As they say, the only untouchable man on the roster. Well, he and Chase Utley. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Would Early TV Deal Mean Trading Veterans?

Its a weird time for a ball club when the two most important offseason contracts in a turning point, future-of-the-organization determining year are not for players, managers, and training staff (although an argument could be made for next pitching coach).

The two most important deals to get done this offseason are a nerd for ownership to shove into lockers (as I’ve already discussed) and, what I didn’t realize was a possibility before 2015, a brand, spanking-new TV contract! As reported by Howard Megdal:

It’s been known for some time that the Philadelphia Phillies, on a below-market local television deal, could see their financial circumstances change dramatically once a new deal is signed.

According to a source with knowledge of the talks, the deal is expected to be completed within the next 30 days. That’s going to matter a great deal for how the team operates this winter.

Yes, yes it will. Sure, the TV contract will likely increase payroll flexibility. Although, I still have no reason to think they’d wade into territory beyond the luxury tax, into the stratosphere of what actually deserves the name “Moneyball” (or “Dodgerball”. Same thing.).

And yes, there’s the interesting possibility that all this addition revenue could lead the Phillies to make a charge at Masahiro Tanaka (what posting fee?).

My interest, however, stems from a David Montgomery interview with Ken Rosenthal from back in June:

We have tremendous fan identification with members of this group. Utley, (Jimmy) Rollins, (Ryan) Howard, Hamels, Lee, Halladay — all would be good examples — Ruiz, I could keep going.

When you have that strong identification, when you’ve enjoyed the fan support that has resulted from that affinity, do you factor that in? Yeah. Hopefully, we’re savvy enough to factor a lot of things in. But I don’t think it makes us blind: ‘OK, we’re going to hang on to this group forever and ever.’

Well, unfortunately for Mr. Montgomery, I believe it made them very blind around the trade deadline a month later. Not a single player was traded by July 31, and only on the final day of the August waiver wire period was Michael Young flipped to the Dodgers, and John McDon – wait, who? *Search on baseball reference* – This guy had a roster spot? And we traded him for something?

…And he’s on a World Series team right now?

Awesome.

Anyway, the only returns were two marginal pitching prospects, and for the players we gave up, that’s completely understandable. But that’s the problem. These were the only two players we gave up.

At the time, it was my belief that the reason we weren’t more active at the deadline was not just because of the immediate downturn in attendance associated with a lost season (although I would have savored the opportunity to pay nothing to see some prospects develop at the big league level – it’s something like progress).

I believed that people really underestimated how much the TV contract looming in two seasons affected their decisions. If they keep the players that fans are used to, they might still tune in, and then once we have the contract two years from now, THEN the Phillies can start an actual rebuild.

Its not the most optimistic feeling in the world, and assumes we just eat two seasons of old players without trying to get value for them. The TV contract stands to be a mammoth financial gain for the Phillies as a company – almost certain to be in multiple BILLIONS in total revenue. Its influence over decisions can’t help but be significant.

However, if there is an early TV deal, that would hypothetically make it easier for ownership to swallow …retooling… of the roster. So, given the possibility of this massive weight off of their shoulders, what is the likelihood of trading current veterans for prospects?

For this exercise, I’m considering both a) the 8 players guaranteed money in 2014 and b) the Phillies re-signing Chooch.

So, of this pool of nine players, will any pitchers be traded for the franchise-changing prospect haul?

Cole Hamels is likely not going anywhere. He’s the young face of the franchise, and still has good years left in him. Maybe two years from now, if he’s still performing well I’d consider it (once he’s 32-33) just to avoid the final years of his contract, but for now he stays.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez hasn’t yet thrown a single pitch in America. As he’s so young and cheap and we really don’t know what we have, I don’t think they’d sign him just to trade him. Not gonna move.

I think Ruben really wants to prove us all wrong on Jonathan Papelbon. The problem is, there’s no possible way a reliever can deserve $13 million a year (unless he converts to a starter), and its ESPECIALLY useless if he’s a closer, and doesn’t ever get the ball because there’s never a save situation. I think though, if someone was willing to offer a decent prospect and eat a fair amount of his contract, Ruben would (and should) take the deal. Chances of this happening are not great, however.

No one will trade for Mike Adams. He’s old, injured, not the same player he was, and there are plenty of cheaper veteran relievers on the free agent market. Not that Adams is a huge drain on payroll in the first place, so trading him isn’t imperative.

Cliff Lee is the one pitcher who has enormous value, where the trade looks feasible. Despite his large contract, there would still be significant interest in him from a lot of contenders, a lot of whom have drool-worthy prospects to make it happen (I’m thinking of the Rangers specifically).

However, Ruben intimated he connects trading Lee with forfeiting in 2014, and he rebuked multiple offers for him at the trade deadline. I don’t know if management and the fans would agree on what “the right offer” would be, but if the right offer DID come along, I think the Phillies would at least think hard about trading him.

Makes a lot of sense to trade him, so it probably won’t happen. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of position players, don’t even begin to think that a new TV deal would allow us to eat Ryan Howard‘s contract and trade him. If we traded him, his new team would view him as a left-handed platoon option at DH and 1B, and the money value of someone like that on the free agent market would mean we’d a) get next to nothing in return and b) still have to eat $15-20 million a season. No way ownership would consider it.

Chase Utley, similarly, is a Phillie for life. That was the entire point of his new extension, and there’s no way Ruben would trade him, despite his relatively high trade value. And despite the part of me that wants to be rational, I’m totally OK with this. And no, I’m not going to delve into my Mac-like love for Chase Utley on this post.

Assuming we re-sign Carlos Ruiz, I don’t see a point in trading him immediately after – the reason we’re re-signing him is that we don’t have a viable option to replace him, and he’s a good value for the money we’d have to spend. This logic was why the Phillies literally didn’t even return the Yankees phone calls about Ruiz at the trade deadline.

I would love to trade Jimmy Rollins, and I’m sure Ruben Amaro would strongly consider it if offered even moderate value from a contender (the Cardinals are hurting for a SS, and they have literally 10 options for their rotation in 2014). The problem is, with his full no-trade clause, and public displeasure at the idea of being traded (and sounding reeeeeally selfish while doing it), he would take a serious amount of convincing, and maybe some extra money to do so.

So, in summary, assuming a new TV deal would leave the Phillies more inclined to trade aging veterans, I think a best feasible scenario would be getting a strong haul for Cliff Lee, a decent prospect for Papelbon (while eating a lot of the deal), and paying Rollins to accept a trade, getting moderate value for him.

I’m still not sure, however, if the Phillies management has realistic expectations for this group of players in 2014. If they’re truly convinced we can still win with this lot, then there’s no point in even hoping for any trades.

We have, however, tried for a “one last run” two years in a row already, and it hasn’t quite worked out as planned. Hopefully, they’re starting to understand the reality of the situation.

Keep up with your Philadelphia Phillies all off season long to see who they will be fielding come Opening Day in 2014.

Tags: Carlos Ruiz Chase Utley Cliff Lee Cole Hamels David Montgomery Jimmy Rollins Jonathan Papelbon Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez Mike Adams Philadelphia Phillies Ruben Amaro Ryan Howard TV Deal

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