It’s always a little dangerous to wade into a subject after my colleague JoeCatz has done so. Particularly when it comes to trade strategy, I know I’m not going to be as creative, and I’m probably not going to be as entertaining. But like Joe, I love this month: teams make momentous decisions in the heat of the moment, when irrational exuberance takes hold, and an executive who’s realistic about what he has and clear-sighted about what his team should do can go a long way toward setting his club up for success, either this year or next.
(For purposes of this article, and because it’s generally better to live in hope than to live in fear, I’m going to pretend Ruben Amaro is that realistic and clear-sighted guy. Otherwise I’d be writing about how he’s about to trade Maikel Franco for Matt Garza, and that’s just no fun.)
I’m coming at this from a slightly different starting point than Joe: I don’t think the Phillies are going to find themselves in a position where they’re realistic contenders. This team is a rowboat with only one side rowing: they can move, but they’re doomed to go in circles. The starting pitching and offensive talent are just good enough to keep them around .500, but not good enough to sustain long winning streaks given a horrendous bullpen and serious problems catching the ball. It’s really not too difficult to see how the Braves or Nationals suddenly could play .800 ball for three weeks or so. It’s almost impossible to imagine the 2013 Phillies doing that.
They do have a bunch of useful trade chips, though, and in a market where probably 15-18 teams might be looking to add, they should think hard about how to utilize them. In this piece, I’ll look at four Phillies position players who could show up in rumors over the next month. They all happen to be franchise heroes, stars of the 2008 World F. Champions, but players whose best days are behind them. Remember, the purpose here is cold-eyed evaluation; leave the boozy sentiment to Bill Giles. Our brief is to consider three questions:
- What kind of return could this player bring?
- How would the Phillies replace him for 2014?
- Are there other considerations—attendance, clubhouse morale, etc.—that should come into play with the decision?
At the end, I’ll give a score of 1 to 5, with one being an absolute "keep" and 5 being a no-brainer "trade." Next week, we’ll look at pitchers and ask the same questions.
C Carlos Ruiz
The Basics: Chooch was an all-star a year ago and is respected around the game as a superior leader and handler of pitchers. But in the last year of his contract, he’s currently on pace for his worst offensive season, will play 2014 at age 35, and gets hurt a lot.
Return: Likely modest—most likely someone from a trade partner’s top 11 to 20 prospects, and maybe another fringe guy in addition.
Replacement: Figuring that some mix of Humberto Quintero, Erik Kratz and Cameron Rupp would fill in for the rest of 2013, the job would be open next year. There are a couple solid free-agent options likely to be available (Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia) though it’s unclear whether the Phils would want to make a multi-year commitment with multiple prospects in the system at the position.
Other factors: Chooch is a fan favorite who’s deeply trusted by the pitching staff. They’d be selling low on him—think about what he might have brought back a year ago—and, particularly given some of the guys who make more sense to trade, his departure would leave something of a leadership void.
Verdict: 2. If I’m wrong about the return, then this changes. But unless a great offer comes across, it makes more sense to re-sign Ruiz for a year plus an option/buyout.
2b Chase Utley
The Basics: The best player at his position in the Phillies’ 130 year history, Utley might have a Hall of Fame case if he can stay healthy and effective for a few more years. He’s reversed a multi-year offensive decline in 2013, with an .873 OPS at this writing that would represent his best figure since 2009. Utley has 11 homers this season in 220 plate appearances, matching his full-season totals from both 2011 and 2012 in 454 and 362 PAs respectively. He’s also a free agent at the end of this season.
Return: Difficult to say, but hopefully a top 50 prospect in baseball; otherwise, hang up the phone. The overpowering temptation here is to compare Utley today to Carlos Beltran in 2011. Like Utley now, Beltran was 34 and enjoying his healthiest and most productive season in years. The Mets wound up trading him to the Giants for Zack Wheeler, a deal they’re feeling pretty great about. But the reason that deal is so prominent is because it’s pretty rare.
Replacement: It’s unlikely in the extreme that we’ll ever again see a Phillies second baseman even comparable to Utley in his 2005-2009 prime. That said, Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez could well be competent at the position as full-timers in 2014, making the major-league minimum. Kevin Frandsen and Cody Asche (who played 2b in the low minors) might be options as well.
