After a week or so of rumors regarding a prospects-for-bullpen help deal between the Phillies and Padres, we finally have some actual names being thrown around. Tom Krasovic cites “a major league source outside the West” who believes the Phillies are willing to trade 1B/OF “The Boss” Jonathan Singleton, and perhaps more, to the Padres for reliever Mike Adams. Of Adams and Heath Bell, I’d rather have Adams, who is under team control for a year longer than Bell, and leads all active major league relievers in tERA since the start of the 2010 season. If you’re looking for a relief pitcher, particularly a right-handed relief pitcher, you’re not going to do much better than Mike Adams, despite the fact that he’s been under Bell’s shadow.
For Singleton’s part, the 19-year-old is one of the Phillies’ signature high-risk/high-reward minor league bats high school draft picks, and the former 8th-round pick has exceeded expectations, hitting .282 this season with patience and power against opposition two years or more older than he is. In two-plus minor league seasons, Singleton has fallen more on the “high-reward” side of the equation with some truly stellar performances for a player of his age. A first baseman by trade, Singleton has his path blocked by Ryan Howard, and has played left field for parts of this season, with limited success.
With that said, if Singleton is included in any trade for a reliever, I’m going to lose my shit.
Adams is a great reliever (so is Bell, for that matter), but the difference between him and Danys Baez or Jose Contreras in the bullpen would likely be no more than one marginal win this season and maybe two next year. A good starting position player, such as Singleton projects to be, is worth those three wins in one year, and he’d be under team control for another five years
beyond that, depending on the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The major selling point for Singleton is his performance based on his youth. As a 19-year-old, he already has good plate discipline and power, and those skills stand to grow. Most 19-year-olds with major league aspirations are college freshmen or in low-A or rookie ball, and that Singleton is, essentially, two years ahead of schedule, makes his ceiling much higher than a comparable 21-year-old prospect at that level, or perhaps even a 21-year-old or 22-year-old putting up comparable stats at AA. Simply put, Singleton has the potential to be an all-star first baseman or outfielder, and no relief pitcher, no matter how good, is as valuable as any decent first baseman, much less the quality of player Singleton could become. Hitting that well at that level at that age is a trait exhibited by only the very, very best prospects, and Singleton is maybe only a step or two behind where Mike Trout, Jason Heyward, and Mike Stanton were at a similar age.
Concerning the idea that Ryan Howard is signed through 2016, and is thus blocking Singleton’s path, Dash Treyhorn of The Fightins put it well: assuming that Singleton can’t hack it defensively in left, and assuming that Howard isn’t shipped out at some point in the same type of deal that cleared Jim Thome from Howard’s path before the 2006 season (and both of which are big assumptions), Singleton will be 25 when Howard’s deal runs out, or the same age Howard was when he took over from Thome.
Simply put, Adams is great, and Singleton is far from a sure thing, but Singleton’s potential is too great for him to be traded at this point. It would be the epitome of foolishness to let him go for any relief pitcher, no matter how good he might be.