Crashburn Roundtable: Hellickson, Herrera, and Expiring Contracts

Welcome to the first edition of the rebooted Crashburn Roundtable, where I ask the staff a few questions about current state of the Phillies, and get the group’s perspective on a variety of issues. This week, we actually have all six writers on board with responses, covering a potential Jeremy Hellickson qualifying offer, trade rumors surrounding Odubel Herrera, and the expiring contracts of four veteran role players.

The three major variations of Wins Above Replacement (rWAR, fWAR, and WARP) each rate Jeremy Hellickson as a slightly above-average pitcher in 2016. At the same time, qualifying offers are expected to rise to $16.7 million this offseason – would the Phillies be happy if he accepted the qualifying offer? If not, is that risk enough to make the entire gamble not worth it?

Michael Schickling: As currently constructed, the Phillies have no veteran starting pitchers under contract for 2017, assuming they decline Charlie Morton’s$ 9.5 million mutual option. Maybe the front office will feel comfortable rolling with a rotation of all young guys with less than 2 years of experience, but something tells me that’s not going to happen. They’ll likely want to at least sign a veteran back end of the rotation type to help the young pitchers grow. Consider the types of contracts that were handed out to average pitchers last offseason:

roundtable-chart

According to at least one measure, pitchers similar to Hellickson averaged roughly three times the overall guarantee in years and money than the qualifying offer would provide. By all accounts, he has been a model employee and a great teammate as well, and given the rate at which pitchers get injured, I think extending the qualifying offer to Jeremy Hellickson is a risk well worth taking.

Ben Harris: Given the makeup of the rotation, there’s a definite role for Jeremy Hellickson on the 2017 Phillies. Throughout the course of a season, countless external factors tear at the seams of rotations. Be it youthful inconsistency or the 162-game grind that leaves elbows, shoulders and even knees tattered and torn, starting rotations rarely go according to plan. Welcome to 2016. Hellickson can be the glue that allows the Phillies to piece together a respectable starting five throughout the seven-month campaign. I love hearing that he spends time with the young pitchers during their bullpens and is an active rotation-mate, but I think his role is more than that.

On the bump, Hellickson has proven that both his curveball and changeup are among the best pitches in the league: each is one of the 40 best pitches in baseball this season (measured by opposing batting average). No other pitcher can claim that feat. And we’ve seen much older pitchers—cough cough, 36-year-old Rich Hill—find success by reinventing their approach based around a single offering. That isn’t to say you should expect Hellickson to post a two-ish ERA or have a career year like Hill’s 2016, but two go-to offspeed pitches is more than most pitchers can claim to have.

Brad Engler: This is probably the least consequential decision ever to be the most consequential decision of any team’s off-season. I think the Phils will look at the market and see plenty of room for Hellickson to take a bigger payday than $16.7M, and QO him with no expectation of him signing. We’re also assuming the impending update to the CBA will return the same punishment for signing a QO, which is a bit of a leap at this point. If the punishment is eased, the likelihood someone signs Hellickson goes up. If the Phils have any notion of where that will land, I’m sure it will factored in as well. Because not doing so would be absurd *side-eyes that guy standing near first base in Boston*.

Adam Dembowitz: Based on everything the club has said, I think the Phillies would be quite pleased to have Hellickson take the QO. There are a lot of young, promising arms in the organization, but they are volatile too, and largely unproven (except, to varying degrees, Nola, Eickhoff, and Velasquez). Hellickson has rebounded nicely this year into a steady, if boring, veteran arm. From a financial standpoint, I see no risk. The Phillies have next to no money on the books, and even if something like an injury happens to Helly, paying a reasonable salary for a dependable pitcher won’t be seen as a mistake.

Dave Tomar: “Slightly above-average” happens to place Hellickson slightly ahead of preseason expectations. As young and exciting talents like Eikhoff and Velasquez navigated ups and downs, Hellickson was the relative model of veteran consistency for the Phillies in 2016. There’s no reason to think we’ll be overflowing with that kind of commodity in 2017. And with few compelling veteran arms on the market, Hellickson’s value only gets higher in the coming year. With 12-9 record, 3.57 ERA, 1.142 WHIP, and 149 Ks, this was Hellickson’s best season since his 2011 Rookie of the Year campaign. The Phillies would be more than happy to welcome him back next year at $16.7 million. At the very worst, a healthy Hellickson will be a movable midseason trading chip.

