenarios he can do. I wouldn’t hold my breath though. Somehow a guy like Michael Martinez gets called up every year. I’m not sure why the hell we need him since Galvis is here.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Mini Mart gets a call up in September. That’s a harsh reality for all of us.

  8. hk

    July 19, 2013 05:23 AM

    Phillie,

    I don’t think Baltimore would make that deal for Cliff Lee, but even if they would, let’s analyze it from the Phillies perspective:

    1. In your scenario, you trade Cliff Lee and pay $8M (per year, I assume) of his salary, so you are freeing up $16M per year.

    2. You are effectively using the money you save from Lee to sign Kuroda.

    3. You get Gausman and Schoop.

    4. You consider your new team a playoff team.

    5. To get Kuroda in your scenario, you will forfeit your 3rd round pick in next year’s draft as signing McCann and Ellsbury will cost you the picks in the first 2 rounds. However, if you don’t end up with Ellsbury and/or McCann and fill CF and C with players who did not receive QO’s, signing Kuroda would cost you a 1st round pick.

    My question to you is, are Gausman and Schoop worth dropping in quality from Lee to Kuroda on what you expect to be a playoff team? Lee’s been worth ~2.5 more WAR per year than Kuroda over the past few seasons and, since Kuroda is 2.5 years older than Lee, we should expect Kuroda to decline more than Lee in the coming seasons. Put differently, if you are looking at contending next year and you could make all of the other moves you listed – I haven’t done the math – except for the Lee trade and the Kuroda signing, might you be better off keeping Lee and the draft pick and going into next season with the better team? If Lee pitches well, but the team disappoints again, you could trade Lee 12 months from now.

  9. Joecatz

    July 19, 2013 06:28 AM

    697,

    You realize in your scenario you replaced lee with Kuroda, and made the phillies roster the oldest in the major leagues,

    You got rid of a 34 year old lee for a 38 year old Kuroda.

    You forfeit draft picks for an old OF and and an injury prone catcher on high paid long term deals.

    Basically everything you preach against.

    If that’s the route you go, you keep papelbon and lee.

  10. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 09:52 AM

    @joecatz,

    I don’t think I was ever under any illusion that I was going to replace Lee’s production with another pitcher.

    And like I said, I never said I wouldn’t pay for players. I just think we have to plug too many holes to keep Lee. My team has Castellanos, Brown, Gausman, and Schoop for the future, plus some reasonable gambles that may end up being more valuable than what we have to pay to get them. Keep Lee and Paps, we get none of that.

    This is how you build a team with a bunch of money. You have a couple of high-priced veterans, a couple of high-priced talent you developed and signed to long-term, and then you fill out the needs of the rest of the roster with short-term contracts like Korudo, and maybe you take a gamble on a guy like Nolasco. Then you stock as many young, projectable players as you can once you run out of money, and not sign/trade players like Ben Revere, Delmon Young, and Michael Young.

    No one ever blamed RAJ for spending money. He just did nothing else.

    Oh, and the supposed oft-injured catcher I just signed played 138, 143, 128, and 121 games the last 4 seasons. At catcher. I’m pretty comfortable with his track record, and if I’m going to spend big money, I spend it on premium positions like CF and C, where replacements don’t grow on trees, and McCann is about as good as they get at C. Plus, Ellsbury is 30 and McCann is 30 when we sign them, same age as Hamels. I’m quite comfortable with their ages.

    @hk,

    Simply put, we won’t be on the hook for $90M with Kuroda, I don’t run the risk of Roy Halladay happening all over again, and I’m saving a spot for Jesse Biddle when he’s ready. It’s a short-term fix that I have no intentions of keeping beyond 1 or 2 years. It’s also why I prefer a trade with Baltimore than Boston for Lee; getting Castellanos, Schoop, and Gausman fits more with the current prospects we do have in our system than getting Middlebrooks and Bradley. I actually think maybe the Cory Hart route might be better than Kuroda now I think about it, but it depends on if I can flip some of our extra assets (Asche, Joseph, Hernandez) for another pitcher. But the important thing is, I have options. Keeping Lee, I have less.

