Phillies Acquire Jeremy Hellickson from the Diamondbacks

MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports that the Phillies are finalizing a trade with the Diamondbacks for starter Jeremy Hellickson. MLB.com‘s Steve Gilbert reports the Phillies are sending pitcher Sam McWilliams to Arizona. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury was the first to break news of the trade.

Hellickson, 28, is entering his third and final year of arbitration eligibility after earning $4.275 million in 2015. The right-hander struggled this past season, finishing with a 4.62 ERA and a 121/43 K/BB ratio in 146 innings. While he will get a raise in arbitration, it won’t be much — likely in the $5 million range.

Hellickson has had three awful seasons in a row, under-performing his peripherals by about a half-run of ERA. He’s compiled a strikeout rate between 18 and 19 percent while walking around seven percent. His propensity to allow fly balls has made him a bit homer-prone, serving up 54 of them in 383 2/3 innings since the start of the 2013 season.

GM Matt Klentak is buying low on Hellickson. He will turn 29 in April and if he’s able to put things together in the first half, he could make himself attractive to contending teams and the team could flip him. Moreover, if the Phillies’ front office sees long term potential, he could be an extension candidate as well.

There is one red flag: Hellickson had surgery on his elbow in January 2014. Fortunately, it was only to remove “loose bodies” but it is still something to keep in mind. He also suffered a hamstring injury that knocked him out for about a month in the second half of last season.

McWilliams, 20, was selected by the Phillies in the eighth round of the 2014 draft. As Matt Winkelman of Phillies Minor Thoughts notes, McWilliams can hit the mid-90’s with his fastball and has “huge upside”. In the Gulf Coast League last season, he pitched 33 innings to the tune of a 3.27 ERA and a 21/5 K/BB ratio. Winkelman adds that McWilliams really only has a fastball at the moment, so it’s not much of a loss considering the amount of minor league depth the Phillies have now.

Signing a free agent would have been easier, but Hellickson gives the Phillies some longer-term value potential, though the probability of that potential being realized is rather low.

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15 comments

  1. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    November 14, 2015 04:58 PM

    I’m not sure why the Phillies made this move. It seems like a pitcher of Hellickson’s caliber could easily be purchased on the open market, a la Roberto Hernandez or Jerome Williams, and even if you have to pay a little bit more, payroll should not be an issue for this organization. McWilliams is far away from the majors, but he’s not a scrub. It seems like the organization should be stockpiling 20-year-old starting pitchers with upside, not trading them for 150 mediocre innings.

    • Steve

      November 14, 2015 05:55 PM

      Mostly agree. I do think Hellickson has the potential to be better than Hernandez, Harang, etc. That being said, i think a similar pitcher could be had without giving up a prospect. The “Huge upside” label made me cringe. A rotation of Nola, Hellickson, Eickhoff, Morgan, FA is looking a little better for the BP.

  2. Romus

    November 14, 2015 06:08 PM

    A take it or leave it deal…..but if Hellickson can stay healthy and have an slightly above average first three months…perhaps a July flip for a prospect more major ready then McWilliams. McWilliams’ K/9 in the GCL was not flashy at 5.67 last year, but he did show promise and you have to like his size.

  3. Ryan

    November 14, 2015 07:33 PM

    I like the move. Hellickson is clearly a couple steps above Jerome Williams and some others. He was actually a pretty good player at one point.

  4. Steve (Tampa)

    November 15, 2015 07:06 AM

    Smart signing. A low level, low floor prospect for a 28 year old starting pitcher who can give us 160-180 innings next season? What’s to think about? Even contributing at less than 1 WAR next season, he only need to be presentable to fetch a return of comparable value to McWilliams at the trade deadline. It’s hardly a flashy move, but its Shrewd on Klentak’s part

    • Romus

      November 15, 2015 07:44 AM

      Agree, and the possibility of a return for Hellickson could be closer to major league ready then McWilliams, who looks to be headed for Arizona’s Low A afffliate in 2016.

      • Bubba0101

        November 15, 2015 09:14 AM

        Right. Doesnt Hellickson profile as a #4 with upside of a #3 and downside of a #5? If we just traded a long term project for our future #5 or possibly a better prospect who is closer to being in the bigs, then I think it’s a winning move. As stated above, hes pitched half a run worse than his peripherals so maybe this was a numbers gamble that he would probably catch up to those peripherals? His fly ball rate is a bit concerning since a weak fly ball can get out of CBP with a light breeze.

      • Andrew Cleveland Alexander

        November 15, 2015 09:36 AM

        Yeah, but aren’t there any number of other pitchers on the open market who could provide what Hellickson will provide next season? He’ll be a free agent afterward so this is really just a one year investment. One thing that I don’t think Amaro gets enough credit for is that, after he dug the hole with the Pence deal, he stopped digging–he didn’t trade any other prospects, significant or not, with the exception of Trevor May in the Ben Revere deal. I agree that McWilliams is far away, and–like most prospects–probably won’t ever amount to much. I’m just saying that I’m not sure why it was necessary to acquire this pitcher in a trade, when other similarly skilled pitchers could be bought on the open market.

