Recently, I was fortunate enough to take a wonderful vacation with my wife to Orlando, FL and New Orleans, LA to visit family. On the trip, I met my newest nephew for the first time and played golf at a level not unlike Sinbad in House Guest. My wife and I did the trip by car, going, by our estimation, over 3,200 miles round trip, seeing parts of the country we had never seen before.
With rest and relaxation on my mind, I had almost quite literally forgotten about the Phillies. When we left, they were just a few games out of the race and, even though I pegged them as a 64-win team in the offseason, I did not think they would fall into a tailspin this season or at least this early in it. When we returned to Glenside, PA, I started to think that maybe forgetting about them was the best thing that could have happened.
It has been difficult to write or think about the Phillies and I wanted to hold off writing something extremely negative until they won a few games. Seeing as they have lost eight of nine, I am not sure that day will come soon. Still in a vacation haze, Buster Olney successfully snapped me out of it with one sentence uttered during ESPN’s draft coverage. I am unable to find the footage and do not want to misquote Olney but it was to the effect of:
The Phillies are in trouble and not just in trouble this year but for a long, long time.
And, unfortunately, in so many ways, this is true. Many have begun to speculate who the Phillies will trade at the deadline. Here is a hint: they have only a handful of tradeable players. And those that are tradeable will not net anything close to a lottery ticket prospect yet alone a cornerstone-type prospect. Let’s take a look at them, one by one.
Carlos Ruiz – Now 35 years old, Chooch is in the first year of a two-year, $17 million contract. As a free agent last year, any team could have had Chooch for the right price and Colorado was one team that showed significant interest. With an OBP close to .400, Chooch is a fringe All-Star and may have some trade value but it is tough to say considering that no team other than the Phillies or Rockies were willing to go as high as the Phillies ended up going. At best, because of the price tag, the Phillies would get a bounce-back candidate starting pitching prospect or a second-division regular for Chooch. Essentially a Rob Rasmussen or a Cody Asche-type player. And that hypothetical deal includes any money they would include to offset his contract.
Wil Nieves – Here is an interesting name. The best offseason signing the Phillies made, Nieves has made just 12 appearances but has been solid as a Phillie, hitting .250/.267/.386. If a team is in the race but their back-up catcher goes down, Nieves has some value and could net an organizational arm with a ceiling of a long reliever and the floor as AA fifth starter.
Ryan Howard – Well, the good news is the Phillies are about half-way through his contract. The bad news is that there are still two and a half years left. Look, no one is blaming Howard for signing the contract he did two years before he became a free agent. But the contract makes him untradeable to any team that doesn’t have a death wish.
First baseman can and do fall from the sky, as evident by the performances of Brandon Moss, Jose Abreu, Matt Adams, Michael Morse among others. Howard is hitting .233/.302/.414 with 11 homers which equates to being worth -0.1 fWAR. For those who choose not to accept WAR, I’ll put it in a different way: Howard ranks 21st in BA among first basemen, 21st in OBP, 18th in SLG, 20th in wRC+, and 19th in OPS. As evident by the downward trend in his statistics even before the Achilles injury, this was the player Howard was always destined to become. The injury accelerated the proceedings.
There is almost no amount of money the Phillies can offer to include in a Howard deal that makes his contract or performance palatable to a team because, quite simply, most teams already have a first baseman and/or DH that is playing better than Howard.
2B & SS:
Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are the two pillars of this franchise and, at the very least, Rollins, should be recognized when everything is all said and done as being the glue of the Phillies run of greatness from 2007 through 2011. Rollins took below-market contracts prior to the 2006 and 2012 seasons to stay in Philadelphia and you can say the same for Utley.
Having said that, the Phillies cannot move them. Both are protected by 10/5 rights in addition to No Trade Protection that both have in their contracts. Each could wave those protections but that is unlikely. Utley and Rollins both have cases to make a return trip to the All-Star Game this year and they will likely do so with Phillies’ P’s on their heads.
3B, LF, & CF:
I wouldn’t normally pair Asche, Domonic Brown, and Ben Revere but they all have the following in common: they are cheap regulars still on their initial contracts that don’t cost very much to have on the team. Asche has some potential to be a better hitter but profiles as a regular on a non-competitive team. Brown looks completely lost but it would be almost a big of a mistake to sell at his lowest value as teams line-up like vultures to try to obtain him. For his faults, Revere has done a great job remaining in the same value-sphere as the much more expensive Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton. These three likely aren’t going anywhere.
Finally, another tradeable player. Marlon Byrd has played himself in to the same value category as Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy on a reasonable contract. With just one year and $8 million remaining in addition to the rest of the 2014 season, Byrd could be had for a B-ish prospect, likely some sort of corner infield piece or starter with a fifth-starter ceiling.
