I wanted to make something clear that you might not infer from today's column: The Phillies have very little to lose in hanging onto their assets with the hope of striking a better deal in August or, more likely, the offseason. The notion that they had to swing a deal yesterday is just silly, and it ignores the very easy-to-research reality that the offseason trade market is oftentimes more liquid than the trade deadline market. In fact, if you gave me enough time, I'm pretty sure I could construct a convincing argument that it is a better time to sell. The number of sellers is the same (everybody without playoff aspirations), but there are twice as many buyers, all of whom have more payroll and roster flexibility than they had four months earlier. There is little doubt in my mind that Antonio Bastardo will command as much and perhaps even more this offseason than he would at the trade deadline (mostly because he won't command much in either case). Same goes for Cole Hamels. A.J. Burnett wasn't going to land the Phillies anything more than salary relief anyway, because he wasn't an obvious upgrade to any team's rotation, and he had the right to veto deals to all but nine teams, and nobody was sure whether he would pitch in 2015. Because of the number of closers that were on the market, Jonathan Papelbon might benefit from the influx of potential buyers in the offseason.
Think about it: the nature of the beast is that the better teams often have fewer prospects in their system, and they have a greater capability to absorb money. They also have better general managers, who are less likely to feel compelled to trade for a name-brand closer. If the Phillies are willing to pick up the bulk of Papelbon's remaining salary, which they should be, because they are going to be paying it anyway, so they might as well get something for the future out of it, then I can easily see a mid-market hopeful viewing Papelbon as cheap opportunity to add an effective closer while generating some excitement in the fanbase with a name brand addition. All it takes is one team to make a deal. And in the offseason, the odds of finding that one team are greater, because there are more teams in the pool.
Hamels, meanwhile, has to be the perfect deal. And judging by what the Rays landed for David Price, the perfect deal was not out there. Finding that perfect deal should be their top priority of the offseason, along with convincing Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz that now is the time to move along. There is a very good chance that Cliff Lee's elbow is shot, which leaves the Phillies with one starter under contract for next season (no way is Burnett staving off retirement so he can continue return to this). They will be a 100 loss team next season. Mark it down.
Now, we arrive at the player who served as the flashpoint yesterday. Marlon Byrd is still here. Throughout the last 48 hours, there have been reports that Amaro was seeking a king's ransom for Byrd. Those reports were used to paint Amaro as delusional. Amaro says that "teams" (read: Mariners) were expecting him to give Byrd away. That assertion was used to defend the decision not to trade Byrd.
So what the hell happened?
Let's try to figure it out by looking at the Mariners. Obviously untouchable in any Byrd deal would be Taijuan Walker, D.J. Peterson, Nick Franklin and James Paxton. My assumption is that the Phillies were eyeing the group of Mariners prospects that followed: SS Chris Taylor, OF Gabriel Guerrero, OF Austin Wilson, RHP Edwin Diaz. If the Mariners were willing to part with any one of these guys, it should have been an automatic deal for the Phillies, particularly Taylor or Diaz, although it is hard to imagine the Mariners parting with Taylor given his ability to play the middle of the infield.
CBS Sports had a report that claimed that some offers the Phillies had fielded were “embarrassing,” including “pitchers with 5-plus and 6-plus ERAs.” Assuming this comment was directed at the Mariners, which I have no doubt it was, it would point in the direction of the Mariners’ third tier of prospects, which includes 18-year-old lefty Luiz Gohara (9.82 ERA in six starts in short season ball) and lefty Tyler Pike, who has a 7.14 ERA at Double-A Jackson.
If this is really where the deal stalled, then both sides were acting rationally in their own self-interest. Byrd has been better than any of us expected, but he is not a postseason difference maker, mostly because when he isn't hitting for power, he is striking out and failing to get on base. I can understand not wanting to give up anybody who is relatively close to the majors and performing well at the upper level of the minors. On the flip side, I can understand the Phillies feeling like Gohara and Pike would represent change for the sake of change. Change for the sake of change might be all they can get even in the offseason. But they might as well give it a whirl.
Consider: Yesterday, the A’s acquired outfielder Sam Fuld, whom they waived earlier in the season, in exchange for starter Tommy Milone, who had a 3.55 ERA, 5.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9 in 16 starts for them this season. He’s exactly the category of pitcher the Phillies need just to make it through next season: a young, cheap kid they can control through 2017. I would argue that Milone-for-Byrd would be a better deal than a third-tier prospect or two (think Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin). That being said, Milone himself probably wasn’t a great fit, because he is an extreme fly ball pitcher with extreme home/road splits. You can get a Tommy Milone on the free agent market for a few years. And Milone is about to reach arbitration, and would become a free agent by the time the Phillies have a chance not to stink (2017).
So Milone-type? Yes. Milone himself? No. But if a Milone-type can be had for a Fuld, maybe one can be had for a Byrd, so why settle for slop right now? The risk they take with Byrd is him injuring himself or finishing the year in an epic funk. He's an old guy, and he still carries the stigma of pre-2013. But he also might look like a bargain once the free agent market unfolds. Perhaps worth a back-of-the-rotation starter for a team that has some extras (Think Ross Detwiler, etc.). Besides, if the Phillies did not project what they were being offered as eventual major leaguers, then what do they have to lose to wait? If they are wrong in their projection, that's another issue.
The issue I wrote about in the column wasn't Amaro's inaction itself, but his defense of his inaction, which suggested that his fellow general managers were overvaluing their prospects and undervaluing his players. Now, the market might very well be irrational, and the Phillies might be wise to sit it out, but the Phillies should not have been surprised at any of it, because none of the players they were trying to shop were postseason difference makers, and we live in an era of baseball where prospects are worth more than ever because of the price and paucity of talent available on the free agent market and the new egalitarian amateur markets. Frankly, if you think prospects are overvalued, then the smart move is to try to take advantage of that market inefficiency instead of complaining about it.
To sum it up: If the Phillies didn't think they were being offered anything that had a decent chance to help them at the major league level within the next three or four years, then they had nothing to lose by waiting. But they also need to realize that there is a chance that they will never be offered what they are hoping for.