Ever since rumors of selling began filtering through Phillies fandom, the conventional wisdom has been that Shane Victorino would be the first guy to be dealt. Superficially, this seems logical since Victorino's on the last year of his contract, and it's always been assumed that it wouldn't make sense for the Phillies to give him a long-term contract.
I think that CW was right at first, but circumstances have changed. It is no longer so obvious that Victorino should be dealt. In fact, I'd say that as of now, there's a greater-than-50/50 chance that trading Shane will turn out not to be the right decision.
I'll list some reasons why below, but first let's take a step back and think about the basic logic of selling. As we all know, the reason why teams sell when they're out of the race is that any production they get from their players for the rest of that year is meaningless, so you might as well trade that value for guys who will provide value in future seasons instead. But the details of how you sell differ based on the precise circumstances your team is in. If you think your team has a good chance to bounce back next year, then you should only sell guys who probably aren't going to be back next year. If you think your team is inevitably going to be bad for the next few seasons, then the list of guys you should be willing to sell shouldn't be so limited.
As has been detailed many times on this blog in articles by Matt Swartz, Prof Cohen, myself, and others, the Phillies are probably in the former situation. Despite the awfulness of how this season has gone, they are still essentially a good team. Which means they still have a chance to bounce back in 2013, which in turn means that they should only sell guys who won't be back in 2013. Does that include Victorino? Maybe, but maybe not.
1. It now might make sense to extend Victorino's contract.
If you had asked me a few months ago whether the Phillies should give Shane Victorino a contract extension, I would have said no chance. The reasons were pretty straightforward. (1) Shane was coming off a career-best year in 2012, and would probably not perform to that level in future seasons. (2) The Phillies had some decent outfield prospects in the minors, and there was at least an okay chance that one of them might be ready to take over for him. (3) The Phillies already had John Mayberry, Domonic Brown, and Hunter Pence under team control for 2013, and none of those guys were going anywhere.
But all of that has changed. First, Victorino is no longer coming off a career-best season. Instead, he is coming off a career-worst half-season in which he's posted a .680 OPS. And I personally think there is a very good chance that he's performing so poorly only because he's playing hurt - which means that there's a good chance that he'll outperform his current level of play in future seasons.
Second, the Phillies' outfield prospects are not going to be ready to take over for Victorino in 2013. Tyson Gillies played fairly well in the spring, but he's missed several weeks with a concussion. Jiwan James has been so-so. I'm certainly not saying that the Phillies should give up on these guys, but they aren't top-of-the-line prospects, nor are they credible options for 2013.
Third, John Mayberry hasn't played very well in 2012 (though he's been much better post-April), and probably shouldn't be seen as a full-time starter going forward. While I still think the Phillies should hand Domonic Brown a starting job in 2013, he hasn't had a great year in AAA, and he's missed time with various injuries, so he's more of a question mark than I would have anticipated a few months ago. And it's no longer a foregone conclusion that Pence will be back in 2013.
But the first of those three points is the most important. Not wanting to pay Victorino more than he's worth is one thing. But now, because he's played poorly in 2012, you might have the opportunity to pay him less than he's worth, which would be a very good thing. It never ceases to astound me how few fans understand that concept. Far too many people seem to believe that the primary consideration when making a contractual decision on a player is whether that player should be "rewarded" or "punished." That emphatically should NOT be the primary consideration behind making contractual decisions. The name of the game is to buy low and sell high, not the reverse.
2. If you must trade an outfielder, it would make a lot more sense to trade Pence than Victorino.
This point won't require much explanation. Simply put, you'd probably get a lot more in return for Pence than you would for Victorino.
First, as frustrating as it has been for us as Phillies fans to watch Pence and all his tomfoolery this season, the fact is that he's having an okay statistical season. Victorino is not having an okay statistical season. Which guy do you suppose will look more attractive to teams who want to be buyers? Second, Pence has an extra year of team control left. Victorino doesn't. That also makes Pence a much more valuable trade chip. (Of course, it also makes Pence more valuable to the Phillies. But that wouldn't be the case if they can make some progress toward a relatively cheap and short contract extension for Victorino.)
Don't forget that even if the Phillies don't extend Victorino, they can offer him arbitration and get draft compensation if he departs - a benefit that they would forego if they trade him. And if he were to accept, that would be very beneficial for the team. Even under the terms of the new CBA, Victorino on a one-year arbitration deal wouldn't be a huge overpay, and it would allow the organization to have an extra year to kick the can down the road and further evaluate some of their outfield prospects (not just the AA guys but guys who are at the lower levels as well). And they could still get the draft compensation in 2014.
3. You shouldn't trade both Pence and Victorino because you'll still need three outfielders in 2013.
Again, the Phillies' 2012 season may be lost, but they aren't a bad team, and the outlook for 2013 still looks pretty good. And it will still look pretty good if they trade Pence or Victorino. But it won't look pretty good anymore if they trade both of them. Because if they do, who's going to start in the outfield in 2013? Domonic Brown and who? I think you might be able to get away with a Mayberry/Nix/others mashup at one outfield position, but not two.
I'd rather have Victorino than Pence beyond 2013 as well (provided they can get Shane to agree to a reasonable contract extension). You get more flexibility with Victorino: he's capable of moving to corner OF if necessary -- he did it in 2007, and he has decent power -- whereas Pence cannot move to CF. Also, although Victorino is older, he isn't older by that much.
Of course, you could trade both of them and then sign a free agent or two in the offseason. That way you'd get prospects and still be covered in the outfield for 2013 and 2014. But it would also probably be more expensive. And you might lose compensation picks. And you'd be taking on a lot of unnecessary risk: what happens if all the free agents decide to go elsewhere? This alternative just seems too convoluted to be sensible.
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To be clear, I'm not saying the Phillies can't trade Victorino. They should listen to offers, just like they would listen to offers for anyone else on the team. What I'm saying is that they should be reluctant to do so, because given the way the stars have aligned and are aligning, other alternatives are more likely to make more sense.