An Inventory of the Phillies’ Trade Assets

I knew you were there all along. You, who looked at the Phillies’ roster in March and squinted and convinced yourself that this team could win 80-plus games and then maybe, if everything goes right, could snag a Wild Card, and once you’re in, and you can throw a front three of Hamels, Lee and Burnett…who knows? But you knew you were deluding yourself. You knew, somewhere, that optimism is a coping mechanism and that the universe is governed by a single immutable law: that everything is going to suck. And in accordance with that law, I give you the Phillies, 21-26, in last place.

Now it’s time to start thinking about the rebuild, and if the Phillies decide to offload some established talent for future talent, who’s on the way out. And here, as on the field, there’s only bad news.

The Untradeables

  • Cliff Lee: 21-team no-trade clause, currently injured, guaranteed $62.5 million through 2015, including buyout for 2016. Phillies can exercise team option for 2016 for an additional $15 million. Option will likely become guaranteed if Lee’s elbow injury isn’t serious.
  • Ryan Howard: 21-team no-trade clause, guaranteed $85 million through 2016, including buyout for 2017. Phillies can exercise team option for 2017 for an additional $13 million.
  • Chase Utley: full no-trade clause through 10-and-5 rights, guaranteed $27 million through 2015, including buyout for 2016. Vesting options through 2018.
  • Jimmy Rollins: full no-trade clause through 10-and-5 rights, guaranteed $11 million through 2014, plus an $11 million vesting option for 2015 based on a plate appearance threshold he’ll almost certainly hit.

Any of these players could waive their no-trade clauses, but Rollins and Utley seem to want to finish their careers here. Before the injury, Lee was probably the Phillies’ best trade asset, but in the Year of Tommy John Surgery, any team that would trade for him would want assurances that he’s completely healthy. I don’t know that there’s enough time left before the deadline for him to provide those assurances.

Howard, according to Cot’s Contracts,  has something they call “most favored nation” trade veto power, which is an interesting phrase loaned from international diplomacy/economics/politics. His contract guarantees no-trade power equal to the most restrictive no-trade clause the Phillies give out to a free agent, which is Lee’s, in this case. It’s not tremendously relevant, because Howard’s not going anywhere, but I just thought that was an elegant way to state the concept.

The Why-Would-You-Trade-Them Club

  • Cole Hamels: “limited” no-trade protection turns into 10-and-5 in 2017, guaranteed $108.5 million through 2018, including buyout of a team option for 2019. That team option is for an additional $14 million and turns into a vesting option given injury and innings thresholds.
  • Miguel Gonzalez: guaranteed $12 million through 2016, plus a vesting option for 2017.
  • Ben Revere: guaranteed $1.95 million through 2014, arbitration-eligible, becomes a free agent after the 2017 season.
  • Domonic Brown: guaranteed $550,000 through 2014, arbitration-eligible this year, becomes a free agent after the 2017 season.
  • Jake Diekman: guaranteed $516,000 through 2014, arbitration eligible after 2015, becomes a free agent after the 2018 season.

This group includes the players you’d hope would be on the next good Phillies team, or who are young and under team control. You could trade Domonic Brown or Ben Revere, but that would involve trading an underachieving young outfielder for another underachieving player. I love the My Garbage for Your Trash trade more than anything in the world, but I’d just as soon take my chances with Brown and Revere as whatever I’d get in return.

Hamels represents a sort of mental watershed for the rebuilding movement. Because of his age, he’s almost certainly the Phillies’ most valuable trade chip, but while he’d probably warrant a substantial return in a trade, the fact that he’s a homegrown guy who just signed an extension in the past 24 months would make trading him a difficult emotional pill to swallow. Feel free to disagree. I’m rational, but not that rational.

Flotsam

Roster filler. Either these guys aren’t under team control past this year or will never be good or both. I’ll list contract information where relevant, but my capacity for giving a shit doesn’t extend to actually writing down how much John Mayberry is making or when Jonathan Pettibone will be eligible for arbitration. You can consider all of these guys nonfactors as far as bringing back value in a trade. If I missed someone from this section, I assure you, it’s because he doesn’t matter.

Tradeable, But You Won’t Get Much

  • Cody Asche: guaranteed $500,000 through 2014, arbitration-eligible after 2016, becomes a free agent after the 2019 season.
  • Mike Adams: guaranteed $7 million through 2014, $6 million club option for 2015 that becomes guaranteed with 60 IP this year
  • Jonathan Papelbon: guaranteed $26 million through 2015, plus a $13 million vesting option for 2016
  • Carlos Ruiz: guaranteed $26 million through 2016, including a buyout for 2017. Phillies can exercise the 2017 option for an additional $4 million
  • Antonio Bastardo: guaranteed $2 million through 2014, arbitration-eligible, becomes a free agent after the 2015 season
  • Marlon Byrd: guaranteed $16 million through 2015, with an $8 million club option for 2016 that vests with plate appearance thresholds
  • A.J. Burnett: limited no-trade clause, guaranteed $16 million through 2014, (though about half of it is split up into signing bonuses and frontloaded) including the buyout for his 2015 option. The mutual option for 2015 is an additional $14 million, and if the Phillies turn it down, Burnett can exercise a $7.5 million player option that increases with certain thresholds for games started. This is the most confusing one-year contract I’ve ever seen, so if you’re that curious, go to Cot’s and figure it out for yourself.

