Phillies Can’t Bank On Trading Veterans When Time Comes

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Apr 15, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak (R) talks with manager Pete Mackanin (L) before a game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak (R) talks with manager Pete Mackanin (L) before a game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /
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Part of the Phillies strategy this winter was acquiring players they could potentially flip at this year’s deadline, but it is by no means a guarantee.

Compared to recent offseasons, the Phillies have been far more active this time around. They have made several trades and signings in hopes to better the team while also maintaining their long-term financial freedom.

So far, the team has traded for second baseman/left fielder Howie Kendrick, starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, and relief pitcher Pat Neshek. In addition, the team signed reliever Joaquin Benoit and starter Jeremy Hellickson accepted their qualifying offer. The Phils aren’t done making moves yet either as they are still searching for a left-handed bat.

One thing that remained constant in all of those acquisitions was that each player will become a free agent after the 2017 season. This was attractive to the club as they have remained adamant about not blocking any prospects who may soon be ready to break into the major-leagues.

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Another motivation to acquire these players has been the possibility of being able to trade them at the deadline in July if they are playing well. General manager Matt Klentak noted this when the team acquired Buchholz, saying “[I]t certainly isn’t lost on us that if the standings are looking the other way at the end of July, we have a lot of meaningful players in the last years of their contracts — not just pitchers, but a number of players that could be trade chips.”

This strategy mirrors the one from 2016, where Klentak hoped he could wind up trading several veterans, including Hellickson, Charlie Morton, David Hernandez, Peter Borjous, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz. However, Klentak was only able to move Ruiz, and that trade only came after the non-waiver deadline had passed. Injuries and/or poor play cut down the pool of trade candidates significantly.

Hellickson was the only veteran besides Ruiz who could fetch a worthwhile return at the deadline. However, Klentak couldn’t get what he felt was the right return for the starting pitcher. Klentak told reporters on a conference call, “At the end of the day, there was nothing we felt made sense for the organization at this time.”

Of course the Phillies want to get something notable back in return if they do wind up trading one of the veterans on the roster, but the negotiations over Hellickson show that it isn’t as easy as one would think. Teams are less and less willing to part with prospects each year, and anyone who has just one year left on their contract certainly won’t fetch any impact prospects in a trade.

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The Phils will have to hope that a playoff contender is going for broke and trading for any help possible or loses a key player to injury that someone on the Phillies can replace. Regardless, neither is a certainty and completing a trade is no exact science either.

Not to mention, it is never a certainty a player will perform well. Buchholz has bounced between poor and great seasons and is never a known a quantity. Kendrick had a .691 OPS in 2016, a career-low. Finally, Benoit posted a 5.18 ERA in 26 games with Seattle before lowering that mark to 0.36 with the Blue Jays in 25 appearances.

All of these players could perform well and they could all perform terribly in 2017; it’s no guarantee.

Altogether, if the Phillies cannot pull off a trade, they won’t be burned long-term because all of their veteran players are free agents after the 2017 season. That will free up room for either a prospect or a more valuable free agent to take their place.

Next: Phillies Invite Top Prospects to Spring Training

Any trades the team would make would be a cherry on top, but it can’t be taken for granted just yet.

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