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.

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  1. Eric D

    August 01, 2016 07:10 PM

    I’ve been stomping my feet on twitter and PhuturePhillies about the QO. Everyone is so sure that he declines the offer, like you I’m not. My question would be why? Why take your QO and 3 of your past 4 seasons pitching BELOW league average (this year he’s finally at league average and just at it, even with his last 4-6 starts) to the FA market when you can collect a quick 17m and be a free agent again the following year. You said yourself that Happ got that contract with all those other pitchers on the market, so why can’t he in 2018 as well? Some teams are going to lose out on the studs and teams need back end pitching. Figure that any team that is rebuilding won’t sign him (they won’t want to lose a top 40 pick), any team with a weak system i’d assume would feel the same. Also there might be teams, like the Phillies who will want to wait until the 2018 class. And the Boras thing, eh I don’t buy that either, he’s had a client accept a QO before.

    PS People do realize the QO would be more then he’s made in his WHOLE CAREER combined, right? The Boras thing, eh I don’t buy that either, he’s had a client accept a QO before.

    • Steve

      August 01, 2016 08:08 PM

      1) it wouldnt be the worst thing to have Hellickson in 2017 at 16.7 mil. Yes thats very expenaive for, well, Jeremy Hellickson, but money is no object next year and its only a 1 year commitment. I actually see him as a nice 4th Sp/ insurance policy should any of the young arms get hurt or falter. Again very expensive but who cares.
      2) I would put it at 50/50 he turns down the QO. If he finishes the season as strong as hes been pitching lately, he will have 200 ip, an era around 3.50, and be under 30 in the middle of a weak FA class. Yes the QO attachment will discourage some teams, but a 3/45 is fairly possible for him. I know the AAV isnt more than 16.5 but the possibility of 45 mil guaranteed is much more attractive than 16.5 on a bad to average team for a guy who has had an inconsistant career.

      • Eddie

        August 02, 2016 01:07 PM

        To add onto Steve’s point #1: even if Hellickson signs the QO, he’s still tradable. There will be teams needing pitching next July, too. For that matter, they could sign him to the QO, then immediately shop him around this winter, offering to eat half the $16.7 in exchange for a prospect. They probably wouldn’t do that (though I would), but certainly they could, and Hellickson knows he’d be in for another year as tradebait if he resigns here.

        Which also adds to the chances he favors a long-term deal. After changing teams twice in two years and spending all summer as tradebait, a non-rebuilding team offering Hellickson a three or four year deal is going to be awfully appealing. He’s never going to be in a better position to determine the direction his career takes, and focusing on immediate cash right now would be very foolish. Unless his ERA climbs in the last two months, I’d be very surprised to see him sign the QO.

      • JustBob

        August 02, 2016 01:21 PM

        It continually gets asserted that money is no object for the Phils despite record MLB reductions in payroll the last two seasons and a likely further reduction again this offseason.

        If the Phils are only going to run a $80 million payroll next year on Opening Day, offering Hellickson $17M isn’t that attractive of a value proposition.

      • Dante

        August 02, 2016 02:10 PM

        Eddie – if Hellickson signs the QO, they can’t trade him before 6/15 without his permission, and I doubt he would give it, even if he knew he’d be traded by July.

      • Steve

        August 04, 2016 06:05 AM

        Well, theyve shown before they have no problem raising payroll up to (but not over) the luxury tax threshold. I dont expect them to waste money, but i also see no reason why they need to limit themselves to an 80 million dollar payroll. Has that been mentioned somewhere previously that i overlooked? Even with a bolstered minor league roster, the organization’s biggest asset is still financial flexibility. It would be a mistake to not take advantage of that.

  2. Dante

    August 02, 2016 08:40 AM

    Happ’s deal is for 3/$36 mil, not $45 mil. And while I also thought of Happ, I moreso compare his situation to Marco Estrada, who was extended the qualifying offer but decided to rejoin the Jays before he had to decide on accepting it. Estrada is also a flyball pitcher with modest strikeout ability who has struggled at times as a backend starter (though he is a few years older then Hellickson). It’s a telling scenario, as Hellickson would also be similarly wary of what a declined offer would do to his free agent marketability. If pitchers with a better track record like Ervin Santana and Kyle Lohse have been blackballed in recent years due to the “scarlet offer”, Hellickson must realize his best bet is to accept, and re-enter the market at 30.

