On Tuesday, the Phillies took a step toward closing the book on their dismal 2012 season, while beginning to look in earnest toward 2013 and beyond.
They made two trades to address just that, in trading Shane Victorino to the Dodgers and Hunter Pence to the Giants. A more detailed analysis of the deals is found in our trade deadline piece – but suffice it to say that the two deals were made with the same goal in mind, but for somewhat different reasons.
Shane Victorino, a free agent this off-season at age 32, will be looking for a multi-year deal and quite likely a raise from his 2012 salary of $9.5 million. The Phillies would normally deal with that type of decision in the off-season and keep Victorino for yet another postseason push.
But in the disaster that the 2012 season became, and in the wake of another long-term, high-dollar commitment to a core player the week before (Cole Hamels), there simply is a limit to how many of those deals can get done, which hamper payroll flexibility.
It didn’t help that Victorino was having a down season, that his style of play doesn’t go well with the aging process and that he didn’t really have an ideal spot in the batting order. The decision on Victorino was “multi-year commitment or trade for what you can get.”
That’s pretty black and white stuff – and Josh Lindblom instantly becomes the Phillies’ #2 bullpen arm behind Jonathan Papelbon, with the type of multi-year commitment they need more (read: productive complementary player in pre-arbitration years). Ethan Martin, a former prospect now suspect, is a second-tier starter, and perhaps about to become a reliever, or a future trading chip.
The Pence deal was a much different animal. The Phillies could have kept Pence for 2013 for somewhere near $14 million. Trading Pence would certainly create a void, like trading Victorino – but letting Victorino walk would have created a void there anyway.
In trading Pence, the Phillies are likely saying a few things:
1. He was their most marketable commodity of the group of veterans they have.
2. The farm system is depleted, particularly in position players.
3. The complementary players they have now at low-dollar contracts are not getting the job done.
4. Pence himself, while productive, was displaying declining plate discipline and declining skills in the field, making him a one-year proposition at best as a Phillie.
5. It would make sense to trade Pence now to address points #2 and #3 and have a choice of directions in the outfield this off-season, than to commit the one year to Pence, potentially miss out on those other options (such as signing Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera or even Josh Hamilton; trading for Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham; or even investing in a third base trade like Aramis Ramirez or Chase Headley and seeing if the outfield solution will come from within the group that includes Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, John Mayberry or the newly acquired Nate Schierholtz.
So the Pence deal begs the question: If it’s payroll flexibility this team is after, why not go further and trade Cliff Lee?
There are two major reasons why the Phillies should not trade Cliff Lee:
1. The Phillies back-end loaded Lee’s contract, paying him only $11 million in 2011. This leaves them owing Lee about $7 million for the rest of 2012, plus either $87.5 million over the next 3 seasons or $102.5 million over the next 4 seasons if the 2016 option vests or is exercised.
Add in Lee’s subpar 2012 (by his standards) and a result, it is highly unlikely that the Phillies can trade Lee without absorbing some of his salary. A best guess is a minimum of $10 million just to “even out” the 2011 discount and possibly closer to $20 million if any significant prospect(s) are coming back in the deal.
It was reported that the Dodgers were willing to take on the entire Lee contract, having made a waiver claim on Lee, but in all likelihood the Phillies floated Lee more to gauge their potential future trade partners than to actually move him right now. Once the Phillies asked the Dodgers for prospects in addition to full salary relief, thoughts of any potential current trade fizzled – and the Dodgers ended up with Joe Blanton instead.
2. With the Phillies already built around starting pitching and having no real internal options to replace Lee yet, together with facing the likelihood that the 2013 Phillies lineup will be comparable in productivity to the 2012 (once the holes at third base and outfield are addressed), changing course part way at this point in time would be foolish.
With the Phillies planning to contend in 2013, it would make little sense for the Phillies to not have Lee and try to replace him with someone about as expensive in free agency (such as Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster) or through trade (such as Matt Garza or Josh Johnson) – none of whom are a good as Lee and none of whom are left-handed.
