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:
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.
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.