Asche would be on the rebuilding block list if not for Maikel Franco breathing down his neck. The hope with Asche was that he’d hit enough to overcome a below-average glove. Well he’s been terrible defensively and streaky offensively so far. The jury’s still very much out on him, but I don’t know why the Phillies would trade him, nor do I think they’d receive a substantial return for doing so. Ruiz is the last homegrown player the Phillies brought up who’s been worth a crap, and he’s 35, so let that sink in for a second. He’s still good, but he’s still a catcher with a contract through his age-37 season. I imagine the Phillies could find a taker for Chooch if they wanted to shop him, but what’s the market for a player his age at his position?

Adams and Papelbon have been good this year, but they’re old and expensive, and about 25 other teams caught on to it not being a good idea to sign players like Adams and Papelbon to contracts like theirs long before the Phillies did. Tony No-Dad is also a useful bullpen piece, but again, you’re not getting a top-10 organizational guy for a year and a half of a decent middle reliever.

I loved the offseason signings of Burnett and Byrd, in part because I believed they could be flipped for something useful. Either one could improve a playoff hopeful with a hole, and while Burnett at least would be picky about his destination, the Phillies would stand to turn excess cash into at least some players with upside. Last year, the Pirates gave up Dilson Herrera and Vic Black for Byrd and John Buck at the deadline, and while that was viewed as a coup for the Mets, that’s two potentially useful prospects for a rental player. In 2012, the Pirates gave up a package including Robbie Grossman, who was once on the back end of BP’s top 100, for Wandy Rodriguez. If the Phillies got the equivalent of that for Byrd and Burnett at the trade deadline, I’d be thrilled. It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing, either.

Legitimate Fodder for Franchise-Altering Prospects in Trade

  • None

That’s the problem. If you want to get multiple potential first-division starters in a trade, you need an All-Star who’s at the very least not declining yet and is under team control for some time to come. James Shields. Justin Upton. Mat Latos. That kind of player. Either that or you need to fleece one of a shrinking number of sucker GMs, which won’t work because the Diamondbacks are running out of prospects to trade, the Dodgers don’t have any holes to fill and the Phillies can trade with themselves.

Everyone the Phillies have to trade is either old or bad or expensive or all three, and that’s not a problem you can overcome with sheer numbers. The Phillies can’t trade 16 quad-A guys who are worth half a win each for, say Josh Donaldson or Chris Davis. Trade value is not strictly additive in that way. If the Phillies hadn’t gutted the farm system in 2010 and failed to develop any of the players they had in the meantime, maybe they’d have someone to trade. Then again, maybe they’d have a better team and not be in a position to rebuild in the first place.

But as it stands, here they are. How can the Phillies restock the farm system externally? By trading Cliff Lee, if he were healthy and they were willing to eat some salary. By trading Cole Hamels, if they’re willing and would eat a lot of salary. Incrementally, by trading Burnett, Byrd and (if they’re willing to eat some salary) Jonathan Papelbon and a few others. Apart from that, they’re left at the mercy of their scouting and player development departments, which have failed entirely since 2007 or so. It’s not good news, but it’s where we stand. Maybe the delusion of contending this year wasn’t a bad place to be after all.

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12 comments

  1. edwin

    May 27, 2014 06:10 AM

    Well, the question is not what they or do not have, but whether or not you Ruin’ Tomorrow involved with a rebuild. Remember this the guy who traded a lot of good prospects for Hunter Pence and then flipped him for someone who may never get out of the minors. I personally would get rid of the flotsam – nice choice of words btw – especially Kendrick and see if they can get some relatively decent prospects. No one is going to touch Howard, and Lee and Hamels and Utley are the only reason this team is interesting…My therapist says I am delusion and this is fine with me.

  2. Romus

    May 27, 2014 09:32 AM

    IMO, trade Dom Brown and move Asche to LF with Franco manning 3rd next year.
    And the ‘flotsam’, other then Pettibone, Hernandez, and maybe Ruf or Galvis…let them be available for trade.

