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The Phillies, Archimedes, and Billy Butler: The Phillies Should Explore a Trade with the A's

In the wake of signing Billy Butler, the A's have some intriguing players who may no longer fit on their roster. Will any of them make sense for the Phillies?

A man this big should displace a lot of water
A man this big should displace a lot of water
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Archimedes Principle states that an object, when immersed in a fluid, is pushed upward with a force equal to the weight of the fluid that same object displaced. Practically speaking, this means that we can measure the volume of an object immersed in water by the volume of water it displaces.

Last night, Robert Murray reported that the A's signed former Royals DH Billy Butler. If we can say anything definitively about Billy Butler, it is this: he is a rotund man. Baseball-Reference has him listed at 6'1", 240 lbs. Archimedes' Principle states, then, that the A's signing of Billy Butler will displace other players in the organization. Last night, after the signing, A's blogger Jason Wojciechowski speculated which player, exactly, would be displaced by the immersion of Butlers immense volume into the Oakland roster. Since the Phillies are likely seeking depth to provide the necessary depth from which they may trade the carcasses of their veterans, any of these newly-fringy A's players might be of interest.

In what follows, I will evaluate the suitability of the likely Oakland outsiders. In order to be a viable Phillies target a player must meet 3 criteria:

  • The long-term cost of acquiring him must be minimal. This means the Phillies won't have to part with any of their top prospects (Nola, Franco, Crawford, etc).
  • He plays a position currently occupied by a player the Phillies likely want to trade (C, 1B, 2B, SS, RF).
  • There's at least a chance he might be a contributor for the Phillies in 2017.
With those standards of evaluation thereby established, let's wade into the Billy Butler-induced spill-over.

Sam Fuld--Position: OF; Age: 32; Contract: Arb-Eligible through 2017

I start with Sam Fuld only because Wojciechowski identified him as the most likely to be displaced in Billy Butler's live demonstration of the Archimedes Principle. Fuld is a homeless man's Jason Heyward in that fWAR rates him much better than you might expect based on looking at his batting line. Because UZR rated his defense as 14.6 runs above average, FanGraphs credits him with 2.8 WAR in 2014 despite a .663 OPS and 90 wRC+. Even if you regress his defense to something closer to league average, Fuld is certainly a suitable 4th outfielder, capable of starting in a pinch.

Acquiring Fuld certainly wouldn't cost much. The A's traded Tommy Milone, a back-of-the-rotation starter, for him in the middle of last season. His price might have gone up after a career-best year in 2014, but likely not enough that acquiring Fuld would represent a significant long-term cost to the Phillies. Additionally, along with Grady Sizemore and, I guess, Jeff Francoeur, Fuld will provide some outfield flexibility that would allow the PHillies to trade Marlon Byrd.

It is at the third criterion that we reach a tumbling block with Fuld. At 32 years old, he'll be 34 when the Phillies plan on competing again. With so much of his value tied up in his defense, it's unlikely that Fuld will be anything more than a replacement level player by then.

Ruling: Pass

Stephen Vogt--Position: C, 1B, RF; Age: 30; Contract: Pre-Arbitration

Playing part-time for the A's in 2014, Vogt posted a .752 OPS and 113 wRC+. Those numbers look enticing, especially from a catcher or corner outfielder, until I tell you that he faced right-haded pitching (Vogt is left-handed) in 85% of his plate appearances. He's been platooned his entire career which may be a product of playing in platoon-friendly Oakland, but is more likely, in my opinion, due to a recognition that he doesn't hit left-handers all that well.

Vogt will probably cost a little more than Fuld to acquire, but, without delving too far into blind trade speculation, will probably be attainable for a couple fringy prospects/bullpen pieces. If that's in the neighborhood of his price, the Phillies should be willing to pay it.

Regarding his position, I was surprised to see Baseball-Reference list him as a RF and, while he did see 118 defensive innings in the OF in 2014, he rated somewhere between below-average and Delmon Young, depending on the fervor with which you extrapolate from defensive statistics over small samples. He didn't play a ton of catcher for the A's in 2014, which given their tolerance of Derek Norris' interpretation of defending the position, should probably tell us something about Vogt's ability. So, we're looking at a platoon player at 1B, which isn't bad since Ruf could occupy the other half and face lefties.

At age 30, Vogt is certainly no spring chicken, but because he won't be arbitration-eligible until 2017, he won't cost too much even if he starts to see a decline. As a platoon first baseman, there is certainly a chance he could contribute for the Phillies in his age 32 and 33 seasons in 2017 and 2018. Moreover, the existence of a potential Ruf/Vogt platoon could ease the fears of a Howard-less first base.