Timothy Guenther: As to whether the Phillies would be happy with a slightly above average pitcher on a one year, $16.7 million contract, the answer is yes. As to whether they should be confident that Hellickson is that pitcher, there are two points to consider. One: that he has incrementally increased his K-BB% each year he’s been in the league, to the point where he is presently better than the league average in that regard. And two: that he has re-found his ability to induce a high rate of popups, a talent that drove his early career success but was noticeably absent from his 2014-2015 seasons. While the former skill is more reliable, year-to year, than that the latter, both should give the front office a level of confidence that Hellickson will carry his success into next year.

Four prominent veterans in part-time roles have expiring contracts this season. Do any of Andres Blanco, Peter Bourjos, AJ Ellis, and David Hernandez have a future on the 2017 Phillies?

Schickling: Andres Blanco, despite his injury this year, has been a boon to the team on the field and in the clubhouse over the past couple years. I think the Phillies will definitely want to bring him back; however, the cost may be prohibitive, as Good Player + Positional Versatility + Clubhouse Mentour = $$$ (at least for a utility guy). Either way, I’d guess he has the best odds of staying put.

Peter Bourjos strikes out way too much to be a valuable contributor at the plate, but his work in the outfield and on the bases has been very good. He could stick around as a fifth outfielder, but as the Phillies have a couple prospects knocking on the Major League door (recently promoted Roman Quinn, Nick Williams) and several already somewhat established in the majors (Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Tyler Goedell), he is likely to be gone in the offseason. If the Phillies have the chance to add an impact outfielder, then they should, but they shouldn’t block a prospect for a player of Peter Bourjos’ caliber.

AJ Ellis came to the Phillies in the Carlos Ruiz trade, and he plays a very Chooch-like role on these Phillies. His effect on the young staff, especially the recently shut down Vincent Velaszquez has reportedly been exceedingly positive. That being said, the Phillies already have several young catchers under contract including the surprisingly effective Cameron Rupp and the recently promoted Jorge Alfaro. While neither of them may be All-Star caliber right now, neither is the 35-year-old Ellis. He’s probably gone. David Hernandez is a mediocre relief pitcher. His 4ish ERA and FIP are replaceable, as are his 19 shutdowns to 10 meltdowns. Not that much to say about him. He’s probably gone.

Harris: Three hard no’s and yes: good riddance A.J., Pete and David. Blanco, on the other hand, becomes more valuable to this young organization. No longer is Ryan Howard or Chooch the elder statesman in the clubhouse. Blanco notches every box on the veteran role player application: versatility in the field, production at the plate, and positive veteran presence. We’ve seen that players look up to Blanco, and his role is doubly important because the longest tenured players—and many presumptive offensive cornerstones—that will serve as role models for incoming prospects are almost solely Latin American. Franco, Hernandez, Galvis, Herrera. Blanco’s role with these players has been well covered and should not be understated. That is, unless you think Freddy Galvis’ five short years of experience, or Cesar Hernandez’s four qualify them to lead a rebuilding process.

Engler: I can’t see them keeping Bourjos or Hernandez, since both have been, for lack of better term, bad, but I think they have to try to bring back Blanco on a one-year deal. With Galvis’ power right now, maybe there’s a trade market for him this offseason. That could lead the club to see Blanco as the opening day fallback at SS in 2017 if J.P. Crawford isn’t ready or mysteriously seems ready but needs more seasoning until a time that happens, BY SHEER COINCIDENCE, to line up with either of his service-time-related cutoff dates. In that case, they might, not trusting Jesmuel Valentin or Cesar Hernandez to play the role, see Blanco as the primary SS backup for 2018 as well, and offer him a second year. That’s a lot of ifs and maybes, though. Ellis is an option, but I would be ok with them just going with Knapp and Rupp to start and see if Alfaro forces a change with his progress. Or they could try to deal Rupp while his value is high and try to keep Ellis to help mentor Knapp and/or Alfaro. Or, (oh man this is a great idea), bring back Carlos Ruiz to do the same. Ok, that’s what I want them to do, now.

Dembowitz: I don’t think there’s a place for Hernandez, Ellis, or Bourjos next season, just based on playing time and roster considerations. The most likely to come back, to me, is Blanco. There are some questions about the corner infielders plugged in for next year, and Blanco can fill in there as needed, pinch hit, and not to be overlooked, can also be a veteran leader in a suddenly very young clubhouse.

Tomar: Last month, David Hernandez told reports that he thinks it’s ridiculous that Tim Tebow wants to play baseball. That’s my favorite thing that he’s done all season. With a .252/.293/.391 slash, Peter Bourjos once again illustrated in 2016 that his glove is the only reason for his gainful employment. Cameron Rupp’s emergence and Jorge Alfaro’s arrival make A.J. Ellis a spare part. Blanco is a plug-and-play veteran whose usefulness off the bench far outweighs last year’s $1.45 million price tag. He’s worth re-upping at a similar rate.

