Phillies: Improbable Trades for Veterans Not Entirely Impossible

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Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) looks on in the dugout during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) looks on in the dugout during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Phillies need something for their offense. Most importantly, they need someone who can hit and can be a veteran leader. Someone who can help guide their young players through their transition from “could be great” to “great” by relating to them things like “you swing at too many balls out of the strike zone that you can’t handle.” Then maybe they wouldn’t be second to last in baseball in walks.

There’s good news though. The Phillies have a lot of young talent depth

Sure they could wait to see how their young talent shakes out but they still need a veteran presence. Additionally, the odds are that many of these younger guys won’t get better and that some of the prospects won’t shake out. Expecting guys who were never supposed to be great offensive players to suddenly be that is not a good plan on management’s part. It happens, but you don’t count on it.

One of the challenges is though that baseball has changed in the past 5-10 years with regards to free agency. Teams are locking up their young talent and the free agency classes are devoid of young talent. The Paul Goldschmidts and Andrew McCutchens won’t hit free agency until long after their prime and well beyond when the Phillies may need them.

So what do you do?

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Chicago White Sox preach patience while fans see them as going cheap /

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  • Well, just as free agency uses money as currency teams use prospects as currency for trades that can maybe get them one or two pieces they need. The Phiilies have cash galore for when that right free agent appears but they also have prospect currency. And they could use both their prospect currency and their payroll flexibility to maybe swing a deal with another team to bring in a player that maybe still has a ton of value but whose team for whatever reason no longer needs to keep them.

    The Phillies currently have a lot of depth in terms of young talent. The problem is that it can be spoiled and potential value is wasted. Major league teams can only carry 25 active players and a 40 man roster, and typically you need every one of those spots to yield something.

    As an example, the Phillies currently have three young catchers in Cameron Rupp, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. Each one is projected at the very least to be an average MLB level catcher, offensively and defensively. You only need one starting catcher and then a backup who is typically second-tier.

    A player the Phillies could try to trade for could be Evan Longoria. The Rays owe him $94M over the next five years. That’s a veritable fortune to a cash-strapped, small market team like the Rays. His talent is basically being wasted on a team that isn’t currently competitive, doesn’t have the money to quickly become competitive and is short on young talent.

    Longoria is a solid player, a veteran who hit 36 home runs last year and a certified three-hole hitter. He has also played in over 130 games for six of his nine years in the majors and has only missed six games total over the past 4 years. On the negative side he does strike out a lot. He’s a third basemen by trade but the Phillies could move either him or Franco over to first and include Tommy Joseph as part of the deal.

    Another possible target could come from a team that doesn’t need the money but has unwanted and expensive depth at a certain position. Pablo Sandoval is currently owed $59.8M through 2020 by the Red Sox who have already replaced him at third base with the younger, cheaper Brock Holt. By all accounts Sandoval has done a lot of work on himself and lost a lot of weight and is poised to continue what was once a brilliant young career. And despite their riches the Red Sox already have an extremely high payroll; getting out from under a big contract for a player they don’t need would alleviate some of that.

    Sandoval hasn’t done much in Boston but that city has taken it’s toll on players in the past. We’ve seen players like Carl Crawford struggle there after consistently being one of baseballs best. That may be happening now to David Price. In seven years with the Giants from 2008 to 2014 Sandoval was a .294/.346/.465 player. The Red Sox, as most teams do, need pitching and it’s a position the Phillies have a ton of depth at.

    The Detroit Tigers have a massive payroll. Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmerman all make staggeringly high salaries and together they’re owed over $314M through 2021. They owe Miguel Cabrera $148M over the next five years but there’s not much of a chance they’ll let go of a generational hitting talent and if they did they would probably ask the world for him. But they might be willing to part ways with Victor Martinez, to whom they owe $36M for the next two seasons.

    Sep 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) celebrates after he hits a home run in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
    Sep 9, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) celebrates after he hits a home run in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

    Martinez is overshadowed by Cabrera but he’s nearly as good a hitter. A career .301/.366/.467 hitter, he’s renowned for his contact skills and eye at the plate. In fact, at one point in the past three years, Martinez had a stretch of 641 plate appearances without a strike out looking. For context, the only Phillie with more plate appearances than that this year was Odubel Herrera. And with regards to contact, since 2007 only two players in baseball have had a lower swinging strike percentage than Martinez, Martin Prado and Dustin Pedroia. The Tigers need young players everywhere so filling a hole for them should be easy.

    And then there’s Andre Ethier. Ethier didn’t play most of this year because of injury but in the past he’s proven to be a valuable player. The Dodgers owe him $17.5 for next year and for 2018 he has a vesting option at the same amount. However with a crowded outfield and the largest payroll in baseball they should be motivated traders.

    In his 11 year career he’s put up a .285/.359/.463 slash line and he’s hit better than that as recently as 2015, his last healthy year, where he hit .294/.366/.486 in 445 plate appearances. Ethier though could be a perfect platoon. For his career he’s hit righties to the tune of .303/.382/.506. And again, he eclipsed those numbers in 2015.

    Lastly, there’s a high risk candidate in Shin Soo Choo. He’s owed $82M by the Rangers over the next four years. Choo has shown consistently throughout his career that he knows the strike zone and can earn a walk, as evidenced by his career .381 OBP. You would think the Phils could get him cheap enough but could they get the Rangers to pick up some of his contract? It may be worth it for them to find out.

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    The argument against making any of these types of trades is that essentially the Phillies would be taking on someone else’s potentially bad contract. The players mentioned above are all over 30 and may be on the downswing of their careers. There’s definitely a risk vs. reward proposition at play here. Pablo Sandoval, who just turned 30, may not hit .287/.339/.451, his career numbers, but there’s every chance that he might or be even better.

    The Phillies will be at or near the bottom of payroll committed for 2017 so they shouldn’t be taking money into consideration for any move they make. I believe it’s widely accepted that they have to make a move of some kind to improve their offense and to mentor their younger players.

    Let’s hope they make the right one.

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