Could Chooch be on the move in the last year of his deal? Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If The Phillies Sell, What Could They Get BACK?


The Phils’ long-time double play combo could both be gone by August. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of talk concerning who the Phillies might be trading away should they become sellers in a couple months, and a lot of hand-wringing over the barren state of the farm system once the established stars of yesteryear are sent packing.

Clearly, the Phils’ minor league system has been gutted in the pursuit of that second parade down Broad Street. Deals for Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and others have left the system without any top-tier talent ready for the big leagues in the next two or three years.

Sure, there are position players who could be decent Major Leaguers, like Cody Asche, the likely heir to third base in 2014, Darin Ruf, who is swinging the bat well in AAA and could be called up later this year, Cesar Hernandez, a potential replacement for Chase Utley at second, catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and Freddy Galvis, the Phils’ super-sub already on the team playing virtually every position on the diamond. But none of them appear to be potential All-Stars.

There are a few arms to get excited about, though. Jesse Biddle has had a terrific start to his 2013 season in AA Reading, and Adam Morgan, also in AA, also appears to be a promising young pitcher. But both are seen as potential #3 starters, with the possibility of maybe a bit better than that.

In short, there are no saviors on the way. The Phillies system ranks in the bottom third of Major League Baseball, with their high-ceiling guys still years away.

A full rebuilding effort appears on the horizon in the next few years and, although the cupboard isn’t bare, it’s stocked only with generic products.

But luckily, if the Phils are smart and do become sellers at the trade deadline (which is still a HUGE if, by the way), they have a ton of pieces they can move. And some of those pieces could deliver a big haul in return, giving the team some much needed star potential for the future.

Below are the Phillies veterans who will be the most talked about over the next couple months. Not all of these guys will go and, admittedly, it’s almost impossible to determine who may be a potential playoff team at the start of May. So take these “potential suitors” with a grain of salt.

Basically, unless you’re the Astros or Marlins, you still have a chance of making the playoffs.

Still, here’s a look at what the Phillies might actually be able to get back IF they fall out of the playoff race and become the most interesting sellers at the trade deadline.

Chase Utley (2B)

The idea of selling Chase Utley makes my feelings cry. And frankly, I don’t think they’re going to deal him even if they fall out of the race. But Utley is the guy who would probably fetch the most in terms of top-tier prospects at the deadline. And while he would be a rental, he’s cheap (would only cost around $7 million for the last three months of the season), is highly productive, and plays a position of great need for a number of teams with playoff aspirations. Possible suitors include the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals.

The big question is, how good a prospect could the Phils land for him? I think a fair comp is the Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler deal from 2011. Beltran was a rental, had injury concerns, was the same exact age as Utley (34), and was having a tremendous offensive year. The big difference between the two is that Utley plays a premium position, certainly one more premium than outfield. Beltran landed the Mets Wheeler, who went into the 2011 season as the #55 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. After that year, he was #35 and came into this season as the 11th best prospect in the minors.

While it would be an emotional killer to give up Utley, he is probably the one guy that can land the Phils a potential superstar, top-50 prospect. Possible targets could include Cardinals starting pitchers Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez or 2B Kolten Wong, Indians SS Francisco Lindor, Orioles starter Kevin Gausman or 2B/SS Jonathan Schoop, Rockies OF David Dahl or 3B/OF Nick Castellanos, Red Sox OF Jackie Bradley Jr., or Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig or SS Corey Seager.

 

Is some team willing to pay for Cliff Lee? Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Cliff Lee (SP)

After Utley, the most talented player with the most left in the tank is Lee. However, the obstacles to trading Lee are much greater than those of trading Utley.

First, there is Lee’s salary, which will have a hefty $65 million left on it at the trade deadline, with an option for 2016 worth $27.5 million or a $12.5 million buyout. The Phils would have to pick up a significant portion of that money in order for any team to acquire him. Also, if the Phillies trade Lee, who will replace him? Even though the Phils would be in full rebuild mode at that point, the only established starter in the rotation would be Cole Hamels. Sure, Kendrick would be there too, but he’s no #2 starter, regardless of how he’s pitched so far. And it’s not like the Phillies don’t have the money to keep him. They do.

The level of prospects would also be determined by how much cash the Phils are willing to eat. If Amaro is prepared to eat three-quarters of Lee’s salary, then the Phils could probably get one Top-100 prospect back, as well as one of the Top 150. But if they’re only willing to eat a third or a half of Lee’s salary, they’re probably only going to be able to get third or fourth-tier prospects in return. And if that’s the case, it’s not worth trading him.