Geunther: Andres Blanco is everything you’d want in a utility infielder. He can play anywhere, hits well coming off the bench, is supposedly a great mentor and clubhouse presence, and probably moonlights as a crime-fighting vigilante on the streets of Philadelphia in his spare time. Barring a roster crunch, it’s easy to see the organization wanting him back in a Phillies uniform next year. There’s a case to be made for A.J. Ellis, and it would stem from a lack of confidence in some combination of Rupp/Knapp/Alfaro handling a developing pitching staff. If they choose to go with a veteran backup for that very reason, I would think that Ellis has the inside track if he wants the job.

Who are these other two guys you’re asking about?

There have been several unspecified rumors about the Phillies’ interest in trading Odubel Herrera this offseason; how much interest should the team have in moving the All-Star?

Schickling: In some cases, unsubstantiated trade rumors are actually true. In other cases, the media reads into a manager’s dissatisfaction with a team’s best player and “infers” a desire to trade. The Phillies probably talked about trading Odubel; the Phillies probably talked about trading just about everyone in the organization with the exception of JP Crawford. Let’s not read too much into these rumors. That being said, if there is interest, and the Phillies can get back major-league ready talent (say maybe a second baseman to push Cesar Hernandez and/or Freddy Galvis to their rightful roles as utility players or a third baseman to push Maikel Franco to first), they should definitely consider it. But at this point, the Phillies are out of the teardown phase and into the building phase of the rebuild. While his defense may be a little suspect in center field and his offense may have stalled after a hot start, Odubel Herrera has established himself as an above-average player, averaging 3.6 WAR per 600 PA in his career. Unless the Phillies can get an equally valuable player at a position of greater need, they should not trade their young star.

Harris: We all scoffed at the nameless executive who proposed this in May. On the day he did, Odubel was slashing .324/.445/.432 with a 141 wRC+. His walk rate was a lofty 18.2%, three-and-a-half points higher than his career rate in six years of minor league play. Turns out that may have been the time in which they’d receive the largest return for Herrera’s services. His walk rate the remainder of the season dropped to 13.1% with a slightly below average 97 wRC+. His all-star season wasn’t quite all-star caliber, but shipping him off at this point seems counter productive. If he can tap back into the plate discipline he unleashed to begin the season, he would surely be a spark plug that could both set the table and drive in runs for a young lineup. Even if he doesn’t, I believe he’s an offensive asset, but likely not one that would command a beneficial return via trade at this point.

Engler: There may soon be a logjam in the outfield, but centerfield possibility Aaron Altherr was bad this year after he came back from injury, and Roman Quinn has yet to prove durable. Nick Williams isn’t likely redundant since he fits better in a corner. Ditto Dylan Cozens and Tyler Goeddel, both of whom will need time at AAA anyway. And if any of the club’s future outfield plans depend on Cody Asche or Darin Ruf, we all might as well just pack it in. Giving Odubel half a year to show his worth and let others develop a bit more, then either dealing Herrera or signing him through his arb years is how I would operate. Looking at the hit tool and his still-developing defense in center, he could be cheap and productive when the club is a viable playoff contender, and it’s hard to just let that go.

Dembowitz: I’m skeptical of a Herrera trade at this point. He’s the only outfielder who’s proven at the major league level. Obviously he has had a big slump in the second half, and maybe he’s closer to the .350 OBP / .400 SLG guy we’re seeing now than the .400 OBP / .450 SLG guy we saw in the first half. And that’s fine, considering his speed and — despite some misadventures — his overall outfield defense. I know everyone wants Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, and Roman Quinn to be ready right away, but they won’t be. Williams had a real tough year at Lehigh. Altherr is a solid contributor but is more likely a 4th outfielder than a starter. Quinn should (will) get a long look next season. But for a team that is starving for offense, and in particular for batters who can, you know, get on base, I find it hard to believe the 2017 team will be better off without El Torito.

Furthermore, even though there will be plenty of time for things to change between now and the trading season, I think Herrera’s value has taken a bit of a hit with his prolonged regression. Trading him when there’s a perception that he’s taken a step back isn’t in the organization’s best interests. If he starts off well in 2017 and there’s a possibility to trade him at the 2017 deadline, then sure, it should be considered, assuming Williams/Quinn/Altherr etc. have given some indication of stability.