Ruling: Call Billy Beane

John Jaso--Position: C; Age 31; Contract: Final Year of Arbitration

The left-handed half of the A's catcher platoon, Jaso has produced at something resembling a league-average level, extrapolated over a full season. In 2014, he posted a .767 OPS and a 121 wRC+. Like Vogt, Jaso has been a platoon partner for his entire career, so we are forced to infer from that that he would fare poorly over extended exposure to same-handed pitching. Unlike Vogt, Jaso has fielded the catcher position regularly over his career.

Jaso would likely be more costly than Vogt for two reasons: 1) he has produced better offensively and 2) he can at least occupy a valuable defensive position. Further, Jaso is part of a very successful A's catching platoon that they probably, all things being equal, would like to retain for 2015. The Phillies would likely have to part with a non-trivial prospect. It's possible that Marlon Byrd will be of interest to the A's as they don't have a ton of outfield depth. There's a chance the price would be right on Jaso, but my guess is that the demand would be a little too high for the Phillies.

I've been surprised to not hear Carlos Ruiz's name in Phillies trade rumors, but that might be because the Phillies have no suitable replacement ready to take his place were they to trade him. Jaso would provide the flexibility to make that move. On the other hand, the reason for the silence around Ruiz may be that the Phillies have no interest in trading him. If that's the case, Jaso would be an over-qualified and over-priced (in terms of what the Phillies would have to give the A's for him) backup.

Lastly, Jaso would be 33 when the Phillies are able to compete again. With Ruiz's graceful aging, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that most catchers age with anything but grace. Therefore, it's unlikely Jaso will bring much on-field value in 2017 or 2018. The Phillies would also have to resign him as a free agent after 2015, which, based on recent contracts given to starting catchers, could get a little pricy.

Ruling: Worth a call, but likely too expensive.

Kyle Blanks--Position: LF, 1B; Age: 28; Contract: Final Year of Arbitration

Our last potential casualty of the harsh realities quantified by Archimedes is our most intriguing. Unlike the previous players, Blanks profiles as more than a mere half of a platoon. He's seen a decent amount of time against both left and right-handed pitching and has hit at an above league-average rate against both. Over 862 career plate appearances, Blanks has a .234/.319/.407 good for a 106 wRC+. Moreover, he rates (according to UZR) as something like an average defender in the outfield.

Because of his youth and non-platoon characteristics, it's likely Blanks will command at least as much as Jaso. On the other hand, the A's gave up very little to acquire Blanks from the Padres last season (Jake Goebbert and Ronald Herrera), so maybe the Phillies could get him for nothing more than an intriguing bullpen arm or fringy prospect in the high minors. At the very least, the potential cost shouldn't prevent inquiry.

As both a LF and 1B, Blanks can field positions that the Phillies might trade from (with a Byrd trade, either he or Dom Brown could move to RF). While his offense probably isn't good enough to stick at first, his competent manning of the outfield is more than good enough for me. He certainly meets this criterion.

The last part of this is interesting. As a 28 year old, Blanks will only be in his age 30 season in 2017 so he should be somewhere in his peak years, albeit likely at the end of them. On the other hand, Blanks is a free agent after this season. Steamer currently projects him to produce a 112 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR over 134 PA. Extrapolating that to a full season (600 PA), Blanks is projected to produce 1.8 WAR as a 28 year old. That profile could make him more expensive than the Phillies are willing to pay at their current stage of the rebuild. The potential that he could outproduce resignability should certainly factor into what the Phillies might be willing to part with for Blanks' services.

Ruling: Makes the most sense for the Phillies' needs and goals. More than worth a call to Billy Beane, but may cost too much.


Billy Butler's signing certainly will make available some players that will interest many teams. If you couldn't tell, I'm pretty excited about Kyle Blanks as a possibility for the Phillies. Since he's already close to a league-average player, I'd be willing to give up a prospect whose name I recognize to get him, but not one of the top 10ish guys in the system. The other three--Fuld, Vogt, Jaso--raise too many doubts about their ability to contribute for the Phillies in 2017 and beyond for me to give up anything more than organizational filler, or a rung above for the latter two, that to acquire their services.

To be competitive in 2017 and beyond, the Phillies will likely have to supplement their own prospects with some smart "buy-low" players. After signing all 240 lbs of Billy Butler, the A's have some expendable parts that could potentially be bought low. It would behoove the Phillies to recognize this real-world application of Archimedes's findings and at least gauge the price of some of them.