Jessie Biddle, Adam Morgan, Maikel Franco, and Roman Quinn. What do these players have in common?
They represent 4 of the Phillies top 10 prospects coming into the 2013 season as ranked by Jason Parks on Baseball Prospectus and the folks at Baseball America. In sports other than baseball, franchises sport one or two teams, but in baseball teams support numerous squads otherwise known as the Minor Leagues. Farm systems, as we so delightfully call them are made up of 5 to 6 different teams that have an organizations prospects dispersed throughout.
The term farm systems may sound hokey, but Minor League teams grow players. Franchises call this process player development. It is the process by which a baseball organization teaches young baseball neophytes everything there is to understand concerning the game of baseball. It is an undertaking that will prepare young talented baseball players to one day compete at the Major League level, at which time said players will aid the big league club in winning.
It isn’t complicated in theory, but like many simple ideas, the execution can be difficult, frustrating,arduous, and laborious. Players drafted at the ripe age of 18, and often younger, are raw, and need direction and molding to realize their potential as baseball players. Franchises spend lots of time, effort, money, and thought in player development, and given the swell of young talented Major Leaguers that teams produce every year, they perform this task well.
Organizations concentrate considerable effort into player development, but the end game is always to put the best Major League product on the field as possible. So, often times, prospects are not utilized to play for their big league club, but instead are seen as assets used to acquire established Major League players or other Minor Leaguers. Prospects are in essence a form of currency. Smaller market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland Athletics, and Pittsburgh Pirates cannot afford to pay free agents the large sums of money said players demand when on the open market. Instead these organizations use their prospects to trade for the talent they cannot entice due to a lack of sufficient funds.
Just this past offseason a number of trades involving high-level prospects went down before our very eyes. The Rays, always in search of the best young talent due to their relative cheapness, found a trade partner in the Kansas City Royals, a team in need of some veterans to complement a few already established young and talented big league players. So, the two teams worked out a deal that sent veteran righties James Shields and Wade Davis to KC in exchange for one of the top hitting prospects in the whole league Will Myers as well as a highly regarded pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi. This deal, as well as the three-way swap between the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Reds, represents the use of prospects as moveable human currency.
In this regard, the Phillies should consider themselves recent experts. Over the last few seasons the Phillies have traded most of their talented prospects for MLB veterans in the hopes that these big leaguers would help the team make the playoffs, succeed in the postseason, and ultimately win championships. Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Cliff Lee, and others all found their way to the Phillies by way of a trade in which prospects were sent from the Phillies farm system to other teams’ prospect factories. They include Carlos Corrasco, Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Gio Gonzalez, Jonathan Singleton, and Jarred Cosart, and Trevor May.
These deals in addition to drafts ranging from poor to passable, have left the Phillies with a weak farm system, one that needs more talent and depth in order to buttress the franchise for the present and the future. At no time can a team aid its farm system more than in the draft. The Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins have recently shown that a few solid drafts in the span of 3 to 5 years can leave an organization’s minor league system flush with talent and upside. The Phillies made some strides by moving veteran outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the trade deadline in 2012, and in doing so acquired some solid, but not flashy prospects that increased the depth of the farm system.
Rebuilding for The Future:
Still, the Phillies don’t possess a Miguel Sano, Christian Yelich, Jurickson Profar, Dylan Bundy, or Jameson Taillon. Only southpaw Jessie Biddle cracked most scouts top-100 lists, and his ceiling most likely won’t prove higher than a solid #3 starter. The Phillies have a few high ceiling prospects at the rookie and low A levels in Roman Quinn, Carlos Tocci, and Maikel Franco, but these are players that have long roads ahead of them, and won’t be MLB players for a few more years.
Currently the Phillies record stands at 15-18, below .500, 5 games behind the NL East leading Braves. A slow start like this might not predict future losses or no postseason birth, but anyone who has watched the Phillies play this season would argue that the Phillies will most likely constitute spectators come October. In that light, it is not unreasonable to ponder the future as opposed to the present. Trade veterans to acquire much-needed prospects, so that instead of 8 consecutive losing seasons, Phillies fans, who have gone through worse, will only be forced to endure 2 or 3.
