Typically, the team with the worst record in baseball is never considered a “buyer” at the MLB Trade Deadline.
The Phillies are going to be “sellers.” Howie Kendrick, Pat Neshek, Jeremy Hellickson, and Joaquin Benoit could all be on their way out, and it’s possible the team will look to find new homes for some of their younger players, including Tommy Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco or Odubel Herrera.
Just about everybody on the Major League roster will be up for discussion, as general manager Matt Klentak looks to move guys out and welcome the prospects (#TrustTheProspects) to the Majors. But there is one area in which the Phillies should at least be prospective buyers next month, and that is in the market for top-shelf starting pitching.
It appears as if there is a rebuilding team within their own division that is thinking along those lines. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is reporting the Atlanta Braves are interested in trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and mentions Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jose Quintana of the Chicago White Sox as top targets. Oakland’s Sonny Gray is another option, the AJC reports.
Like the Phils, Atlanta is a team in the midst of a lengthy rebuild. At 36-39 and 8.5 games out of first place in the NL East, they do not harbor hopes of making the postseason in 2017. But a move for a starter like Archer, Quintana or Gray would not be about this season. It would be about the next few seasons, when expectations are the team will be ready to compete for the postseason once again.
I would make sense for the Phillies to consider something similar.
The most intriguing player among the trio mentioned above is Archer, who is 28 years old and is signed through the 2019 season. But there are team options for 2020 and 2021, meaning he is under team control for the next four years after this one.
While he struggled last season, going 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA and a 3.81 FIP, he did average 10.4 K/9 and had a 3.0 BB/9. This year, he’s been better, with a 3.88 ERA and a much-improved FIP of 2.89. He has struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings and walked 2.8, and he’s also cut down on his homer rate, from 1.3 per nine innings to 0.8 this season. Two seasons ago, he finished fifth in the AL Cy Young race and had a WAR of 4.3.
The Phillies do not have an ace in the big league rotation, nor is there an ace-type pitcher in Lehigh Valley or Reading. If the Phils want to have a true stopper on their team at any point over the next two seasons, they either need Aaron Nola or Vince Velasquez to turn into that guy, spend for Yu Darvish in free agency this winter, or trade for one.
Like Atlanta, the Phillies have the prospects to make a deal work. Young players like Cesar Hernandez and/or Odubel Herrera would likely have to be included in any deal, and one of the top prospects in AAA, such as Dylan Cozens or Nick Williams, and perhaps a low-level pitching prospect like Adonis Medina or even Franklyn Kilome, would have to be a part of the package as well.
There are obstacles to making a deal happen, of course. There are contenders, like the Yankees, Astros, and Red Sox (to name a few), that will also be looking for impact starting pitching with a greater sense of urgency in July. All three of those teams have farm systems that are as good or better than the Phils’, and all three teams could afford Archer’s extremely reasonable contract. He is owed $6.4 million in 2018, $7.6 million in ‘19, with a $9 million team option for 2020 and a $11 million team option for 2021.
It’s also reasonable to wonder why the Rays are dangling Archer in the first place. Coming into Tuesday, they were 40-38, just 3 games out of first place in the AL East and only one game out of the wild card. They have a terrific offensive club this season, and could lose pitchers Alex Cobb and/or Jake Odorizzi over the next year or two as well. Because of that, Tampa will have to be wowed to deal their young right-hande
And unlike Chris Sale, who was dealt this off-season by Chicago to Boston, Archer is not a no-doubt ace pitcher. He has had his struggles, although he has pitched like an ace in the past. Is that worth giving up a package of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, and Franklyn Kilome? Would that even be enough? Would Vince Velasquez have to be in a deal?
As for Quintana, it’s almost a given that he is going to be moved. The White Sox are in the midst of a rebuild of their own, and he could fetch a nice haul as well. He is team controlled for the next three years after 2017 (one fewer than Archer), and is owed $8.85 million next year, with a $10.5 million team option for 2019 and a $11.5 million team option for ‘20.
Quintana has had a very productive career up until this point, but his 2017 season has been sub-par. The 28-year-old has a 4.69 ERA in 15 starts with a FIP of 4.07, and while he has increased his K/9 to 9.0, up from a career average of 7.5, he’s also walking 3.3 per nine innings, up from his career 2.4.
The Phillies have a glut of position prospects but no impact arms in the upper minors or at the Majors. Using those prospects to buy an ace-type arm makes a lot of sense, as long as that pitcher is going to stick around for a few years, and the team is reasonably confident he can be a true stopper.
Chris Archer fits that bill pretty well. If the price is right, the Phillies should be in the mix for the Rays’ intriguing righty.
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