Crash Landing: Trade Deadline Rumors Are The Worst

Things have been relatively quiet on the trade front over the past few days across baseball in general, but as it regards the Phillies, in particular. Jeremy Hellickson is still the only player generating much buzz and there haven’t been any particular salient rumors in the past few days. In fact, the only recent rumor to get picked up at all was generated as a result of this tweet from ESPN’s Jayson Stark:

This, in combination with a similar report about the Rays’ asking price for the various and sundry starting pitchers they may or may not trade, led to a MLB Trade Rumors headline: “Rays, Phillies Placing High Asking Prices On Starters“. Maybe it’s just me, but reading that headline instantly brought me back to the seemingly never-ending debates and controversies over the asking price for Cole Hamels spanning the offseason prior to the 2015 season all the way through his eventual trade to Texas.

The Phillies front office (Ruben Amaro Jr., in particular) were mocked relentlessly for having unrealistic expectations on a return for Hamels. In the end, they received three global top-75 prospects and two starting pitchers who have already pitched at the major league level — the most significant of whom, Jerad Eickhoff, already looks to be establishing himself as a legitimate #3/#4 starting pitcher.

As hard as it is to believe, no one let me in on the phone calls and meetings surrounding trade negotiations for Hamels a year ago. I don’t know what Amaro’s asking price truly was or what his negotiation tactics looked like. But I do know this much: the Phillies are notoriously tight-lipped with the media during such negotiations. As a result, the leaks being reported about the negotiations came from teams trying to acquire Hamels — teams who stood to benefit form driving down the price. Those sources had no incentive to do anything other than encourage the media to facilitate a dropping of the price.

I don’t blame the media for reporting what little information they had, but I do blame us, the fans, for our reactions to it. Whatever negotiation tactics the Phillies took, the end result was getting a trade return for Hamels that has a very real possibility of having a tremendous positive impact on the team’s ability to compete again soon. That was the goal and it was achieved. We have no way of knowing whether a better package was possible through a different negotiation strategy, but we can analyze what actually did happen. All of the belly-moaning and guffawing which preceded the deal was for naught. Years from now, we may look back with dismay that Nick Williams, Jake Thompson and Jorge Alfaro never panned out as the Phillies would have hoped. Or perhaps will look back in awe at how wonderfully the deal worked out. Time will tell.

But I can guarantee you this much — one thing we won’t do is look back and think, “man, if only the Phillies had a more reasonable asking price in the weeks and months leading up to the deadline.” It was a mind-bogglingly absurd criticism to make from the outside at the time and it feels even more absurd in hindsight. Now that a similar critique is creeping back into the lexicon surrounding the Phillies at this deadline, I can’t help but relive my disdain for this particular line of thinking.

The front office has changed over the past year, but the fundamentals of negotiation haven’t. The starting pitching market is astonishingly limited right now. One could argue that Rich Hill and Andrew Cashner are better trade targets than Jeremy Hellickson right now, but none of them are without flaws. Hellickson is among the better options out there and contending teams need pitching. Of course the asking price is high. Welcome to Supply and Demand 101. The supply is low and the price will adjust accordingly. The Phillies aren’t going to get a franchise altering return for Hellickson, but they should be leveraging the current market as much as possible to maximize whatever return is possible.

The Phillies have leaked that they may be willing to hold on to Hellickson and give him a qualifying offer at the end of the season — yet another way teams use the media to gain an edge during negotiations! — but I would still be shocked if he’s with the team after Monday’s deadline passes. Ultimately, all of the rumors and whispers leading up to the deal will be irrelevant. Just like with Hamels, in the end, all that matters is the final deal. Let the inflammatory headlines wash over you and wait for actual results.

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  1. Edwin

    July 28, 2016 04:25 PM

    Id be perfectly happy with keeping Hellickson. He’s not expensive, he’s pitched well and he’s apparently a great guy that the others like a lot. Flipping him for nothing would be folly and the phillies are doing it right.

    • Romus

      July 28, 2016 05:25 PM

      QO him and if he signs elsewhere the Phillies could get a 31-40 range draft choice in next June’s draft with the added slot money that goes with it.
      Or if he accepts the QO, which would more than double his current yearly salary of $7M to almost $17M, and pitches well enough again next season, and the trade talks again come up next July.
      His agent, however, is Scott Boras, he is not a big QO guy when it comes to his clients..

      • Gil

        July 30, 2016 10:08 AM

        Given the not so ideal outcomes some Boras clients have encountered through accepting the QO, it seems at least possible Hellickson might accept a $10M pay increase to stick around on a one year deal.