      • Romus

        November 15, 2015 09:58 AM

        Alexander…I beg to differ.
        Hellickson on a one year deal at $6m for a healthy pitcher at age29 may be a bargain. The open FA market may not give a team the opp to sign a pitcher …for just one year at that price. Plus most are 30-years old and older.
        Many pitchers are coming off bad years or injuries…the good ones will not want t be in a rotation with a last place team or on a one-year deal.
        There are the Kyle kendricks out there, but Hellickson may be a better trade chip gamble.
        If Hellickson stays healthy and is also able to be a tick above average he could be enticing to a contender.

      • Steve

        November 15, 2015 06:05 PM

        Romus, you are right that a 29 yr old of Hellicksons calibur would cost more than 1 yr 6 mil on the FA market, however those are really irrelevant attributes.
        Since its only a one year deal, age is not as important. Signing a 32 year old FA for one year isnt much different than a 29 yr old Hellickson, especially considering he has some health risks himself. If we were talking about a 3 yr + contract id agree with you 100%.

        Money also isnt an issue for this team in 2016. There is pleanty of money to spend on one year deals. I think Alex Clevelands point was why not just sign a similar FA and keep McWilliams, even if the FA costs you 10 mil/1 yr.

        Overall, i think theres upside in Hellickson, and McWilliams is a long shot anyway. The Hellickson flip is an interesting possibility, but i cant see him pitching well enough to risk giving him a qualifying offer

  5. joe2

    November 15, 2015 11:47 AM

    Could Hellickson make it through the season with a better season than any of the last 3 and not be traded then he can (a) he resigned by Phillies for a longer deal or (b) get a qualifying offer as a FA whereby the Phils could get a draft pick. The pick would be equivalent to a 2nd rounder. Then it’s not a bad trade at all. Flip a 20 year old who “might” make it to majors in 5 years.

    I know it’s a major stretch but is it a possibility. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Timber

    November 16, 2015 12:07 AM

    Here’s a blurb from a post I wrote over at thegoodphight explaining the free agent market for one year deals:

    ” here’s the current crop of free agent starters who pitched more innings than Hellickson last year AND might be willing to sign a one year contract:

    1. Bartolo Colon, 194.2 innings, 4.16 ERA
    2. Mark Buehrle, 198.2 innings, 3.81 ERA (if he doesn’t retire)
    3. Alfredo Simon, 187.0 innings, 5.05 ERA
    4. Aaron Harang, 172.1 innings, 4.86 ERA
    5. Kyle Lohse, 152.1 innings, 5.85 ERA
    6. Jeremy Guthrie, 148.1 innings, 5.95 ERA
    7. Kyle Kendrick, 142.1 innings, 6.32 ERA (technically less innings than Hellickson, but I’m making a point, and Kyle Kendrick certainly helps make that point)

    Outside of Colon and Buehrle, that’s a train wreck of (mostly old) starters, and Hellickson is a better pitcher than all of them. The rest of the 1 year contract candidates are either players coming off of injuries, or starters who got demoted to bullpen duty. There are a couple mildly interesting names in that group, but there’s no assurances any of them sign with the Phillies, and interesting names don’t necessarily eat innings (they were demoted to the bullpen for a reason).

    The ability to eat innings as the sole qualification seems like we’re setting the bar a bit low. But the inability of Phillies starters to pitch deep into games killed the bullpen early last year and forced a slew of on the fly decisions to unnecessarily shuffle players, and their roles, around (see De Fratus, Justin).

    The Phillies are looking for two pitchers capable of holding rotation spots, so trading for Hellickson now means less of a chance they’re scrap heap shopping later in the offseason. And from a morale perspective, having someone under 30 capable of holding down a rotation spot for most of the year is a step in the right direction. If it took losing a “projectable” arm most fans have never even heard of (and probably never will again), so be it.”

    • Romus

      November 16, 2015 07:48 AM

      Very well put Timber.
      As you post, Hellickson , of that group above you mention, would appear on the face, to be near the top.
      To get quality FA pitchers anymore to sign a one-year, or even a two-year deal, are remote.
      And if the pitcher is not even or thirty or just a tick older , say 31. it also gets very tenuous in that kind of an arrangement.
      Pitchers who need to rebound from poor previous season (s) may do it….ie Doug Fister, Edwin Jackson et al….but they prove also to be gambles.
      I hope the intent of Klentalk and the phillies is to be a representative team on the field in 2016 AND also have the ability to move the pitchers are the trade deadline for a prospect or two in the rebuild process.

      • Romus

        November 16, 2015 07:49 AM

        ‘at’ vs ‘are’ trade deadline..

    • Francisco (FC)

      November 16, 2015 08:57 AM

      I would also like to point out the Buehrle has apparently indicated that he will either pitch for the Cardinals or retire so there’s a 0% chance of signing him anyway.

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