    • Corinne Landrey

      August 02, 2016 09:14 AM

      Thanks for the catch. It’s been fixed.

  3. Romus

    August 02, 2016 08:54 AM

    MK’s not moving Hellickson is disappointing to me.
    I can understand not moving Chooch, Hernandez , Velasquez and even Howeard…but not JH.
    Phillies claimed to want a ‘top five prospect’, major league ready plus another close to it.
    Well that makes no sense to me because:
    1. Between the Pigs and Fightins there are numerous major league ready players, I count 9 or 10, with ETA NLT Sept 2017…and that is not counting the pitchers.
    I would have asked for 2 or 3 prospects in the 10-15 range, that are 19/20 year old players from a system’s A level. Pipeline cannot go dry again.
    2. Helly is a pretty big risk……first there is always the injury factor and with pitchers that is higher and , then he is a 7-year 9WAR career pitcher …and who’s best years before this year were 4 and 5 years ago…… rather unreliable and inconsistent.
    3. The QO issue…..odds he will refuse, but he could accept….one Boras client did last year, but different circumstance wit Matt Weiters…..and will there be a market out there. Will a team be willing to surrender a pick to sign him long term.

    • Steve

      August 02, 2016 10:50 AM

      We dont know that any of the guys in LHV or Reading are major league ready. Yes many look the part, but you never know. VV has to he shutdown eventually, Eflins numbers are good but hes not a finished product and you could argue he is overacheiving. Nola hasnt looked right for a month. Eickhoff has been very consistant, but he is what he is, a solid 3/4 SP.
      Helly was brought is to provide innings, stabilize a young rotation with lots of questions, and provide some experience/guidence. He has done that, and trading for him has proven to be a good move, even if we dont flip him for a prospect/pick.
      I wouldnt have wanted to trade him for prospects with less value than a comp pick. I know the comp pick isnt a guarantee, but ill take that risk. I dont think our low a rosters are so barren that we need to trade contributing major league players just for depth.

    • KMG

      August 02, 2016 06:56 PM

      I agree. I do not see his value being higher than it is today, given his past history. If that value only fetches a couple of lottery tickets, so be it. And I understand that injuries occur and you need depth, but as of right now isn’t the plan for 2017 Nola, VV, Eichoff, Thompson, and Eflin? I would have made a deal and I think Klentak dropped the ball here.

      • Steve

        August 04, 2016 06:10 AM

        Eflin just got shelled, although he had been effective previously. Nola is hurt, Thompson has never pitched in the majors. I dont know that planning on those 5 guys to be in the rotation all year in 17 is a safe bet.

      • Steve

        August 04, 2016 06:11 AM

        Also, the goal isnt to have Helly pitch for us next year, you would hope he rejects the QO. All im saying is, of he accepts the QO it wouldnt be terrible.

  4. ryan

    August 02, 2016 09:01 AM

    I’ve said it before, but with the going price of a free agency win, he’d only need to replicate this season for 16.7 to be a fair deal or about 2 wins a year if they lock him up to a 2 or 3 year deal in Happ’s salary range.

    I’m going to go ahead and assume that Klentak and co valued their assets and weren’t able to get an offer that outweighed them. There are two particular aspects that I think we’re all valuing less than Klentak may be. First, he may value the reputation he just gained as someone who can’t/won’t be bullied by fan expectations and a ticking clock. That could certainly play up well in future, more meaningful negotiations. Second, it’s a weak FA class and now the phillies have exclusive bargaining power with possibly the best starter available. 29 teams would need to forfeit a first or second round pick for his services. We won’t know how it plays out for a while, but there is certainly some surplus value still intact.

