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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