Other factors: I don’t want my GM to be ruled by sentiment… but it seems like Amaro is susceptible to this. What I'd like to believe is that this is smoke, and the real story is that Amaro has knowledge that Utley would sign a reasonable contract extension—say, two years for $22m plus an option/buyout with incentives that might add another $6-8 million. It’s been suggested elsewhere that Utley could be to the Phillies of the next few years what Chipper Jones was to the Braves of the last few years: a guy who’s likely to give you only about 400-450 plate appearances per year, but with near certainty they’ll be good ones. The presence of Galvis and Hernandez makes this more palatable.
Verdict: 2, but a lower 2 than with Chooch. If a Wheeler type is dangled, you probably bite your lip, pull the trigger and hope Chase re-signs this winter. If not, keep him.
SS Jimmy Rollins
The Basics: Like Utley, Rollins is the standard-bearer at his position in Phillies history. He’s also the longest-tenured player on the team: Jimmy’s first Phillies manager was Terry Francona. His offensive numbers are down this season, but still above average for his position, and he’s always been a second-half hitter. Like Ruiz and Utley, he’s 34, but unlike them he’s under contract for another season with a 2015 vesting option he’s likely to reach.
Return: Likely decent. There are at least a few contenders that could upgrade at shortstop, his contract isn’t ridiculous (and the Phillies could kick in some money for a better prospect return), and he’s battle tested in pennant races. Let’s say one top-10 prospect plus an 11-20 guy and/or a fringe current major leaguer.
Replacement: When Galvis was demoted last week, speculation ran rampant that it was in preparation for a recall as a starter at one of three infield spots. He’s an entirely plausible Gold Glove shortstop. His bat would represent a substantial drop from what Rollins provides, but isn’t atrocious for the position even now, with improvement possible.
Other factors: Many of the same considerations with Utley apply with Rollins. His long tenure, honored place in team history, durability and leadership all matter. He’s probably not as beloved by fans as Utley is, but has been no less a warrior and a champion. He’s also got a no-trade clause, but Jimmy’s a proud guy who wants to win: I doubt this would be an insurmountable obstacle.
Verdict: A high 2 or low 3. If the return is incredibly compelling, I’d move Rollins, but otherwise I’d be very happy to keep him through the duration of a contract on which he’s likely to deliver solid return.
3b Michael Young
The Basics: This is a little bit of a cheat, in that Young *is* a franchise icon, just not for this franchise—he spent 12 seasons with the Rangers, setting a slew of team records, before coming over in a trade this past winter. He’s been okay, showing the best patience of his career and generally rebounding well from an awful 2012. At age 36, Young is a free agent after 2013 and has a no-trade clause, though that’s almost certainly for negotiating purposes only.
Return: Modest—maybe a guy toward the bottom of a team’s top 10 prospects and a fringe guy, or two from the 11-20 range. The Phils’ return in the Jim Thome trade last year could be a decent comparison, with Young probably having a bit more value from his positional versatility.
Replacement: I'm not urging this, but the Phillies probably could cut Young today with no discernible damage to current on-field performance. Kevin Frandsen is comparable and arguably superior as a hitter and as a defender, and Galvis would represent a major upgrade with the glove (though not with the bat). Both figure to be around next year, and Cody Asche should be ready for a look at the big-league level after the solid year he’s putting up at triple-A. Maikel Franco could figure into the mix sometime in 2014 as well.
Verdict: 5. I’m in 100 percent agreement with Catz that pretty much the only way to screw up a Young trade would be not to trade him.
I’d listen on literally every player on the roster. Yeah, Domonic Brown is probably close to untouchable, but if the Marlins wanted to give me Giancarlo Stanton for Brown and, say, Jonathan Pettibone and Sebastian Valle, I’d do that in a heartbeat. It would be swell if anybody wanted to trade for Delmon Young, and if he has one more week in the next three like his last one, maybe it’ll happen. Ryan Howard? Of course, but I still don’t see it—there are just too many guys who can give comparable production that wouldn’t cost even what’s left after the Phillies pay 60 percent of the balance on Amaro’s Folly.
Next time: the pitchers.