On Friday, the Phillies were reportedly shopping Jonathan Papelbon rather aggressively.
On Monday, they were looking around the hallways at Walt Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin Resort in search for a trade partner interested in All-Star outfielder Domonic Brown.
So, naturally, on Tuesday, two national media outlets reported the Phillies were telling teams they’d listen to offers for Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
Sell! Sell! Sell! Everyone must go!
Black Friday may have been 3 weeks ago, but Major League Baseball’s shopping season opens in early November and continues through January in the offseason. The early December period where a Who’s Who of baseball people are confined in the same, crowded hotel lobby, isn’t all that different from the idiots falling all over each other for a big screen TV at Walmart in the early morning after Thanksgiving.
Even if there is little action - last year David Wright, not yet a free agent, re-upping with the Mets stood as the biggest highlight - the Winter Meetings are high on drama. If there is a whisper of talk, it become a full-fledged rumor that should be taken very, very seriously.
Could the Phillies really be shopping any of those players? Well, yeah.
But let’s break it down, player-by-player.
Jonathan Papelbon: the Phillies made him the richest reliever in baseball history two years ago. Midway through the contract, they’re a team on the decline; and there’s no sense for an average-to-below average team to have an overpriced closer. (Aside: there’s no sense in any team having an overpriced closer).
Papelbon can still collect saves, even if his fastball has lost considerable zip in the last two years. He’s also a volatile personality, which is fine and can be overlooked on a winning team but not-so-good on a bad team. He’s owed a lot of money ($26 million over two years, not to mention a vesting option for 2016).
Of the four players mentioned in this blog, he’d be the guy the Phillies would like to trade the most. He’d also be the most difficult to get rid of, unless, perhaps, he was paired with one of the other players in a blockbuster trade.
Domonic Brown: How, exactly, does a team with an aging offense get better by trading a 26-year-old who hit 27 home runs in 2013? “That’s not our goal,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said when posed that very question. “Our goal is to add, not subtract.”
But the reality is the Phillies have more problems than the lack of other, young, controllable offensive players. Their starting pitching depth at the major leagues and upper levels of the minor leagues is embarrassingly thin.
Trading Brown - again, young, controllable and productive - wouldn’t seem to make much sense for a team with one of the game’s highest payrolls and a sub-.500 win/loss record in 2013. But the Phillies are going to need multiple pieces to eventually move on from the Howard-Rollins-Utley era, not just one player. They’ll surely listen on Brown, but they’re also surely not going to give him away, either.
Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels: We’re grouping these two together, even though we said we’d break it down player-by-player. (We lied). The first thing that everyone should understand is that every team gauges the value of all of their players, whether through highly-publicized trade rumors or in a more quiet, behind-closed-doors fashion. It’s simple due diligence to take stock of your assets.
After re-signing Chase Utley late last year and spending the first month of the season committing another $42 million to Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd, two players that will also enter Opening Day at age 35 or older. It doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to spend money on all of those veterans - a sign that the team is trying to win in 2014 - and then trade away the kind of pitcher that can be the very difference from being a contender or pretender.
The Phillies need pieces to move forward, as mentioned above. But the front office is clearly trying to increase it’s chances of winning in the Howard-Utley-Rollins era and trading Lee or Hamels would be counterproductive.
But once again, the front office wouldn’t be doing it’s due diligence otherwise. They have to gauge the value of their biggest assets. Given the state of the free agency market, where ordinary pitchers are receiving extraordinary contracts (Jason Vargas’s 4.30 career ERA fetched him 4 years and $32 million) it’s worth seeing just how much a team would give up to pass up on the likes of Ervin Santana and instead get a much better product in Hamels or Lee.
Would a team rather pay Santana six years and $90 million or take on Hamels (5 years, $112.5 million) or Lee (2 years, $62.5 million). The catch, of course, is the Phillies would also be asking for high-echelon prospects, too.
The likelihood of such a trade decreases when you consider this: teams rarely get value back when they deal a starting pitcher the caliber of a Cliff Lee.
Proof? Here are the 10 players three different teams (the Indians, Phillies and Mariners) received when trading away Cliff Lee in three separate deals: Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont, J.C. Ramirez, Matthew Larson, Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke, Justin Smoak.
This just in: the Phillies wouldn't trade Lee for all 10 of those players today.