Recently, Jim Salisbury wrote a piece concerning possible trades for the Phillies. In it, Jim goes through a few of the Phillies more talented veterans that the team could trade, if and when the front office realizes that this season won’t be a winning one. He mentions Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, and Delmon Young. I would include Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young, and Mike Adams in that discussion as well. Due to large contracts for some, Papelbon and Lee, and the possibility of diminished returns for others, Delmon Young and Michael Young, some possible trades involving these players may prove difficult. Still, when facing future losing seasons, a team needs to clot the affected area, and begin the healing process.
Following a tough loss at the hands of the Chicago White Sox, Royals Review, a Royals blog, commented on their need to upgrade at 2nd base. Chris Getz has played 2nd for the Royals this season, and in Monday’s game he committed a fielding gaf allowing the opposition to tie the game in the 9th inning. The Royals also need bullpen help as their pen has blow numerous leads this season, as Phillies fans may remember. The Royals have a solid farm system with talent the Phillies would love to acquire. Parting with Utley, who is a free agent at the end of the season, would be difficult, and it even depresses me to consider the possibility. Still, when it comes to running a baseball team, sentimentality often must be pushed aside, and dealing Utley would likely fall under that category.
When the July trade deadline comes about, I think that the Phillies need to seriously consider trading Cliff Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Mike Adams. These 4 players, if all traded, could yield 7 to 8 prospects in return, a few of whom will be top-tier. By dealing these players, the Phillies will retain much-needed salary relief, as well as future players. More importantly, as has already been discussed, prospects constitute currency, and so acquiring more currency can only lead to future success.
We’ve established that the Royals need Utley and Adams, and packaging those two together could net the Phillies Yordano Ventura (throws 100mph and is basically a lock for closer of the future) and Jorge Bonifacio (a high ceiling young power hitting outfielder). Utley has a limited no-trade clause, so the prospect of dealing him could just be a pipe dream. Still, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee are the other two players who could net solid to great returns.
Rollins, at age 34 has a contract perfectly designed to maximize his remaining productive years in baseball. He’s owed $11 million for 2014 and 2015, he’s still above-average defensively, a solid offensive switch-hitter, and a fantastic baserunner. He’s a veteran that would fit in with other veterans, but could also complement a roster of young players as well. He’s an Oakland native, which made the Dodgers the first team that came to my mind when considering possible destinations. The Dodgers will come close, despite a myriad of injuries, to making the playoffs, and adding a player like Rollins to stabilize the shortstop position as well as bat basically anywhere he’s needed in the lineup would be beneficial.
The Dodgers farm system isn’t amazing, but that doesn’t mean the Phillies couldn’t find something to take. Rollins by himself won’t garner a top prospect, but both Zack Lee and Chris Reed, who both project as #3 starters, would be perfect 1 for 1 trade possibilities for Rollins. The other team that comes to mind is the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have Pete Kozma playing shortstop, and with the Pirates and Reds making the NL Central very competitive, the Cardinals could look to acquire a shortstop like Rollins.
The Cardinals have arguably the most talented farm system in the majors, so the Phillies will definitely find something worthy of Rollins. If the Phillies also trade Utley, the team would need a replacement for Chase at 2nd. Enter the Cardinals’ Kolten Wong. Baseball Prospectus has Wong ranked as the Cardinals 6th best prospect, and remarks that Wong is a safe choice, very mature, with very good defensive skills, and above average ability to hit for average. A Wong for Rollins swap would be a nice coup for the Phillies.
What about Cliff Lee? Lee, as Phillies fans have seen in 2012 and 2013, still constitutes a top pitcher. He’s a lefty, which adds value, and he’s a proven winner in the regular season, playoffs, and beyond. Now, he’s owed a lot of money, which might scare off a lot of teams. If the Phillies want to gain a healthy package of prospects in return for Lee, they might offer to pay 10 of the $50 million owed to Lee in 2014/2015. So who might want Lee?