    • Romus

      August 02, 2016 09:18 AM

      If Helly refuses the QO , and isn’t signed by mid-January, then all likelihood he will be a mid-summer signing…teams do not sign pitchers after that time unless a couple of their starters go down in ST, and the Phillies have to hope the new CBA from Dec/January., does not change the compensation package , since the Phillies will not get anything until the 2018 Rule 4….and there are no guarantees if the QO option will still be on the table.
      I just assume Helly is grandfathered under the old CBA, along with all players on expiring contacts after Nov 2016.

  5. Edwin

    August 02, 2016 09:26 AM

    Well you don’t just trade someone for nothing and that’s basically what they probably would have gotten. It’s a gamble but a relatively smart one to give a QO with the expectation that he’ll turn it down. Somebody is bound to sign him if he keeps pitching like he’s this season and if he accepts the offer so what. Worse things have happened and they can still trade him in the future. The last thing the Phillies needed to do was trade him just for the sake of trading him. Remember when the Phillies traded for Pence and then flipped him. Amaro seemed to feel like he had to make the move and it did turn out so great in the end.

    • Bob

      August 02, 2016 11:10 AM

      I think a lot of people ignore what you pointed out. Even if Hellickson accepts the QO, we can still trade him next year. Everyone knows what type of pitcher Hellickson is. He’ll give you 7.5 k/9, 2.0 walks, a FIP of 4.00. His velocity is steady. 40% GB rate. In other words, we’ll get the same value we did this year for him next year.

      The only real risk is him getting hurt, but it’s a risk that I’d be willing to take to get a 1/2 pick. Getting a sandwich pick is very, very valuable to a tanking club. We can get a legit prospect there.

      • JustBob

        August 02, 2016 01:25 PM

        If he is making $17 million next year, that eliminates a number of smaller market teams unless the Phils are willing to send along considerable cash in the deal.

      • Bob

        August 02, 2016 01:39 PM

        The Phillies have shown an inclination to eat money to consummate deals in the recent past, e.g. Byrd and Hamels. They were willing to eat a ton of money on Howard. I don’t see why they wouldn’t in Hellickson’s case as well.

  6. glovesdroppa

    August 02, 2016 10:24 AM

    What do you think about Puig? If the dodgers designate him should the phils take a chance on him?

    • Steve

      August 02, 2016 10:53 AM

      I would. Shouldnt take much of a financial comitment and if he doesnt work out we can simply toss him aside as well. Too much talent there to not at least try

      • glovesdroppa

        August 02, 2016 12:55 PM

        Yeah that’s pretty much my reasoning for it too. Don’t have to give up much at all. He makes $10+ mil but no one on this team is making much money besides Howard and Ruiz. If he starts acting up just designate him or let him go.

    • Romus

      August 02, 2016 10:58 AM

      Phillies have first claim…….offer David Buchanan…..take it or leave…Dodgers will probably take it….and they need pitching anyway.

    • Dave

      August 02, 2016 01:59 PM

      Would love to see if Mackanin could extract some better performance from Puig… I bet he could. An OF of Altherr-Odubel-Puig would be a lot of fun to watch for the rest of the season.

      Bourjos is CF/4th OF. Can’t hit enough to play a corner. Asche is (sadly) looking like he’s just a placeholder at this point.

      Gotta belive the Phils at least inquired on Puig… and that it would have taken a ton more than Buchanan. (unless the Dodgers are just fed up with him)

      • Romus

        August 02, 2016 03:28 PM

        I would offer the Dodgers their pick of one of the below four for Puig:

        1. Ben Lively
        2. Adam Morgan
        3. John Richy
        4. David Buchanan.
        I would think the top two would interest them since they are doing well.
        Richy goes back home…they know him..drafted him in the 3rd round two years ago.
        Buch…probably pass.

      • Dante

        August 03, 2016 08:27 AM

        Romus – I don’t think any of those besides Lively would interest them. they may want a higher upside, higher risk low level prospect like Kilome, which I would be ok with. However, I’m not sure the Phils would pull the trigger on a trade unless they plan on moving Herrera back to the infield, or think Williams will not be ready soon, or Altherr is not an everyday guy.

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