    “If Lee pitches well, but the team disappoints again, you could trade Lee 12 months from now.” Or he doesn’t and we get nothing. Kuroda is a short-term fix, but Lee is actually an asset. I rather convert assets into more stuff. Gausman/Schoop/Middlebrooks/Bradley are all better than whatever picks we forfeit; they are good prospects that are ready now. I may want a playoff team, but I don’t want it for just 2014. Rollins is gone in 2015, Utley can’t play forever. We need more young blood on this team. Plus, when you’re going out there to spend $89M, you’d be nuts if you don’t think you’re forfeiting draft picks.

  11. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 10:16 AM

    @hk,

    Put it another way. Gambling on Lee pitching well next year and beyond, your potential loss is $90M and no prospect haul. Gambling on Kuroda to pitch well next year, you potential loss is $15M and a 3rd round pick. But you get Gausman and Schoop while you’re at it. Which risk would you rather take?

  12. Joecatz

    July 19, 2013 10:32 AM

    You do realize that aside from schoop (who’s extremely overhyped) you traded for unreasonable expectations and at the same time filled the farm with redundant positional value, and added a free agent at the one spot where they have depth available in two years, right?

    Basically you traded a good two years of lee for five years of Brian McCann, probably can’t catch 125 games in 3 years.

    As you still don’t realize that you can do that without signing Kuroda and still keep lee. You saved $2mm there. That’s it.

    Dollar wise.

    The prospect part I get man. I do. But the money doesn’t do anything.

    You traded 2-3 wins between Kuroda and lee for 2mm and prospects. That didn’t make or break anything else.

    How is that so hard to see???

  13. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 12:39 PM

    @joecatz,

    Kuroda is less of a risk because we’re not committed to him for as long. It’s not just $2M. Keeping Lee is more risky and less flexibility. I think it’s viable to keep Lee, sure, but if I’m GM, my choice would be to have the flexibility while reducing my risks. If this team is a WS contender next year, that’s a no-brainer you keep Lee, but it’s not; 2016 would be my target, and who knows what Lee is like by 2016? But you are certainly entitled to disagree and go for the more risky, short-term route.

    As for “filled the farm with redundant positional value,” I think you should realize by now I don’t like any of our prospects other than Franco, and only because of what EL said about him :) And Biddle/Gausman are pitchers. There is no such thing as “redundant” when it comes to pitching.

    And how do you know it’s “good two years of Lee”? I certainly don’t know that.

  14. joecatz

    July 19, 2013 01:01 PM

    “Kuroda is less of a risk because we’re not committed to him for as long.”

    ?????????

    Kuroda is 38 years old. Hes put up -0.1 war this season.
    Cliff Lee is 34 years old and has put up 4.2 WAR in 18 starts.

    I don’t care how you cut the jibe. You ate 8mm of lees salary, paid Kuroda 15mm to sacrifice 4 wins and get two prospects.

    if your targeting 2016 why the hell are you wasting money on Brian McCann, Hiroki Kiroda and Jacoby Ellsbury?????

    You can’t have it both ways.

  15. hk

    July 19, 2013 01:29 PM

    @joecatz,

    Kiroda’s accumulated 3.2 WAR according to B-R and 2.3 WAR according to Fangraphs. Regardless, I agree with your larger point which is, if they are going to spend their freed up cash on McCann and Ellsbury, they should hold onto Lee right now and try to win in 2014. If they don’t win in 2014, they should still be able to trade Lee at the next trading deadline for something close to next season’s equivalent of Schoop and Gausman.

  16. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 01:41 PM

    @joecatz,

    Which Kuroda are you looking at? LOL.

  17. joecatz

    July 19, 2013 01:41 PM

    HK,

    exactly. and yeah, I was looking at Kurodas wins above adjutment average column there.

