Phillies May Need Creativity to Deal


If you’re like me, you look at the MLB Trade Rumors site on a daily basis.

Alright, hourly.

Fine, every 10 minutes.

Regardless, you know that it’s a great resource, especially as we enter peak trade season. The site recently began offering a weekly newsletter, in which they highlight a specific topic which the writer wants to talk about.

This past week, the article had to with the Braves recent acquisition of Bronson Arroyo and Touki Toussaint from the Arizona Diamondbacks. It is plainly obvious that the deal was a salary dump on the Diamondbacks side, looking to get Arroyo off their books, and that Toussaint’s inclusion was strictly so that the Braves took all of the remaining Arroyo contract (roughly $13 million, if you include the buyout for 2016) without batting an eye.

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Tim Dierkes, the author of the article, goes on to speculate about how the Phillies could begin to restock their farm system by taking the same approach that the Braves just took. He even goes on to mention some possible targets the team could look at to begin this process. He mentions names like Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Broxton, and others.

Now, before you begin to start laughing, he does mention that the team does have some money coming off their financial books over the next few years. Cliff Lee‘s deal ends this year (even though they have to pay $12.5 million for it to end). Ryan Howard‘s contract mercifully ends after 2016. Cole Hamels‘ money will probably be taken on by another team acquiring him.

Vesting options for Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley won’t particularly matter much – Papelbon because he’ll probably be dealt, and Utley because he isn’t playing well enough to warrant enough plate appearances to trigger the option. Long story short, there is some financial flexibility coming.

Does this basketball-style way of acquiring talent seem smart? Well, yes and no.

Take Joe Mauer for example. Mauer, as of Saturday night, was hitting for a .260/.333/.372 slash line with a paltry 4 home runs. While he has never been known as a power hitter in his career, even these numbers are unacceptable for someone manning first base.

Mauer is also an anchor on the Minnesota payroll, costing $23 million of the team’s estimated $108 million payroll, or about 21% of the total. Would the Phillies be willing take on that kind of money for a sub par first baseman with no power? Not without ejecting Howard first from the team. And even then, Mauer is still due $69 million over the next 3 years! And you thought the Howard contract was bad….

Mauer wouldn’t even fill a need. Maikel Franco will probably be headed to first base in a few years anyway, and blocking his eventual move with an albatross contract makes no sense.

In the case of Ryan Braun, there might be a positional need. The complete dearth of viable options in the outfield would make Braun a decent fit for this team. Of course, he is 31 years old (32 in November), so he doesn’t fit the goal of trying to get younger. But as I’ve stated, were the team to acquire him, he’d be blocking…Odubel Herrera? So, let’s run with this for a second.

The Milwaukee Brewers have never been a big spender. The highest the Brew Crew ranked in team payroll since 2000 is 13th in 2010, when they spent about $94.5 million on the 40 man roster. This year, they are at $104 million and counting, and don’t look to be real contenders. There have been whispers that they are ready to rebuild and are looking to get younger themselves.

In the case of a small market team like Milwaukee, with an owner who doesn’t particularly care for rebuilding, what is more valuable to them – getting decent prospects or getting the payroll space that a trade of Braun would give them? It’s a good question to ask. His contract does call for him to make $96 million through 2020, including a $15 million option for 2021 ($4 million buyout) when he’ll be 36, so the Brewers would be saving a ton of cash.

If you’re the Phillies, and you do have a large TV contract kicking in, this kind of contract could be absorbed relatively easily, especially if Braun can be anywhere near as productive with the bat as he has been this year (.257/.325/.475). Let’s say he finishes the year with 4 bWAR, not out of the realm of possibility considering he’s already at 1.4.

If you presume Braun a decline of 0.5 WAR per year, by 2020, he’ll have contributed 21 bWAR over the remaining length of the contract – something very tolerable. Would it be worth the kind of money that he’d be getting paid? If you subscribe to the theory that one WAR is worth $7 million, then yes, he is worth it.

What is such a Braun deal worth in prospects? Remember, if the Phillies are taking on Braun’s entire salary, it wouldn’t be wrong to ask for one of Milwaukee’s top prospects in return. That could be Orlando Arcia, Jacob Gatewood or Clint Coulter, who knows. They could send someone like Cesar Hernandez or Cody Asche back to balance things, but it’s certainly something to be looked at – Braun and his $96 million + Coulter/Arcia/Gatewood for Asche.

Some of the other names mentioned in the article don’t really make sense, as again, they aren’t filling some kind of need. Atlanta grabbed Arroyo because if he comes back from Tommy John surgery (not exactly guaranteed), he’ll be able to soak up innings for a team that is currently relying on several young arms.

The Braves playoff odds suggest that they aren’t going anywhere this year, so his return could help Atlanta preserve those valuable young arms they have been trying to acquire as part of their rebuild. The Phillies getting Braun would fill a “need” as we previously looked at, so while the price tag stings, there is something to it.

I totally agree with the author’s main point, that the Phillies should be looking at the Braves’ trade as one type of talent acquisition blueprint. I just hope that the club would be a little discretionary with who they chose to go after. If they’re going to do it, make it someone with some talent, or someone who serves a purpose. Just make sure you get that top prospect as well. Otherwise, what’s the point?