The Winter Meetings have come and gone, but there’s still plenty of offseason left before clubs begin reporting for Spring Training. The Phillies seem like they’re done testing the eight-or-nine-figure free agent market (regrets to those holding out hope for Josh Donaldson), but that doesn’t mean they can’t still make a significant move through trade. And it could happen at any time! If you remember, the Phillies were never more than loiterers on the outskirts of the J.T. Realmuto talks before swooping in late and nabbing the star catcher.
So we got to thinking: If we had the choice, who would we want the Phillies to trade for before the season started? With some effort to keep things realistic — we’re not cooking up Mike Trout offers, okay — our staff writers make the case for their guy below.
Ethan - Jon Gray (SP, Rockies)
I don’t know why I like him, but I’m a Jon Gray fan. He’s not exactly the most durable pitcher in the, only getting over 160 innings once in a season. He hasn’t dominated the Phillies in his career, going 3-3 in seven starts with 48/21 K/BB in 41 ⅓ innings pitched. He’s more or less unaffected by Coors Field, so even the sort of pedestrian numbers he puts up aren’t altitude adjusted. But he has recently been written about in Baseball Prospectus about a way he might tap into the stuff that made him the 3rd overall pick in 2013.
And that’s where I’m at with Gray — the stuff. The array of pitches he possesses has always fascinated me. He’s a fastball/slider guy who mixes in curves now and then. Yet he can run that fastball up to the high 90s and the slider itself scrapes the 90 mark at times, settling in the 87-88 range. It’s good stuff and stuff that might be better at altitude. While the numbers he’s put up haven’t been affected too much by Coors, there have been studies that a pitcher’s breaking balls won’t break as much in Colorado. Getting him out of Denver and letting him pitch more often at sea level could let him unleash that stuff and dominate more often. The return might be astronomical, but it’s something I’d look into.
John - Kyle Freeland (SP, Rockies)
A trade for Freeland would either be brilliant or really dumb. But since the Phillies aren’t going to go out of their way to add payroll in exchange for an established arm, the other option is to go sniffing around other organizations to see if they can turn some trash into treasure. In the case of Freeland, here’s a guy who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting just two seasons ago when he put up a 2.85 ERA in 33 starts (202.1 innings) despite pitching half his games in Coors Field. Sure, he was probably a bit lucky, given his 3.67 FIP, that’s still incredibly effective for a Rockies starter.
Then last season, he fell off a cliff. In 22 starts, he was among the worst pitchers in baseball, with a 6.76 ERA and a 5.99 FIP that got him sent down to AAA for most of the middle of the season. His HR/FB rate jumped from 8.5% to an astonishing 21.7%, his K-rate fell from 20.5% to 16.7%, while his walk rate remained about the same. He’s only in his first year of arbitration, so he should only cost a couple million dollars this year, which means Colorado can afford to wait and see if he bounces back in 2020, which they probably will. But if the Phils think the left-hander can bounce back and be something like what we saw in 2018, he’d probably be my No. 1 value target this off-season.
Alex - Robbie Ray (SP, Diamondbacks)
With news of the Diamondbacks’ recent acquisition of Madison Bumgarner breaking on Sunday, the team looks primed to deal another stud southpaw, Robbie Ray, who is on his final year of club control. Ray’s 2019 was nothing extraordinary — he turned in a 4.34 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and continued to struggle with his control, walking batters at a 4.3 BB/9 clip. That said, his strikeout potential is undeniable. The 28 year-old sported a 12.1 K/9 over the duration of his 2019 season, and did so across 174.1 frames. That comes out to a whopping 235 strikeouts — which is impressive for a pitcher who doesn’t often make it past the 6th inning.
There is one limiting factor to this trade in particular — the money. Ray is slated to make a strong $10.8 Million in his final phase of arbitration. If the Phillies are serious about sticking under the first luxury tax threshold, they’ll need Arizona to come up with a bit of Ray’s remaining cash, taxing Philly prospect-wise.
It’s worth noting that Ray’s strikeout stuff would transition particularly well to the bullpen — making him an ideal target for a low-risk, longer-term deal. Plus, the Phillies have a newfound resource in pitching coach Bryan Price. If he can manage to aid Ray in an effort to re-polish his control, we could be looking at a legitimate rotation weapon for years to come.
Jay - David Price (SP, Red Sox)
With the Phillies striking out on the big guns of Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, they will need to turn to the trade market to make a significant upgrade to their rotation. Mind you, they’ve already significantly improved with the addition of Zack Wheeler, but after he and Nola...what do they really have? Jake Arrieta will be coming off a significant injury and can’t be counted on for much. Zach Eflin was strong down the stretch in 2019, but remains unproven. That leaves you rolling the dice once again with Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez to fill out the bottom of the rotation. With respect to all the players mentioned above, not one would make the impact that David Price would. Price is coming off a season in which he only pitched 107.1 innings with 128 strikeouts to 32 walks. He’s dealt with injury issues in two of the past three seasons, so there is a risk of acquiring a now 34-year-old pitcher with over 2,000 Major League innings.
Price is currently wrapped up in a significant contract with the Boston Red Sox that sees him earning $32 million per season for the next three years. The Red Sox are in a tough spot as is as they will need to dish out a huge contract extension to Mookie Betts and enter in significant arbitration years with Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, and Eduardo Rodriguez. What would be the price of acquiring the former Cy Young winner? Likely significant prospects, including and starting with Spencer Howard. How could that price tag drop? Well, last I checked, the Phillies have a ton of money and could take on the entirety of the contract. This would not only be taking advantage of the Phillies’ greatest asset ($$), but also the last significant move they could make to justify blowing past the luxury tax threshold.
Paul - George Springer (OF, Astros)
Okay, hang with me for a second on this one.
More teams are trying to win this year. That’s a really good thing, but it does make the trade market a little harder to read. Trying to make heads or tails of a club’s idea of “buying” or “selling” is getting tougher (Cleveland really isn’t helping here). Prior to 2018, it’d stretch credulity to think a 107-win team that just went to the World Series for the second time in three years would trade their starting center fielder.
Last week, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported ($) that the Astros have reportedly “considered” trading their shortstop, Carlos Correa. Whether that consideration involves simply fielding a phone call or two from a creative team or actively trying to find a fit for Correa someplace else, I’m not sure. It piqued my curiosity just the same. The team, apparently facing a payroll crunch somehow, would supposedly want to capitalize on the massive prospect cache that a player like Correa would command, in order to avoid the looming cost of the extension he’d need to keep him in Houston beyond 2021. Personally, I’d pay the star still in his mid-20s and build the team around he and Alex Bregman, but it doesn’t seem to be that easy.
That brings us to Springer, who turned 30 in September and will be eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. He’s going to make about $20 million as a third-time arbitration-eligible player with big numbers (.274/.363/.496 in the last four seasons), and the Astros are flirting with the upper levels of the CBT (as of today, their projected payroll sits in the $230-235 million range). They’re sure to look for a way to get regular ABs and outfield innings for Kyle Tucker (who’s logged over 1,000 innings in CF in the minors) and possibly Myles Straw, and moving Josh Reddick’s remaining $13 million won’t fetch a return in the same zip code as Springer. Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel currently occupy other corner spots, but obviously the presence of the DH gives Houston some wiggle room to avoid overcrowding.
I don’t consider it likely or even all that rational. The Astros should probably try and go for it one more time with their best squad in 2020, and that squad has Springer in center. But if the payroll crunch is real and the team prefers a bigger return rather than just eating money, this might be the guy to move. Hey, it can’t hurt to dream a little bigger.