Cole Hamels has $90 million guaranteed left on his contract through the 2018 season. Now fully healthy, Hamels looks like the Hamels of old, pitching to a 2.11 ERA in his last six starts with a .195 BAA. Despite this, that contract would be a monster to move. There would be teams interested, don’t get me wrong, but Hamels profiles, at this time, as someone with sound mechanics that should remain healthy through the end of the contract.
Cliff Lee, on the other hand, seemed like a front runner to be moved until his injury. David Buchanan isn’t going anywhere for the same reasons listed with Asche, Brown, and Revere, and Roberto Hernandez is pitching to his worst WHIP since 2009 and is on pace to walk more batters by the end of June than he did with the Rays in the entire 2013 campaign. A.J. Burnett could net the Phillies an organizational arm if healthy but that is still a question mark.
Kyle Kendrick is the name to look at as a possible trade bait. Kendrick joins Nieves and Byrd as guys that wouldn’t net the Phillies a whole lot but could be moved relatively easily. Kendrick’s remarkable consistency, from his ERA to his WHIP to his K/9 IP, would be of interest to a team down a starter and in the thick of a pennant race. The team Kendrick is traded to would be on the hook for only the prorated portion of his $7.675 million deal.
Let’s be real: when Mike Adams went down, it was a blow to one of only a handful of tradeable pieces the Phillies had. In 19 games, Adams has come just short of reinventing himself in 2014 with lowered velocity but improved control. I don’t see any team being interested in anyone else on the team except for, well…
Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon has 13 saves in 14 chances with a 1.54 ERA. Papelbon has just 2015 left on his original four-year, $52 million pact he signed with the Phils prior to the 2012 season but does have a pretty attainable vesting option for 2016 ($13 million guaranteed if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 combined in 2014 and 2015). Papelbon might be the one player that could net the Phillies a fun “lottery ticket” type prospect but the Phillies would have to kick in a chunk of cash for that to happen.
With very few tradeable assets, the Phillies aren’t even in a position to blow it up and start over. They are stuck with Howard and Utley through, at least, 2016, Lee, Rollins and Ruiz through 2015 assuming Rollins option vests and Lee’s doesn’t, and are likely going to keep playing Asche, Brown, and Revere because they are cheap and have each shown potential even if their are affordable options on the free agent market. Unfortunately, the 2014 Phillies may be the 2015 Phillies, barring any spectacular minor league play from J.P. Crawford or Maikel Franco. And the pitching staff? Well, good luck with that.
It gets worse
So, even if the Phillies had any money to spend, the 2015 crop of free agents isn’t headlined by anyone particularly exciting. There are no catchers, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, or right fielders of note under 30, and the only ”notable” left fielder that is under 30 is Phillies legend Delmon Young.
The 2015 free agent class is one of the weakest in recent memory with the standouts including Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Hanley Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Pablo Sandoval, and a whole lot of nothing. The best outfielder available is some weird toss up between Melky Cabrera, Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Willingham.
Assuming the Phillies let Adams and Kendrick walk and that Burnett’s option isn’t picked up, the Phillies will have about $29 million come off the books. But are enough people coming to the ballpark to support a payroll of $149 million? The Phillies rank 8th out of 15 in the NL in attendance just two years removed from having one of the longest sellout streaks in baseball history broken. Even if the Phillies wanted to sign Lester and Scherzer, it is unlikely they could sign either. And the three remaining best players all happen to be at positions the Phils are committed to one way or another.
And possibly even worse…
The Phillies have had very little development in their minor leagues early this season. They had a pair of standouts, shortstop J.P. Crawford and outfielder Cam Perkins, but very few other players have made the strides the Phillies were looking for them to take. Cameron Rupp, Adam Morgan, Andy Knapp, and Shane Watson have all missed significant time with injuries while Franco’s wheels have spun a bit at Lehigh Valley. Meanwhile, it is maddening to see Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana continue to mash their way to the Major Leagues. Yikes.
Buster Olney’s statement got me out of my funk. Unfortunately, it also got me as down as ever on the Phillies. The Phillies right now operate in the direct opposite fashion that the basketball team across the street does. The Sixers have been horrible but they also have some of the most favorable draft and cap situations in all of basketball. Similarly, the Eagles have put together contender after contender while staying below the salary cap and having a number of liquid assets always at their disposal.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Phillies were in the same position, the envy of the baseball world. With just $94 million committed in 2008, the Phillies fielded a World Series winner. Now, with a payroll nearly double that figure, the Phillies may struggle to win 70 games.