Tomar: This would be a classic sell-low blunder. Herrera’s season arc doesn’t exactly lend itself to a dynamic off-season market. There’s no doubt that he’s got the talent. Even with his second-half swoon, Herrera looked like the most dynamic athlete on a young squad. Let’s keep him around and build big bats around him instead.

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17 comments

  1. Dave

    September 20, 2016 11:20 AM

    My question is not if Hellickson deserves a QO (he clearly does)… and if he accepts, the Phils shoud be happy.

    I wonder if the Phils should consider trying to lock him up for 4 or 5 years at ~ 15m per? Or if he’d accept that?

    Per Fangraphs, Hellickson has been worth 24.3m this year. So a 16.7m QO is a no brainer. He’s accumulated ~10m/year in value over his 7 year career (including this nearly finished season).

    He seems genuinely happy about playing here… seemed like he really didn’t want to be traded at the deadline. He seems to be a good influence on the rest of the pitching staff. Though yeah… who knows how much of that stuff is actually true.

    He was certainly a rock in the rotation this season… and I’d be happy to see if if could continue in that role in the future. Even if he isn’t an “ace”… a quality reliable starting pitcher is worth something.

    I know that Boras is his agent, and he loves to test the waters. But I wonder if Hellickson would consider a reasonable offer from the Phils.

    And hell… the Phils can certainly afford it. And could use him.

    • ryan

      September 20, 2016 03:18 PM

      I completely agree. Especially if they do it before the end of the season, they can find a middle ground on the financial hit he’d take from the QO. The phils can get a little break on the AAV while JH gets a bit more than he could expect from a team that really values that draft pick.

      As always, I’d love it if they would front load the contract. Think of how much easier it would have been to trade Howard with 8 million in his final year instead of 25.

    • Rob

      September 20, 2016 04:58 PM

      Would 3/50 get it done? Definitely worth offering that. Then your lined up to acaquire an ace for the beginning of the 2018 or 19 season. Ace/Hellickson/Eickoff plus the best 2 of the others could be a very decent rotation and if more than 2 warrant starting roles that’s a great problem to have.

      • steve

        September 22, 2016 06:12 AM

        I would feel better about 3 than 4 yrs. I would gladly take Helly in 2017, or a comp pick. He should be a 5th/6th starter on this team in 2019 if things go well with our young pitchers. Having him in 2020 and beyond does not seem appealing.
        Funny, when i read someone suggesting a 4 year deal, my brain automatically assumes 5 yrs and wonders what the vesting option/buyout will be. Oh Rueben, you’ve scarred us. Hopefully Kelntak does not follow in his footsteps.

  2. Major Malfunction

    September 20, 2016 02:47 PM

    Great round table!

    QO to Hellickson. He takes it, Phils probably win. Or hj skips town, Phils probably win with the 1/2 round sandwich pick. Or he takes QO and Phils trade him down the stretch to a contender in need of a work horse for prospects? No matter how you slice that, you are essentially putting out a change in the bucket QO considering how much cap space the team has next year.

    Same goes for Blanco. He does everything but drive the team bus. He’d probably do that well too if he had a CDL. What’s he cost? $1.5m to $2m? The Phils probably spend more on hot water on the clubhouse each year. Sign him.

    Trade El Torito? I concur that he might be the only MLB proven OF they have. He’s good but not good enough to garner MLB ready prospects in return. Also he’s not even arbitration eligible until 2018, so he’s not even costing $1m/year. They Phils won the lottery once in him being a Rule 5 pick. It would reckless to try and double down on the winnings by trading him.

    And everybody is on the Nick Williams bandwagon, but brace yourself for possible disappointment there. A .287 OBP to go with 136 Ks in AAA! .287!?!?! That will NOT translate well to MLB. He can hit, but its obvious he swings at everything he thinks his bat can reach. 18 BBs the entire year at AAA. Between his well documented attitude benchings at AAA and his plate discipline, I suspect they were the “surprise” reason he wasn’t called up in September by the parent club. If he gets a grip on both, I would imagine his skills would translate well to MLB.

  3. Jake

    September 20, 2016 05:08 PM

    Was not big on Hellickson or Eickhoff coming into the season, but both those guys stepped up and pitched/acted like genuine major league starters. I’d sooner not give him a QO and instead engage in extension talks/match any market offers Hellickson receives 3 years or shorter in duration.

  4. Michael C Lorah

    September 21, 2016 08:21 AM

    Add me to the list of people who’d absolutely offer a QO to Hellickson, and would even discuss a multi-year deal with him.