    • ryan

      July 29, 2016 10:31 AM

      I also feel the same way. This season he’s pitching like a 3 win pitcher, is still on the right side of 30 and is by all accounts a positive in the clubhouse. If Klentak and co feel there’s a good chance he can maintain even 60% of that output for the next few years, I’d gladly welcome an extension.

      Plus, I love the idea of the 5 young studs sticking together for as long as possible, but they will probably not all get to 200 IP immediately or consistently and I’d love for Hellickson to relieve any pressure for that to happen too soon.

  2. Pete

    July 28, 2016 10:29 PM

    Thank you for this sensible piece. It was infuriating last year listening to Phillies fans swallow the national media Kool-aid saying that the Phillies were asking too much for Hamels. Every one of those national media stories cited as their sources, as you point out, front office personnel on competing teams who had an interest in driving down the price. If one of those stories had a source inside the Phillies, things might be different. But as it was, these national reporters were essentially working for the front offices of teams who wanted to trade for Hamels, just so they could have something, anything to write.

  3. Dave

    July 29, 2016 09:30 AM

    Hear, hear! Great piece. I was outraged last year when the national sites were comparing Hamels to Shields and Samardzija. Then minimizing expectations on a high caliber return on Cole. No one is comparing them now…

    The Phils new(ish) front office seems to have a path, and they seem to be true to it. The transactions they have made to date have been savvy. I expect them to continue to make smart moves.

    That said… trade deadline rumors are a lot of fun! (even if many of them are complete BS)

  4. ryan

    July 29, 2016 10:15 AM

    Speaking of Hamels, he added another gem to the books last night. I’m really hoping he keeps this up down the stretch and take home his first cy young.

    As I was checking on his BR page this morning, I realized that he’s made 33 starts for Texas, which is more or less one full season. In that season he’s gone 19-3, 217 innings, 210ks for 5.6 BWAR. I have to imagine Texas is thrilled with that production. That said, Halladay did that plus some for 2 seasons and Cliff Lee was able to do it for 3. We were really treated to some amazing seasons from outside guys who simply added to the current team. I’m looking forward to the current bunch maturing but it will be pretty cool to add someone like Hamels/Halladay/Lee in 5 or so years.

    • Ryan

      August 01, 2016 10:40 AM

      It’s not going to take five years…

    • Eddie

      August 01, 2016 04:50 PM

      It would be even better to develop one.

  5. Bob

    July 29, 2016 10:39 AM

    The difference between the Hamels and Hellickson rumors is that the Phillies were saying that the market should give them more for Hamels whereas the Phillies are now saying they will get more – sandwich pick – for Hellickson if they hold onto him.

    • Romus

      July 29, 2016 03:14 PM

      Bob….now things may changed of late on Hellickson’s expected return value according to one scribe
      Jeff Passan
      ? ?@JeffPassan
      Sign that the trade market has officially gotten out of hand: Jeremy Hellickson may well fetch at least three, and perhaps four, prospects.
      12:00 PM – 29 Jul 2016

      • David

        July 29, 2016 03:27 PM

        All hail Matt Klentak!

      • Bob

        July 30, 2016 01:49 PM

        That would be an outstanding return.

  6. John

    July 29, 2016 09:57 PM

    Once again you have brought sanity to the usual hysteria surrounding annual trade deadline reporting. The Buster Olneys of the world take their cues from GMs who are buyers and who are desperately trying to drive down what is typically a seller’s market. They consistently portray sellers such as the Phillies as overvaluing the players they are marketing while making unrealistic demands for the talent they are attempting to acquire.
    Too many fans fall for this nonsense. They were quick to criticize Amaro last year, and this year some are turning on Klentak. Take a deep breath, relax, let the market unfold and hope for the best. It is all beyond our control.

    • steve

      July 30, 2016 09:41 AM

      I would consider Hellickson a safer bet that Cashnet or Hill. If a team is looking for a rental, hes the best bet right now. I would absolutely maintain a high asking price. I have no problem offering him a QO next year. If he accepts, we can afford to overpay Hellickson for 200 ip in 2017 while the youngsters settle in. If he turns it down we get a comp pick. This strategy is one of thebreasons the cardinals have stayed so competitive for so long.

  7. steve

    July 30, 2016 09:44 AM

    Just read that VV has been linked to the Rangers…… I know rumors are rumors, but the return would have to be huge, like Hamels huge. He’s young and cheap for a long time to come. The injury risk will always be there, but you can’t give Texas a discount for that. If they want him, come and get him. Mazara starts the conversation

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