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The "What if?" Machine: The Bobby Abreu Trade

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Perhaps this is a fruitless exercise, but...what a bad trade this was.

It wasn't supposed to go down like this...
It wasn't supposed to go down like this...
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As we approach spring training and the 2015 regular season, I can’t help but dwell on the miserable state of this team. Most fans are resigned to the fact that the team will be really bad. Instead of slugging it out with the Braves for the division title, they will be competing with them for that illustrious title of THE WORST in September. Lately I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the "What if? Machine" to see a scenario in which the transition of this team is more seamless and less dramatic. What if Halladay didn’t decline as fast as he did? What if Howard doesn’t tear his Achilles? What if we were able to keep both Lee and Halladay for 2010? What if Werth was re-signed? But, the one scenario that is giving me more thought is what if…we had gotten a better return in the Bobby Abreu trade?


"Come on Jay, it’s been nearly 9 years…just let it go man", is what you are all probably saying. Feel free to tear this down in the comments. Let’s just quick recap the trade and "why" it happened. Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle were traded to the New York Yankees for a package of reliever Matt Smith, 2005 1st round pick CJ Henry and a pair of Latin longshot prospects in Jesus Sanchez and Carlos Monasterios. Matt Smith was the only player to reach the big leagues for the Phillies, contributing a 0.1 bWAR and was eventually released after two seasons (12.2 total innings pitched). CJ Henry was the most valuable piece received in the deal. He was the 4th ranked prospect in the system (BA) and was considered a tremendous athlete at shortstop. Well, as most prospects do, he never materialized at the plate and was released after two season in the organization. Sanchez was released after four seasons and Monasterios was lost in the Rule 5 draft.

To my recollection, Abreu didn’t necessarily want to leave. He was signed to a very large contract and had a full no-trade clause. It was rumored he would only have accepted a trade to one of four teams: Yankees, Angels, Mets and Red Sox. Gillick was at the GM helm and it was decided that the team needed to be torn down after a disappointing 1st half of the 2006 season. The Phillies were stacked on offense with MVP Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins already established. Victorino was finally seeing MLB playing time and making a case for a starting job. Ruiz also saw playing time because of an injury to a declining Mike Lieberthal. The team was on the upswing, but still looking for a legit #1 starting pitcher. Instead of holding out another year and finding a suitor in the offseason (however unrealistic that sounds), Gillick is handcuffed into making possibly the worst trade in the history of the organization, with likely the only team that would take Abreu’s contract. Most quotes from other team’s front offices were perplexed as to how they got so little in return and would have offered more for the same package.

Let’s look at the Top 10 Prospect Lists (Baseball America) of those rumored teams going into the 2006 Season to give a narrow view on what was out there at the time of the trade:

Mets

Red Sox

Angels

Yankees

1. Lastings Milledge, of

1. Andy Marte, 3b

1. Casey Kotchman, 1b

1. Philip Hughes, rhp

2. Yusmeiro Petit, rhp

2. Jon Lester, lhp

2. Dallas McPherson, 3b

2. Eric Duncan, 3b/1b

3. Gaby Hernandez, rhp

3. Jonathan Papelbon, rhp

3. Erick Aybar, ss

3. Jose Tabata, of

4. Mike Jacobs, c/1b

4. Craig Hansen, rhp

4. Jeff Mathis, c

4. C.J. Henry, ss

5. Philip Humber, rhp

5. Dustin Pedroia, 2b/ss

5. Kendry Morales, 1b/of

5. Austin Jackson, of

6. Carlos Gomez, of

6. Jacoby Ellsbury, of

6. Brandon Wood, ss

6. Eduardo Nunez, ss

7. Fernando Martinez, of

7. Kelly Shoppach, c

7. Ervin Santana, rhp

7. Marcos Vechionacci, 3b

8. Anderson Hernandez, ss/2b

8. Manny Delcarmen, rhp

8. Howie Kendrick, 2b

8. Christian Garcia, rhp

9. Brian Bannister, rhp

9. Jed Lowrie, ss/2b

9. Alberto Callaspo, 2b/ss

9. Jeff Marquez, rhp

10. Alay Soler, rhp

10. Clay Buchholz, rhp

10. Steven Shell, rhp

10. Tyler Clippard, rhp



There are a lot of names on this list. The Red Sox list is a who’s who of MLBers. Imagine a package of even Lester and Ellsbury in exchange for Abreu/Lidle? The Mets list isn’t all that impressive save for Carlos Gomez. Yes, that Gomez. He was traded to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade and then flipped to the Brewers in exchange for JJ Hardy. Granted it took a long time for Gomez to pan out, but he has been one of the league’s best players the last 3 seasons and only 30 years old. The Angels saw most of these players graduate to their MLB team. Santana, Kendrick, Morales and Aybar have all become MLB average players. We did get the Yankees 4th best prospect, but Phil Hughes would have been nice, right? Heck, Austin Jackson and Tyler Clippard would have sufficed.

This all of course comes back to the million dollar question. If we had gotten a better prospect package from either of these four teams, would the Phillies be in any better position to compete or transition than they are now? Perhaps the Phillies win another WS with a good return from the Red Sox or Carlos Gomez from the Mets. Though, the butterfly effect from one of these "good hauls" could potentially ripple through the years. Carlos Gomez doesn’t force you to make the Hunter Pence trade. Lester/Hamels likely means you aren’t going after Lee, Halladay or Oswalt. A surplus of Ellsbury, Pedroia, Kendrick, Aybar or Lowrie give you a possibility to move on from your current stars or just further stockpile your trade assets.

In the end, how far have we come and should we be satisfied with what Ruben Amaro Jr. has done this offseason and even last trade deadline? Two quality prospects for a borderline 5th starter Roberto Hernandez, two potential #3 starters in the Rollins deal and another in the Byrd trade. It seems like progress and trades are always looked at in hindsight. The Phillies traded 3 superstars prior to their 2007-2011 run in Abreu, Schilling and Rolen and had very little to show from it.