When the Phillies made their trade for Clay Buchholz this past week, many fans had the same thought that this one had: what can the Phillies trade now?
Of course, if you’re on the other side of the fence, you’d understand that the real reason the team spent actual prospect capital on a pitcher like Buchholz is that they are buying more time for names like Eflin, Thompson and Lively to get ready in the minors, far away from the bright lights of the major leagues.
Yet where’s the fun in that?!?! As owners of fantasy leagues, we love nothing more than to dream on scenarios where the team they follow can use whatever depth they have acquired to upgrade other positions. And since we all know that a certain American League team needs to upgrade both their MLB roster and minor league system by dangling a certain transcendent talent for others to bid on, a trade for Buchholz can only mean one thing:
Now, before we collectively hurt ourselves trying to find the right deal to get Mike Trout or Manny Machado, let’s realize something.
The Phillies didn’t acquire Buchholz to trade someone else. They acquired him to help with depth. Injuries, particularly to pitchers, are an all-to-common occurrence in the majors, and this move helps the Phillies protect against a major fall off
when if these injuries occur. Now, though, with Buchholz in the fold, there is a lot to get excited about with this team’s pitching.
This is a team that has a full big league rotation, as well as full minor league rotations at three levels. And these aren’t rotations that are filled with journeyman either. These are talented prospects that have a very real chance to make a name for themselves in the big leagues. Matt Winkelman, one of The Good Phight’s fine prospect mavens, wrote this in an email to me:
So the Phillies starting pitching depth is hilarious. 40 man roster in BOLD
MLB: Nola, Velasquez, Eickhoff, Hellickson, Buchholz
AAA: Thompson, Eflin, Lively, Asher, Appel, Pivetta
AA: Pinto, Garcia, Anderson, Eshelman, Viza, Leftwich, Bergjans
A+: Tirado, Dominguez, Kilome, Watson
Hopefully not in the Org: Morgan
It’s the type of depth that other teams, even the world champion Cubs, would be envious of. If this doesn’t make you excited for not only this year, but also for 2018, 2019 and beyond, I’m.....I’m just not sure what will.
However, that kind of horizon focusing isn’t exciting to fans who want to see the team win now. They don’t care about what might happen in a few years. Yes, believe it or not, some of us would like to play meaningful baseball past June 15 this year. The rotation, as currently constructed, does look to have a sneaky good chance at being effective over the course of the whole season, particularly if Aaron Nola returns healthy. The bullpen has been populated with a lot of quality options, meaning it’s less likely the team will have to rely on Michael Mariot or Phil Klein to protect leads or keep deficits close. That lineup, though....
If there is still something that could use an upgrade, the lineup is the easiest spot to point to. Right now, Fangraphs projects the team to have a 70-92 record, mostly due to the fact that they see the team scoring only 4.07 runs per game, third worst in the game. While that’s not entirely impossible, those factors are probably counting on some major regression from players like Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera, while also believing that Tommy Joseph’s second half gains are probably a mirage.
As you look at the roster though, there aren’t many positions the team is going to change over right now. The entire infield is set, barring a deal that knocks their socks off for Hernandez. Cameron Rupp is probably entrenched as the starter behind the dish, which leaves the outfield as the only possible spot to get better. Herrera ain’t moving, and Howie Kendrick was acquired to lock down left field, which leaves right field as the only place to get better. Aaron Altherr looks to be the player who gets the most at-bats out of the position, with a platoon a distinct possibility. But can they be better there? Let’s look at some possibilities.
The “No, It Isn’t Happening” Division - Mike Trout
Let’s put this to bed, people. Trout isn’t coming here unless it’s as a free agent. Stop coming up with trades where the Phillies give up their #16 and 23 prospects, fourth starting pitcher and a reliever for him. It’s not happening. Knock it off.
The Long Shots - Charlie Blackmon, Lorenzo Cain, Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun
All four of these guys have seen their names pop up on MLB Trade Rumors at some point this offseason, yet there really doesn’t seem to be a fit for any of them. Blackmon would be a nice addition as he would give the team a left handed bat with power, but he plays the same position as the guy the team just gave a five year extension to. Plus, from the looks of it, Colorado seems to be gearing up for a playoff push this year. Same with McCutchen, who might actually be getting worse instead of improving. Cain would be a one year rental, which is nice, but what exactly would he be adding to the team as currently constructed? 2 wins? 3? Braun costs a lot of money past this year, would require lot of prospects to acquire, and......something else......can’t put my finger on it.....
The “I can kind of see a fit” division - Carlos Gonzalez, J.D. Martinez
Gonzalez would actually look pretty good in red pinstripes as he fits several criteria the team currently needs. Left handed bat with power? Check. Right fielder? Check. No long term contract commitments? Check. Martinez also fits a lot of this, except he hits right handed, but management likely wouldn’t quibble about that. Sure, Gonzalez has those bad home/road splits (career .983 OPS home v. .750 OPS road), but hey, who doesn’t like being at home more? So why are they also not likely to come here?
According to a lot of reports, to trade for either Gonzalez or Martinez would mean the team has to part with more prospects than they would probably like to. Detroit wants to shed payroll, yet stay competitive, so trading Martinez would mean they would have to be given a healthy bounty of young players. Apparently, the same goes for Gonzalez. At this point in their rebuilding cycle, the Phillies probably aren’t quite ready to cash in prospects for players that would put them “over the hump”. If they looked more like a 80-83 win team, then yes, it would make more sense. But right now? It looks better to just stay the course with the plan than try to make fan satisfying splashes. As much as they would fill out the Phillies’ roster on paper, it’s best to forget about them.
The “Ah, yes, these might do nicely” Division - Jay Bruce, Seth Smith
Both of these players would fill out a specific role with the Phillies: the south side of a right field platoon. Smith actually fits a little better than Bruce, both in terms of a platoon fit and salary wise (Smith will make $7 million this year, Bruce $13 million). Smith has been a platoon player before, whereas Bruce has been a starter his entire career, meaning he’d have to be amenable to change in playing time. We aren’t quite sure of Smith’s availability, but it is widely known that Bruce is available to highest bidder. They both have their flaws as hitters (similar strikeout rates, shouldn’t ever see a lefty), but they could both form a healthy platoon with Altherr to give the team good production from the right field position.
The Remaining Free Agents Division - Michael Saunders, Colby Rasmus
These two hitters largely fit the same criteria as Bruce and Smith, except they would only cost money, something the team has been more willing to spend this offseason. They are flawed as well - Saunders saw a 285 point drop in OPS in the second half; Rasmus saw a 148 drop in OPS from the previous season. There are also questions as to whether either would accept a demotion to a platoon role, but as the offseason progresses and they are still without jobs, that reality of a platoon job being the best available option might start to set in on them. At that point, the team could swoop in and offer a low, one year guarantee that could net them a nice player that remains productive against the type of pitchers they are better suited to see with regularity.
So yes, there are some ways to get better. Hoping that the team acquires a high end product like Blackmon or Gonzalez might be wishful thinking, so it’s best to set one’s sight on a more obtainable piece, like Bruce, Smith or Saunders. While they are pennant clinching moves, they might help contribute to help this team be a lot more interesting come July and August, something everyone can agree would more desirable than what fans have been subjected to the past two seasons.