    I think another thing that no one wants to realize here is that you’re not getting a Kevin Gausmann AND a Jonathan Schoop for Cliff Lee. You might get one player like that and some complimentary pieces, but thats as big a pipe dream as believeing the Tigers are surrendering Castellanos for Papelbon.

    which is still the biggest reason you don’t trade Cliff Lee.

  18. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 01:44 PM

    “if your targeting 2016 why the hell are you wasting money on Brian McCann, Hiroki Kiroda and Jacoby Ellsbury?????”

    Because Ellsbury and McCann will be around in 2016? And aren’t you the one who said even if we don’t think we have a realistic chance of winning the WS every year, we should at least try to win every year anyway? This is a playoff team in 2014. I just don’t have a realistic expectation of WS contention until 2016. Like I said, we’re really just disputing over one thing, whether Lee should stay on the team. I rather have options and flexibility instead of putting all my eggs into one basket. Either way has its points.

  19. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 01:45 PM

    @joecatz,

    It’s the “dream” scenario of course. Whether it can be accomplished is certainly up to debate, but at least you have an idea what I would trade Lee for, i.e. not for peanuts.

  20. hk

    July 19, 2013 01:49 PM

    Phillie697,

    My point is that a good GM should be able to pick up some pieces for the unnecessary current members of the roster (Michael Young, Chooch and Papelbon) and retain Utley and replace Chooch, the two Youngs and Halladay and put a contender on the field at the beginning of next year. Therefore, I would only trade Lee if I got back Profar, who I think is going to be a special player, or an even better young player like Machado or Stanton. Since getting Profar, much less Machado or Stanton, for Lee is not happening, I would sooner go into next year with Lee and Hamels fronting the rotation. I think the free agent pitching route is going to get worse and worse as more and more teams lock up their best players. For instance, your assumption that you can get Kuroda for $15M (and a squandered draft choice) may not even be realistic as he will be the 2nd best free agent P on the market (or the best if Garza signs an extension with whichever team trades for him). This is why I was hoping RAJ would bring on Anibal Sanchez last off-season to serve as a hedge against Halladay’s health this year and to replace Halladay (for less money) next year. Alas, RAJ chose Lannan instead.

  21. joecatz

    July 19, 2013 02:13 PM

    697,

    the point is you’re investing 5 year contracts minimum for those guys.

    by 2016 Ellsbury is 32 and McCann is 33. so you paid for the two good years on their contract and are stuck in the same vicious loop in 2016 there.

    If the phillies were smart, they’d pay Miguel Gonzalez 15mm a year for 5 years at 26, and shove a combination of Pettibone/Morgan/Biddle in the 4-5 slots next year behind Hamels and Lee.

  22. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 03:15 PM

    @joecatz,

    FA markets rarely have players in their 20s. Players entering their age-30 seasons are probably the best you can do most of the time. That’s why I’m willing to invest in Ellsbury and McCann. Age 32 is not the same as age 34. Not all old players are the same, lol.

    What is it you said? You get what you pay for. Like I said, I’m all for you modifying the scenario to keep Lee, knowing what you sacrifice in return. I’m not willing to make those sacrifices. You are. I rather set the team up to win for the long run, not just the next year or two. Lee brings in prospects.

  23. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 03:16 PM

    @hk,

    I would agree with you if RAJ didn’t bleed our farm dry. A GM taking over for RAJ would need to do what you said AND restock the farm. There is a lot to do there, and a lot of hard choices have to be made.

  24. Joecatz

    July 20, 2013 08:25 AM

    I’m gonna end with this.

    Your expectations for a cliff lee trade return are way out of whack, as are your expectations for papelbon.

    When and if they are moved, I would venture to guess withing minutes you’ll be screaming for Rajs head for giving them away.

    So when they aren’t moved, realize that a lot of tht probably Los more in the lack of value for return than the willingness to deal.

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