    Resign Blanco.
    Let Bourjos and Hernandez walk.
    I see the case for trading Rupp and resigning Ellis, but I think I’d prefer letting Ellis walk and having Rupp and the winner of the Alfaro/Knapp spring training showdown share time until one of them seizes the full-time role. Ellis is a solid, professional backup catcher, but I don’t feel Alfaro has solidified his place as the starter. Having Rupp there to stabilize the position makes the most sense, but I’d play Alfaro far more than a regular back-up.

    And there is, barring some opposing GM making a just-stupid offer, no argument for trading Odubel in my book. .288/.363/.427 batting lines do not grow on trees. And the outfield has no other certainties. The front office has suggested going on the free agent market for a bat, which would almost certainly have to be an outfield (or first base) bat, but they won’t bring in three outfielders and there’s nobody in-house ready unseat Odubel.
    I like what we’ve seen from Quinn so far, but it’s a small sample and he’s never been above AA. Altherr probably deserves some time next year, as we know the wrist sheath surgery saps strength, but he’s unproven. I’m taking a highly skeptical approach to Nick Williams right now; I hope to be wrong, but his minor league OBP does not bode well for a team that desperately needs players with on-base skills. Cozens probably at least starts at AAA unless he has a torrid spring. Add it up, and Odubel remains invaluable to this team right now and his cost is still crazy low.

    • Romus

      September 21, 2016 09:18 AM

      Why not let Blanco walk and try to sign Martin Prado to 2/3 year deal…cost more at approx $12M AV….but he has a bat that will help the offense with an OBP of approx. .350 over the last three years, and has the versatility to play LF, third base and second base. Raising the teams overall BA/OBP what the manager and FO seem to want to do for the future.

      • Bob

        September 21, 2016 10:49 AM

        Prado’s OBP for last five seasons: .365, .338, .321, .333, .359. He is just as likely to get you a .330 OBP as a .350 OBP. If he signs, it will have to be with the understanding that he can be used as a utility guy and might not get regular ABs. He is starting this year, so that might not be palatable to him. You have Odubel in CF an d hopefully Quinn in another OF spot. That would leave one spot open. I’m not high on Altherr – never was. So, I’d be ok with Prado taking that spot for a year. I’m not that high on Williams or Cozens. Prado could be fine there as a short-term option.

      • Michael C Lorah

        September 23, 2016 07:23 AM

        I’m not sure Blanco vs. Prado is an either/or. They’d have different roles. Somebody has to backup shortstop (assuming Crawford starts the year in AAA), and Prado doesn’t play there. Even if he’s willing to be a super-sub and move positions (and at this stage, he may not want such a role), Prado is still an everyday guy. Blanco is a bench player. I’d see Prado as someone who starts most days in the outfield, but will sometimes move to second or third to spell the starters there and let the other outfielders get some swings.

        Would I want Prado? Depends on dollars and years. I think I’d take a bounceback candidate on a one-year deal for 2017 and go big on a better talent next off-season.

    • Boomerbubba

      September 22, 2016 12:07 AM

      There is an argument for letting Herrera go. He produced, and like Hernandez, was one of the few shining studs this year. So let him go.

      • Boomerbubba

        September 22, 2016 12:08 AM

        By the way, it looks like Altherr is worth keeping: a solid .200 hitter who strikes out a lot, a notch above Howard.

  5. Romus

    September 21, 2016 08:28 AM

    Trading Hererra?
    Only if a GM comes around willing to give it up a TOR prospect pitcher in the mold of a Urias, Snell, Mendez, Giolito, Glasnow, Espinoza, Reyes, Puk, et al….otherwise forgetaboutit.
    I do not see any GM doing that , so Doobie stays…. along with his interpreter .

    • Boomerbubba

      September 22, 2016 12:04 AM

      They could trade Herrera for a couple of future, injury-ridden stiffs to replenish the funny farm system.

  6. Boomerbubba

    September 22, 2016 12:03 AM

    On the expiring contracts, the Phillies in true form will let go of Hellickson and Herrera so they can join the legion of other ex-Phils who performed well but the club was unwilling to re-sign. So not much drama there.

    As for Stiff of the Night, at least Altherr is doing his part to help the Fightins tank:
    HITTERS AB R H RBI BB SO #P AVG OBP SLG
    Altherr RF 4 0 0 0 0 3 16 .203 .297 .308

    • steve

      September 22, 2016 06:19 AM

      Ok i’ll bite. Since 2005, what players have the Phillies been unwilling to resign, that have gone elsewhere and been successful. If anything, i would argue that they’ve resigned/extended players beyond their productive years too often.

      • Romus

        September 22, 2016 08:19 AM

        I assume he means excluding trades, but FA…..I know of only one…Jayson Werth.

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