However, there will be a few teams with big payrolls that can afford to take on most of a salary like Lee’s, should the Phils decide to sell. Possible suitors include Atlanta (fat chance of that happening, though), Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Colorado, LA Dodgers, NY Yankees, and Texas.

Could the Phils eat enough salary to snag Rangers 3B prospect Mike Olt or Cincinnati’s Robert Stephenson, or any of the players mentioned above? Much of that will be up to Amaro and Co.

Jimmy Rollins (SS)

Like Lee, Rollins is not an impending free agent. His contract runs through next year, and by the end of July, he’ll still be owed $16.5 million, with an $11 million vesting option for 2015. So, again, the Phils would probably need to eat some money in order for a team to pick up Rollins. And Jimmy is going to have to pick it up offensively if the Phils are going to get any value back for him (.234/.288/.344 through 139 PAs in 2013). But Jimmy does still play very good defense at a premium position, and will get hot at some point this year. He also has a ton of postseason experience, for whatever that’s worth, so he would be worth something to a team that is a piece away from truly making a postseason run.

St. Louis seems like the team with the greatest need at shortstop, with Pete Kozma their starter at the moment. And while the Cardinals are humming along nicely with the best record in the NL through 32 games, shortstop is their Achilles heel. A veteran like Rollins could be absolutely the perfect fit for St. Louis. Perhaps 2012 draftees Carson Kelly (3B) or Stephen Piscotty (OF/3B) could be gettable (St. Louis’ #9 or #10 prospect, per Baseball America), although teams are pretty reluctant to give up draft picks they made the previous year.

Other teams with potential needs at shortstop include Boston, Cleveland, LA Dodgers, and San Francisco.

 

Carlos Ruiz (C)

Looking at the depth charts for potential playoff teams, the market for catchers looks surprisingly light. Not only that, Ruiz has gotten off to a slow start at the plate since his return from suspension (4 for 29, .120 avg.), but his offense will likely pick up. More importantly, he provides a steady hand behind the plate, especially valuable to a team with a young starting staff trying to compete for a playoff spot. A team like the Oakland A’s might be an ideal fit, with AA 3B/1B Miles Head, Oakland’s #7 prospect, at the center of a deal, although given the lack of other potential suitors, getting someone truly valuable may not be possible. Detroit could be another fit, if Alex Avila continues to struggle offensively (although at this point, Ruiz wouldn’t be an upgrade there).

Michael Young (3B)

Young certainly isn’t hurting himself with his .330 batting average, ranked 7th in the NL after Wednesday night’s game against San Francisco. And while he has been hitting into an insane number of double plays (10 so far in 2013) and isn’t getting a whole lot of extra-base hits (9 in 128 PAs), his ability to get on base (.398 OB%) and his surprisingly better-than-expected defense could make him an attractive commodity for a team looking for someone to man the hot corner for a stretch run. Any team that acquires him would only be on the hook for about $3 million of his salary at the end of July, making him an affordable rental.

He wouldn’t generate a whole lot in return, but could provide the Phils with a couple pieces that could be useful for minor league depth, possibly a fourth outfielder-type or back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The good news is that there are a few teams with possible needs at third, including Cleveland, Colorado, LA Dodgers, and Oakland.

Delmon Young (OF)

IN THEORY, if Delmon Young starts hitting this year (he’s only had 24 PAs so, no stats necessary yet), his $750,000 salary – which would be cut in half by July 31 – there might be a team willing to take him on. But Ruben Amaro shouldn’t hold his breath on this one.

RP – Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon is still one of the best closers in the game, but if the Phils are truly selling, they should rid themselves of his contract as quickly as possible. The Phillies have simply not been getting any value out of their closer. He has five saves in five attempts and simply hasn’t been used all that much. In the last two weeks, Papelbon has had only one save opportunity, and has appeared in just five games overall. Clearly, there must be a team more in need of a closer. Unfortunately, that team also has to have the kind of payroll flexibility capable of taking on the remaining $32.5 million he will have left through 2015, with a vesting $13 million option in ’16.

Really, two teams leap to mind. St. Louis, who right now is using Trevor Rosenthal as their closer, and Detroit, with Joaquin Benoit as their closer, could be fits if they’re able to swallow the cash it would take to get him.

The Phillies truly are going to be the team to watch at the deadline. If they fall too far under .500, you can bet Amaro will be receiving some phone calls. And it will be the players acquired in potential deals for these players, not the guys already in the Phils’ minor league system, that will hopefully lead the team back into contention in the near future.

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