    • Michael Baumann

      May 27, 2014 10:52 AM

      The problem with that plan is Asche’s not a good enough hitter to play LF full-time. Sure looks like he can hit enough to play third if he’s even bad defensively, but we’re a long way past “bad.”
      My reluctance to do anything with Brown, Revere or Asche midseason is that all three are at a low point in terms of trade value–I say let it ride at least until the offseason. If they improve, you have either an asset or a contributor, and if they don’t, well, you weren’t going to get much in a trade anyway.

      • Beez Nutz

        May 27, 2014 05:17 PM

        Dom Brown has an OPS+ of 57 … 57 … that is not a typo. I’m sure Asche can hit good enough to play LF over him.

    • hk

      May 27, 2014 03:11 PM

      No one is beating down the door to trade anything of value for Dom at this point, much less for (an injured) Pettibone, Hernandez, Ruf or (an injured) Galvis.

  3. crow

    May 27, 2014 09:58 AM

    This is a good reality check for the “Blow this mess up!” crowd.

    Random observations:

    -The primary argument for trading Hamels (for those inclined that way) is that he’ll be an old, shot pitcher by the time the club is conceivably in a position to contend again. Place against that the message sent not only to the dwindling fan base, but to the high-priced players left behind. Unless, of course, you think making clear that the team is destined to be really bad will induce certain parties not to invoke their 10-and-5/No Trade rights.

    -The “XX” in “XX-Team No-Trade Clause” is often an exercise in driving up the price for teams somebody would MOST like to be traded to, as in, “I’ll need to be induced to take this team off my no-trade list.”

    -A.J.’s contract seems to have been written as it was for 2015 to give him a convenient out if he wants to retire and wants control of any trade for 2015; the Phillies a convenient out if he isn’t great in 2014 or they don’t expect to be competitive in 2015; and the Phillies a reduced AAV hit for 2014 (their actual salary obligation for 2014-2015 is 15 + 7.5 divided by 2 , or 11.25, 2014 AAV instead 15M). It’s an interesting contract.

  4. Bob

    May 27, 2014 12:29 PM

    The problem is that almost all teams realize that there is more value in holding onto their prospects, who are under team control for what feels like forever, than dealing for expensive, older veterans who have limited productive shelf-life. And this team’s key contributors are all on the wrong side of their career.

  5. Jon Cheddar

    May 27, 2014 02:44 PM

    This all hurts and sucks.

    Unloading the “tradeable, but you won’t get much” category guys for whatever they can get, and Lee, if healthy, seems the best course of action. Trading Hamels and Utley doesn’t really work for me because then you need to find stars to replace them, but trading those league-average guys makes those spots somewhat easier to fill.

  6. Beez Nutz

    May 27, 2014 04:33 PM

    They’ve had the bullpen play as bad as possible.
    They’ve had Dom Brown play even worse than I thought he could (and I dont think he’s good).
    They’ve not had a healthy Hamels / Lee pitching at the same time

    Yet they only sit 5 games back, in an NL East that is really weak.

    If you’re already convinced they wont be getting anything of value back, why not just try to enjoy what is most likely the last season (for awhile) that this team is even remotely gonna be close. Hopefully they can stay in it and get Lee back in time. And who knows maybe Howard gets hot at some point.

  7. Roger Freed

    May 28, 2014 01:11 AM

    How much money would the Phillies save if they let Ruben Amaro go?

    • RK

      May 28, 2014 11:20 AM

      Finally a good idea but unfortunately not happening at least not this year.

  8. hags

    May 28, 2014 03:16 PM

    I would think you can get something of value for Burnett and Byrd for sure plus Kendrick and Hernandez have some value if they continue to be decent. Teams on the bubble seem to always be looking for 4th or 5th starters at the deadline to eat innings and keep them in games if their rotation takes an injury hit. Mike Adams should get you something, too, if he stays healthy. You won’t get any top 100 prospects, but you can get some potential lottery tickets.

    Paplebon still has a lot of $ left on his deal. he’s a longshot IMO. IF Lee comes back and shows he’s healthy, I think you have to consider trading him, but he has a lot of $ left, too. I love Hamels, but he’s not a one IMO and if you can’t trade Lee and Cole would bring a haul, you have to consider it to help a reboot here.

    At the end of the day, I think you have to trade any of Burnett, Byrd, Adams, Kendrick, Hernandez / Fausto and Bastardo to try to get lucky with some young players. if you can flip out of any of the albatross contracts – Howard and Paplebon for sure, I’d also move Ruiz – you have to do it (I know – it’s doubtful). For the right price, one of Lee or Hamels should be moved.

    Rollins contract isn’t too bad and we don’t have anyone to replace him with for a few more years, so I’m fine with him staying. Same with Utley, who I think has a pretty team friendly deal.

    We are stuck with an old core and need to do everything we can do find some more young talent to go with them so we don’t suck for the next five years.

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