A Quiet Deadline In Philadelphia
A few weeks ago, I set up a “Who will the Phillies trade before the deadline?” poll on the sidebar. If you were one of the 6% who said “no one”, congratulations. The deadline has come and gone and the Phillies roster remains as is. Jeremy Hellickson will (presumably) make his next start in red pinstripes. Jeanmar Gomez is (presumsably) still the Phillies closer. The surprisingly effect Carlos Ruiz / Cameron Rupp catching tandem remains intact. The 2016 Phillies are today what they were yesterday.
It’s hard to be upset about the lack of trade activity. The most talked about trade chip, Jeremy Hellickson, is a league average pitcher who will be a free agent at the end of the season, but he’s also coming off three consecutive seasons in which he was well below league average for the Rays and the Diamondbacks. His 3.70 ERA is middling as is and his track record is not one that instills confidence he’ll be able to sustain even that moderate success going forward.
Of course, part of the argument for keeping Hellickson is that the Phillies will be able to extend him a qualifying offer this winter. The Phillies have hinted they expect he will reject the offer and sign with another team which would result in the team getting a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. I’m less convinced that this plan is a lock to work out as described.
The qualifying offer this winter is expected to be $16.7M. The starting pitching free agent market has doled out some impressively large contracts in recent years to league average pitchers, but is that enough for Hellickson to forgo nearly $17M guaranteed? Last year’s free agent who Hellickson reminds me the most of us J.A. Happ who received a 3-year/$36M deal (or $12M AAV) from Toronto on the strength of an incredible second half run with Pittsburgh. The big differences between the two: 1) Happ was traded midseason which prevented him from getting a qualifying offer and, therefore, meant the acquiring team didn’t have to give up a draft pick in order to sign him. 2) Happ was 33 years old and Hellickson will turn 30 at the start of next season. 3) Happ was one member of a free agent class rich in start pitching talent including David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, etc. while Hellickson will (incredibly) be among the best available starting pitchers on the market this season alongside guys like Rich Hill and Andrew Cashner.
If Hellickson continues pitching as well as he has this year, it stands to reason that he could turn down nearly $17M guaranteed — why yes it does feel absolutely ridiculous to write those words in that order, thanks for asking — but it’s far from a given. If he struggles over the final two months of the season, extending the qualifying offer becomes a riskier proposition for the Phillies.
As for the rest of the Phillies who stick around, there really aren’t any surprises. Teams have been paying top dollar for relief pitchers and closer Jeanmar Gomez has put together a nice season, but he’s still Jeanmar Gomez. It was conceivable that a market could have developed for Gomez, but he’s 28 years old, has only one year of team control remaining, and possesses a pitch repertoire that is uninspiring, so it’s really not a shock that a trade never materialized. Cody Asche has been awful recently and is likely a utility player, at best. Peter Bourjos is injured. Cameron Rupp has long-term value to the Phillies, making a deal unlikely. All in all, their trade chips weren’t terribly promising beyond Hellickson.
There was, of course, one other surprise trade target on the Phillies in Vincent Velasquez. Due to the fact that Velasquez still has five remaining years of team control, the onus was on the acquiring team to put together a deal the Phillies couldn’t resist. The Phillies were not in a position where trading him was a necessity and, absent a dynamite return package, they had every incentive to stand pat. It will be interesting to see if a market reemerges for Velasquez (or any of the Phillies other young pitchers, for that matter) this winter.
It’s still possible, perhaps even likely, that the Phillies will make trades during the month of August. Hellickson’s relatively low salary makes it unlikely that he’ll fall to a contending team on the waiver wire and young(ish) pre-arbitration guys like Rupp and the rest of the rotation are effectively untradable this month. Guys like Bourjos, Gomez or David Hernandez, however, could still potentially be on the move.
After trade deadlines have delivered on the hype in recent seasons, this one is less than satisfying for Phillies fans. Given the talent currently on the roster, however, the inactivity didn’t come as much of a shock.