First and foremost we have the LA Angels. A team with a big payroll, lots of hitters, a shot, despite a slow start, to make the playoffs, and a need for better pitching. Unfortunately the Angels have a weak farm system, but weak doesn’t mean deplete of all talent. If the Angles don’t mind starting their farm system completely from scratch, the Phillies would gladly trade them Cliff Lee in exchange for Kaleb Cowart (3B with lots of hitting tools), Garrett Richards, and Peter Bourjos. Bourjos and Richards are already Major Leaguers, but Richards is a power righty with a healthy slider who would fit well into the Phillies rotation. Bourjos is a Revere like outfielder, but he’s young, cheap, fast, superb defensively, and would allow the Phillies to move Revere to the corner.
The Angels honestly should be a second choice for the Phillies. The prize should be to trade Lee to the Yankees. The Yankees have a good but not great starting staff. With Granderson and Texiera returning soon, and a current winning record, the Yankees look to compete for the playoffs. Add Lee to Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, the Yankees would could be a force in the tough AL East. If the Phillies were to take on a bit of Lee’s salary, the Yankees might offer a package with Mason Williams (top outfield prospect), but more likely a combination involving pitcher Jose Ramirez and outfielder Slade Heathcott. This would be a major influx of young talent for the Phillies, and gives the Yankees a chance to seriously compete for a 2013 championship; the definition of a win-win.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about Giancarlo Stanton. Numerous reports have come about concerning the Phillies recent interest in acquiring the Marlins slugging right fielder. Let me say this clearly, so I won’t have to repeat myself. Not only is such a deal not even remotely feasible at this point, but acquiring Stanton, while an upgrade, would not benefit the Phillies that much at this point in time. Stanton is set to become a free agent in 2017, so in trading for him, the Phillies would be signaling that they will be competitive in the 2015-2017 seasons, but with the way the farm system and the current MLB squad look, that doesn’t seem possible. More importantly, given the status of the franchise, a plethora of talented prospects would simply benefit the team more.
Stanton constitutes a star, and in the coming seasons that star will go from 40 watts to 100 watts. He has power that no one else in MLB can currently claim. Just check out his 1st home run of the season. The Marlins could simply retain Giancarlo because even with their beleaguered and striped down MLB roster, the Marlins have a great amount of young talent, some of which was recently on display at Citizens Bank Park. With young talent already in the majors and more to follow, the Marlins could become a playoff team by 2016, but Stanton would be the keystone of that team, and given his 2017 free agency status, it would be iffy if the fish could retain Stanton. If the team improves by 2015 Stanton could sign an extension, and given that the Marlins have shown they will spend money when at times, it might just be best for them to forgo trading Giancarlo completely.
If the Marlins were to trade Stanton they want MLB read or close-to-ready high ceiling, talented, and valuable prospects. Two teams that immediately jump to the forefront of my mind that have the ability to trade for Stanton and the need for a player of his caliber at his position are the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners. The Yankees have Ichiro signed for 2013 and 2014, but then it’s probably off to retirement for the future hall of famer. The Yankees have a number of high ceiling prospects dispersed between single A and double AA, and if they were to package Mason Williams, Jose Ramirez, and Ty Hensley, and probably another prospect, it might entice the Marlins. All I can say is just imagine Stanton in the small confines of Yankees Stadium, it’d bring in even more fans than they already get; he would become the next New York one-man show.
The Mariners have had issues with hitting, but fewer issues with their pitching. This is a team that just extended Felix Hernandez, has up-and-comer Hisashi Iwakuma, and youngster Brandon Maurer already in the rotation, with more top quality pitchers in the waiting. More importantly, the Mariners possess high ceiling young pitchers like Luiz Gohara and Victor Sanchez, which would allow them to part with pitchers like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton. If the Mariners sent a package centered around Walker to the Mariners in exchange for Stanton, it would give them the power-hitting outfielder they’ve been searching for even since Ken Griffey Jr. departed for Cincinnati.
Let me be frank once again. The Phillies cannot offer anything even remotely on the same planet as the packages that the Yankees and Mariners can in order to acquire Giancarlo Stanton. The Phillies have more pressing issues, the Marlins might not trade Stanton, and more importantly, the Phillies don’t have what it takes to acquire him. Maybe we can all stop talking about this as a possibility and move on with our lives.