The trade deadline is exactly three weeks from today.
You can expect a lot of noise concerning the Phillies, a team that’s won three straight against the team with the National League’s best record, but also a team headed nowhere in 2014 with more than a few intriguing veterans that could interest contenders.
One of those veterans, Jonathan Papelbon, voiced his opinion on the matter last night. If a contender came calling and wanted him, would Papelbon be ready to move on?
“Yeah,” Papelbon said, adding a laugh, as if to say, “are you joking, of course.”
Papelbon is among the most likely veterans to have a new home in the next three weeks for a number of reasons.
Obviously he wants to go. He’s pitching well and many a contending team (Orioles, Angels, Tigers, Giants among them) could use an upgrade in the ninth inning. He has less remaining on his contract than he did a year ago, when there was minimal interest (and when he wasn’t pitching great).
And the Phillies will probably be plenty motivated to move a guy who has voiced his unhappiness before (famously telling MLB.com last July that he “didn’t come here for this” when the team was regularly losing games). The Phils will burly buy down what remains on his contract in order to move him easier and get a prospect or two back.
But that’s just the case of Papelbon. Four other Phillies veterans have commented on their own status as the trade deadline nears (three making those comments on this current trip).
Like Papelbon, I don’t pretend to have “that crystal eight-ball” to tell me the future, but I’ll mix in their comments with the probability that each player is no longer in a Phillies uniform on July 31.
COLE HAMELS. Lately, he’s been a popular name national media types have been churning into the rumor mill. Last week in Miami, Hamels was asked if the deadline was on his mind.
“No,” Hamels said with a laugh. “I think I understand where I stand. I do, I want to be here. I’m happy to be here.”
Hamels, who signed a 6-year, $144 contract extension two years ago this month, has a limited no trade clause. He can choose nine destinations each year to where he’d accept a trade; most are perennial contenders/Southern California teams.
But there’s little chance Hamels is going anywhere. Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies ownership have said they don’t plan on rebuilding from scrap, going through a five-year period of not winning; they expect to contend in the next year or so.
Of all of these players, Hamels is the only still in his prime; he should have a handful more productive years left. Even if the Phillies changed course and thought about dealing him, they’d need to receive a package back similar to what the Chicago Cubs got for Jeff Samardizija and it’s difficult to imagine the Phils taking on part of the contract, too.
Trading away a 30-year-old who helped you win a championship (World Series MVP) and who wants to be here, while also throwing in money in order to get an uncertain group of prospects back seems like a terrible PR move for an organization conscious of image/attendance.
Chances of Hamels being dealt: 10 percent
CHASE UTLEY. Of the Phillies position players, Utley would be most attractive to contenders because he’d be an obvious upgrade at a position where most teams aren’t getting much offense and for the intangibles he brings (leadership, postseason success). He also has a manageable contract (one more guaranteed year, the rest of it are vesting options tied to games played [read: ability to stay healthy]).
But it’s difficult to find a Philadelphia athlete who has been as popular as Utley in the last quarter century. As beloved as Brian Dawkins and Allen Iverson were, their respective teams didn’t win championships. While there’s surely a large contingent of fans who are ready to move on and value the return an Utley trade could bring, the educated guess here is there’s even a larger contingent that would not be happy at all with the already-unpopular Amaro unloading a franchise icon like Utley.
Put the PR point aside though, and acknowledge two more important facts: the Phillies do not want to trade Utley and Utley does not want to leave. He re-signed just 11 months ago, when he was just a couple months away from free agency.
Have his feelings changed?
“No, that’s still the case,” Utley told the Daily News this week. “I know we haven’t played up to expectations, but I still have faith in this organization. We can turn it around and get back to the level were were once at.”
You still have hope, despite enduring a second straight season of consistent losing like this?
“The way I look at it is to be positive about it,” Utley said. “I definitely haven’t giving up on what’s going on here. … There are some bright spots. Obviously we can improve in some different areas. But I think every major league team could say that.”
Chances of Utley being dealt: 10 percent
CLIFF LEE. The rehabbing pitcher made his second minor league rehab start on Wednesday night. He’s expected to rejoin the Phillies when they return from the All-Star break next weekend.
Last week, before he left the team to begin his official rehab, Lee was asked the upcoming trade deadline and where he expected to be when he returned from the DL.
“I’m just excited to be getting close (to getting back),” Lee said last week in Miami. “Hopefully I can help this team win. That’s really it. Trades and stuff happen, that’s completely out of my control. There’s no sense even thinking about it.”
Lee’s priority may be in getting himself ready to rejoin the Phillies, but he’s incorrect in saying he has no control over his future. Lee has a partial no-trade clause in his contract; he can block trades to 21 teams each year.
Lee signed a five-year, $120 million deal Dec. 2010 because he felt the Phillies gave him the best opportunity to reach and win a World Series. If that remains his big picture priority, Lee’s chances are better elsewhere.
So what happens if he’s presented with that scenario in the next three weeks?
“I’ll just cross that bridge when we get there,” Lee said of the trade deadline. “Right now I just want to get back and pitch and try to win.”
Lee is likely to make three starts before July 31. But he can also move through a waiver trade next month. And at that point, a team like the Dodgers (who have talent to offer) could be looking for a boost to their rotation as they attempt to make a run at playing in their first World Series since 1988.
Chances of Lee being dealt: 60 percent.
JIMMY ROLLINS: Pretty much everything that applies to Utley is similar with Rollins, although he hasn’t ever quite reached his double play partner’s popularity despite the MVP trophy that’s really representative of his role in turning the franchise into a winner in 2007.
But, like Utley, Rollins has a full no-trade clause as a player with at least 10 years or big league experience and at least 5 with his current team. Like Utley, he is deeply rooted within the Phillies community, very popular with its ownership. Rollins is married to a Philadelphia native, has two young daughters, and calls suburban South Jersey his home.
But after passing Mike Schmidt for the franchise’s hits record last month, Rollins at least opened the door to considering an exit from Philadelphia.
"It really depends if everything is blown up," Rollins told reporters. "Then you take that into consideration. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about that right now. But if that time does come, and it's time to go ... people move on."
But, on the same day, Rollins said his goal was to bring another championship to Philadelphia if he’s around long enough. Rollins knows he’s not even guaranteed that chance if he switches uniforms and uproots himself and his family for the next year and a half (what remains of his contract).
It would have to be the perfect situation (read: location, team) and even then it’s uncertain Rollins (who already has a World Series ring) would want to leave.
Chances of Rollins being dealt: 10 percent.
As for Papelbon, who we started with? 90 percent chance of being dealt.
Players not mentioned above (Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick) are more likely to be traded than most because of their contracts, lack of trade clauses, age, ability to be moved. If you demand numbers: Byrd, 80 percent; Burnett, 60 percent; Bastardo, 80 percent; Kendrick, 70 percent.