Virtually no one is safe on a rebuilding team. Almost everyone on the roster is a potential trade chip, if that player can bring back a haul that nets the team even more potentially good players.
Sure, you’d like for the Phillies to be done rebuilding now, but the reality is that this rebuild, which is off to a very good start, still has a ways to go.
They are still many pieces short of contending, and there are no logical answers in free agency that would help turn the Phils into a playoff contender that doesn’t also block minor league prospects who could be ready for The Show in the next few months.
So the Phils are looking to improve the roster mostly through trades. Over the last eight days, they acquired reliever Pat Neshek, a right-handed, late-inning arm from the Houston Astros, as well as infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, in exchange for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney.
Both Neshek and Kendrick are expected to be major contributors in 2017, but the moves are not blockbusters. And while most don’t expect the Phillies to make big waves this winter, they could if general manager Matt Klentak decides to unload one or more of the Phils’ young core.
So, who might those core players be? Below are the potential candidates, ranked in order of greatest trade value.
Velasquez had himself a very nice season in his first year as a full-time starter. He began the year red-hot, posting a 1.78 ERA in 25 1⁄3 April innings, and turned in one of the greatest performances of the entire season early that month.
That 16-strikeout, complete-game shutout of the San Diego Padres put him on the map around the league, and it’s clear his has the most electric arm on the staff. So why would the Phils even consider dealing him?
Velasquez struggled badly with pitch economy and getting deep into games. It’s why that, in 24 starts, he pitched only 131 innings, an average of 5.45 innings per game.
Velasquez also missed a few weeks with a sore elbow, concerning because he is a former Tommy John surgery patient. Still, Velasquez showed enough in his first season to make one believe he could be a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball, an incredible curveball, and a changeup that can be a wipe-out pitch on its best days.
He is a potential ace or No. 2 starter, and at 24 years old, is still very young. The Phillies reportedly had serious conversations with the Texas Rangers about him at the trade deadline, and were he to be moved this winter, could bring back a haul.
Of course, it would also be wise to build around an arm like Velasquez, but only if the team is reasonably confident he isn’t an injury waiting to happen and that he will take the next step in his development in 2017.
Herrera, the Phils’ lone All Star this season, had an up-and-down season, but his numbers overall were excellent once again.
In 159 games (656 PAs), he hit .286/.361/.420 with 15 HRs, 87 runs scored, 25 stolen bases and an fWAR of 3.8. He was also nominated for a Gold Glove in center field. Plus, his bat flip game is second-to-none.
So why would the Phillies consider moving a 24-year-old All Star center fielder?
There are concerns Herrera has reached his ceiling and, if so, his trade value will never be higher. The Phillies also have a couple other players who could play center field in 2017, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. And there were concerns about Herrera’s attitude off the field, showing up late to meetings and acting generally aloof.
But there are certainly many franchises that would love to have a plus-defensive center fielder and a high batting average/on-base guy with some pop at the top of their lineup who is also team-controlled until after the 2021 season.
I still can’t believe what we saw from Hernandez in the second half of last year. I’m not sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me.
Overall, the numbers show he was the Phils’ best player last season, with a team-high fWAR of 4.4 and a slash line of .294/.371/.393. He saw his walk rate jump from 8.8% to 10.6%, and his second-half numbers in particular (.298/.413/.411) were eye-popping.
He even had a four-hit game against the terrific Madison Bumgarner this season.
So why would the Phillies consider trading away one of the few players with a high on-base percentage who is still just 26 years old? There are a few reasons.
Hernandez’ baseball IQ has never been all that good. He is a walking TOOTBLAN who had one of the worst stolen base percentages in baseball last season. He’s also not a great defender at second, although the defensive metrics would dispute that a little.
He did seem to improve in those areas as the season progressed, and perhaps that means even better days are ahead. But the Phillies have to decide if Hernandez’ 2016 season was for real, or simply a mirage.
Also, even though Klentak said the newly-acquired Howie Kendrick would be the Phils’ everyday left fielder next year, his natural position is second. Having him aboard gives the Phils the opportunity to shop Cesar and put Kendrick at second until the second baseman of the future, 2015 second-round pick Scott Kingery, is ready to take the job.
Either way, the Phillies are going to have to make a decision on either Freddy Galvis or Hernandez when J.P. Crawford is ready to be called up, presumably early next season. So if the Phils can deal Hernandez now, while his value is at its highest, they would almost certainly do so. In fact, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has reported Hernandez’ name has been mentioned numerous times during the GM meetings this week.
Neris burst onto the scene in 2016, establishing himself as one of the better young relievers in the National League.
In 79 games (80 1⁄3 IP), Neris posted an ERA of 2.58 with a 3.30 FIP, striking out 11.43 batters per nine innings. His fastball was routinely in the mid-90s and he displayed one of the most unhittable pitches in baseball this season, a nasty split-finger fastball.
Neris is projected to be the Phils’ closer next year, an obvious choice. So, why would the Phillies want to trade a young pitcher with an obviously great arm?
Again, like the three players mentioned above, his trade value will never be higher. Also, relief pitchers are so highly sought after in baseball right now that there might never be a better time to shop one. Yes, it is a very crowded relief pitching market, but the financial cost of Neris is so low that there may be teams interested in dealing with a few prospects to get him.
Also, there is concern that throwing his split-finger pitch so often (52% of the time this season) will cause his arm to break down sooner rather than later. And he definitely faded in the final month of the season (5.25 ERA in September), so there is a bit of concern that he was overworked.
Still, one bad month at the end of a season in which he was worked like never before shouldn’t be enough to scare teams off. The big question is whether the reliever market will prevent the Phils from getting the kind of return it would require for them to move him.
Moving any of the four players above would be tough to swallow, but if the Phils are looking to replicate the kind of deal they got when they traded away Ken Giles last winter, these are the four players that could do just that.