Separating fiction from reality: A Phillies Trade Deadline primer

And here we are, on the day the Phillies can reshape the future of their franchise and the landscape of Major League Baseball as we know it. It’s July 31: Major League Baseball’s trade deadline will arrive this afternoon..

Re-read that last paragraph with the voice of that guy who reads Hollywood blockbuster trailers. “In A World Where His Baseball Team Is In Need Of A Shakeup, Ruben Amaro Jr. Has His Finger On The Trigger.”

Yes, it’s overly dramatic. Yes, the movie will end up being a pile of you-know-what.

The end product will be underwhelming. And that is the likely reality of the Phillies and the non-waiver trade deadline that will arrive at 4 p.m. this afternoon. 

While we await for the big deals that won’t happen, let’s continue to separate some fiction from reality.

1. The Phillies Have To Be an Active Seller: Well, yeah, duh. The Phillies are well on their way to their third straight season without a winning record. They own one of the top five payrolls in the game. The way they’ve gone about their business in the last few years clearly hasn’t worked, so they have to change things. Now. Yesterday.

But… it’s not as easy as Amaro snapping his fingers, making his veterans available, and having a dozen teams come running to take those players away while giving the Phillies a much-needed supply of minor league talent. 

You’ve seen the Joakim Sorias and Justin Mastersons and the like on the move in the last few weeks while the likes of Jonathan Papelbon and A.J. Burnett not on the move because some players are easier to trade than others. The others mostly sit on the Phillies roster. 

The Phillies front office has added (needless?) vesting options and no-trade clauses to free agent contracts like a doting parent endlessly giving candy to appease their child. 

Why would the Detroit Tigers want the $32.5 million Papelbon could be owed over the next two years when they could get Soria for a third of the financial commitment? Why would the Cardinals want to risk that A.J. Burnett doesn’t retire, is owed as much as $12.75 million next year, when they can get the expiring contract of Masterson instead?

So going all-out seller and trying to fix the Phillies is a heck of a lot easier said than done. The difficult-to-deal contracts are the bed the Phillies made and will have to lie in after the deadline passes today.

There is one way around that, though. (See, No. 3)

2. Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins Are Not Going Anywere. 

Hamels is a 30-year-old in the prime of his career, who the team can keep for 5 more seasons. The Phillies - a big market team with a big market TV deal - should be able to find a way to be competitive in the next 2-3 years.

Prospects are glorified in the modern era, and some certainly pan out into stars; but a heck of a lot more never amount to anything worthwhile. Like all of the players ever traded for Cliff Lee. Like Matt LaPorta, the leading piece in the deal that sent a 27-year-old CC Sabathia from Cleveland to Milwaukee in 2008.

The Phillies are not going to trade the uncertainty of three big-name prospects for the certainty of having one of the top half-dozen pitchers in baseball taking the ball every fifth day in the next 4-5 years.

As for Utley and Rollins, both have full no-trade clauses and have said repeatedly that they do not want to leave.

3: What the Phillies Need is Prospects, Not Payroll Relief.

After signing a massive TV contract in January, it’s money that the Phillies have. And it’s a fruitful bounty of minor league prospects they lack. 

So if the Phillies would like to move say, Marlon Byrd later today, and hope to get a projectable outfielder or starting pitcher in return, two things they desperately need, they can pay up the return in a trade. 

Just like a house buyer can add more money up front to pay down a mortgage rate, the Phils front office can increase the likelihood of getting a worthwhile prospect back for Byrd (or any of their other veterans) by sending the team money, too.

The Phils signed Byrd to a 2-year, $16 million deal in November. A team might be OK with paying Byrd $8 million next season.

But the team might not like the idea of also being on the hook for Byrd’s $8 million vesting option for 2016, when the outfielder turns 39 years old. Well, the Phillies are the ones who put that vesting option in that contract (and Papelbon’s contract, and Burnett’s, etc.) so they should pay it. If it’s the difference between getting a young player with upside or holding onto an older player who doesn’t fit into your plans, it’s really just the price of doing business. 

4. Today’s Deadline is Just a Tad Overhyped and Not The End.

Jamie Moyer. Scott Eyre. Matt Stairs. Three old guys, right? Sure, now they are. But they were all important pieces of the 2008 Phillies World Championship roster. And they are all acquired by the Phillies in August, after the July 31 deadline. 

The trade that helped reshape the Red Sox and Dodgers two years ago, with Adrian Gonzalez and others going to Los Angeles? That went down on Aug. 25.

So when 4 p.m. arrives today and the Phillies have made one or two marginal moves (Antonio Bastardo sold off for two minor leaguers you never heard of), it’s not the end. The reality is the Phils are more likely to make more deals in the coming weeks than in the coming hours. 

Again, they have veterans with contracts that most teams are not too fond of acquiring. So those players and those contracts will pass through waivers, and then the Phillies can still trade those players before Sept. 1 if a contending team would like to add those players for a postseason run.

Papelbon, Byrd and Burnett can still be traded next month. Cliff Lee, who pitches today in Washington, will perhaps be the most intriguing name in all of baseball in August. Lee is a proven playoff performer, and if a team loses out on Jon Lester and David Price isn’t dealt, Lee is a very nice alternative for a contending team if he shows he is healthy and effective in the next two weeks.

And if the Phillies take on a portion of the $37.5 million Lee is owed after this season, which again, they can do as a large market team flush in Comcast cash, they should be able to add a few useful pieces to their farm system. 

Again, that’s not going to happen today. But in the next three weeks, it’s a definite possibility.

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