Three days from now is July 4, which is not only America's birthday, but the day on which Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passed away. I mention this mostly to impress you with my vast historical knowledge, but also because if July 4 is three days away, then that makes today July 1, which for me is the Memorial Day of the Major League Baseball trade season. After Memorial Day, you can wear white, and after July 1, you can talk seriously about prospective trades. I don't know why the first rule exists, and if anyone can provide a clue, please do, because I just wasted 15 minutes of valuable time trying to find the answer. The second rule exists mostly because I just made it, but also because it isn't until July that we really have a good idea of who the buyers and sellers will be. The White Sox, for example, might've been sellers a few weeks ago. Now, they are in the thick of the AL Central race.
But right now, we have a pretty clear idea of the identity of the Phillies' needs, and the identity of the teams that will be stripping themselves down and selling off their parts.
Over the next couple days, we'll try as best we can to set up the various aspects of the trade market. First, we'll break down the Phillies' farm system, separating the prospects from the non-prospects and grouping them into several different categories. Later, we'll break down the players around baseball who could become targets for the Phils. And, finally, we'll do a completely unscientific projection of which prospects might net which players.
But first, we'll explain why a trade for Dan Haren just might make some sense for the Phillies, even though they traded away a better pitcher in the offseason.
We'll do this first because ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reported today that the Phillies have the Diamondbacks' righthander on their radar, and I've received several emails on the subject.
As a disclaimer, the only place Haren and the Phillies have been linked thus far is on Crasnick's Twitter account. But it's worth looking at:
1) I know what you're thinking: How can Ruben Amaro Jr. look his fan base in the eye and tell them he is trying to trade for a starting pitcher when, back in December, he traded away a guy who at the moment has registered as many complete games (5) as he has issued walks (5) and is currently 7-3 with a 2.45 ERA while averaging eight innings per start? It isn't like the Phillies' current situation came out of the blue: in each of the last three seasons, they've dealt with injuries in their rotation and have looked to add a starter at the trade deadline, and when Lee was traded away, many people pointed out that there was a good chance they would end up right back where they started, needing to add an arm. Injuries happen. And, this season, they've happened. I don't pretend to understand the rationale behind the Lee deal. But I do know that Amaro has a boss, and chain of command is a pretty powerful thing, and for whatever reason somebody, or a group of somebodies, in the Phillies organization decided that they just couldn't keep Lee.
2) So if they couldn't keep Lee, how can they justify trading for a starter? If we adhere to the Phillies' explanation for the trade, that the farm system was in dire need of some re-inforcements, it will be tough to find basis for that justification. After all, to land a pitcher, a team must part with prospects. And dealing prospects eight months after you acquired them would seem to defeat the purpose of the original acquisition.
Except in two circumstances. One, the Phillies like the prospects they acquired in December better than the ones they think they can ship out this July. Or, two, the Phillies think they can land more long-term stability than Lee would have offered. The first situation could prove true if the Phillies are targeting a middle-of-the-rotation guy like Joe Blanton a couple of years ago.
The second situation could prove true in Haren's case. . .
3) Nobody is going to argue that a pitcher like Dan Haren will give the Phillies a better chance to win this season than Cliff Lee would have. So it's best to forget about Lee, and chalk any disagreement over the December trade to philosophical differences. The Phillies have acted, and even spoken, in a manner that spells out their strategy -- a good chance to win over several seasons is better than a great chance to win in one season.
The Phillies decided they couldn't afford to give both Halladay and Lee long-term deals worth $20 million or more annually. You might argue that they could have afforded it by declining to give Ryan Howard a $25-million-a-year contract extension. But again, those are philosophical differences.
They might very well decide, however, that they can afford to pay Halladay $20 million per year, and another pitcher $13.33 million per year, which is what Haren is scheduled to make through 2013 ($12.75 mil in 2011-12, and a $15.5 million option in 2013).
In terms of sheer bang-for-buck Haren's contract seems club-friendly given his track record. From 2005-09, he never made less then 33 starts in a season, and he posted a 3.48 ERA while striking out 7.8 batters-per-nine and walking 1.9 batters per nine. He has struggled this season, going 7-6 with a 4.56 ERA and allowing 1.7 home-runs-per-nine. But he is only 29 years old, and he plays in a losing atmosphere, and while he is giving up slightly more fly balls this season, his strikeout and walk rates remain stellar. There is plenty of reason to believe he is a pitcher who might benefit from a change-of-scenery, both figuratively and, with regards to the paper-thin air in Airzona, literally.
Maybe the Phillies look at the next few years, envision a 4H-sponsored rotation of Halladay, Haren, Hamels, Happ and Blanton and think that they can prolong their window with several seasons of starting pitching dominance. They then decide that, hey, maybe we don't really need to replenish the farm system right now.
4) But. . .
Not only would trading for a guy like Haren put a halt to the current Prospect Replinishment Program, it would almost certainly wipe out whatever reserves the Phillies had before they traded Cliff Lee.
While there are an abundance of starting pitchers who figure to be available, there are also an abundance of teams looking for those pitchers.
The Phillies wouldn't trade Domonic Brown last season, and they almost certainly will not trade him this season. But he is the Phillies' one true blue-chip prospect playing above Class A, and it is hard to imagine a deal like this getting done without such a player.
5) A lot of things would have to happen for the Phillies to land Haren. First, other clubs would have to be scared away by his remaining guaranteed money and choose instead to focus on players like Lee or the Cubs' Ted Lilly, both of whom will be free agents after this season. This would then drive down the price for Haren. Because, let's face it, almost every potential suitor is in a better position to offer an attractive package than the Phillies, who have shipped away most of their top prospects over the last year. Second, the Diamondbacks would have to place a high value on some Phillies prospects who aren't Domonic Brown. Third, the Phillies would have to be willing to part with those prospects.
Could it happen? Sure.
Will it happen? Unlikely at this point.
But it's July 1, which means we can talk about it.