The more likely course of action is to stay the course with the starters (Joe Blanton having been replaced by Kyle Kendrick after the Phillies traded Blanton to the Dodgers when L.A. claimed him on waivers). The Phillies will likely platoon Nate Schierholtz and John Mayberry in 2013, and will evaluate Domonic Brown to see whether they need to go out and get one or two significant outfielders.
Then there’s the matter of whether Freddy Galvis can be trusted with an everyday job in 2013 after his PED suspension and back fracture. Another PED slip-up would cost Galvis 100 games. If Galvis is penciled in the lineup, where does he play? If he plays second, does Chase Utley move to third? Or maybe Utley moves to left field? Or maybe Utley is traded to an AL team and becomes a DH, freeing $15 million more in payroll.
The bullpen will need some more attention with one or two veteran arms needed – at higher caliber than the Chad Qualls and Jose Conteras debacles of 2012. If the Reds decline their $8.5 million option on the injured Ryan Madson, the Phillies might look there, but expect them to also be active pursuing less risky options.
In the outfield, Michael Bourn’s return to the Phillies in free agency has been rumored. The overriding question is whether the Phillies are more in need of a leadoff hitter or middle-of-the-order hitter. Phillies fans would naturally answer “both,” but there is only so much money to go around, and when you clear salary, you create another hole.
Some middle-of-the-order options would include chasing Melky Cabrera or even Josh Hamilton in free agency. Getting Hamilton would probably require the Chase Utley trade mentioned above, both to clear the extra money and also because Hamilton bats left-handed.
Some right-handed hitting options (all would have to come via trade) are Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham (left field) or Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez (third base). All of the above other than Ramirez would probably cost more in trade than the Phillies are comfortable with. Add in that with Tommy Joseph (acquired in the Pence deal) and Sebastian Valle, the team’s farm surplus is at catcher, while the Rockies (Wilin Rosario), Twins (Joe Mauer) and Padres (Yasmani Grandal) all look set at that position for a long time.
Ramirez (age 34), whom the Phillies mulled over before choosing to re-sign Jimmy Rollins instead, is a very intriguing option. His 3-year, $36 million contract was a mini version of Cliff Lee’s – paying out only $6 million this season, then escalating to $10 million in 2013 and $16 million in 2014, plus a $4 million buyout after 2015 if 2014′s $14 million is not exercised (leaving $30 million due for 2 season or $40 million due for 3 seasons now that the discount season has passed).
The Phillies might be able to pry Ramirez away with one of their mid-level starting pitching prospects (think Ethan Martin or Brody Colvin as opposed to Jesse Biddle or Trevor May) and/or perhaps Kyle Kendrick, as long as the Phillies are willing to assume Ramirez’s contract – which would add to their collection of highly paid players in their mid-30′s.
Here’s our projected ideal 2013 roster:
Plan A lineup
Plan B lineup
Stop following me, part I: Shane Victorino’s trade to the Dodgers caused the Dodgers to remove Bobby Abreu from their roster, with L.A. designating Abreu for assignment. Back in 2006, Victorino’s emergence as s right fielder led to the Phillies dealing Abreu to the Yankees, along with the late Cory Lidle (who died in a small plane crash just over two months later) for four prospects who never panned out (C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith).
Stop following me, part II: A few days later, it was Victorino’s turn to be followed – by 4-year teammate Joe Blanton in a waiver deal. If the Dodgers weren’t pursuing Ryan Dempster until the closing minutes of Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, it’s likely that Victorino and Blanton would have traveled to L.A. together.
Ruiz tears it up (not in a good way): Word is out today that Carlos Ruiz, who has been battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and an MRI revealed a tear. Ruiz was placed on the 15-day DL, but the injury is expected to sideline him into September and possibly for the rest of the season.
Shutting it down: How much longer before Vance Worley, who has been gamely taking the ball all season despite having a bone chip in his elbow, is shut down? While we’re looking at it, maybe Roy Halladay is eventually excused from duty or at least skipped over when his starts land right before or after an off-day?
One guy we’d like to see called up is Tyler Cloyd, who is having a very good season at AAA Lehigh Valley (11-1, 1.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) after going 3-0/1.80/1.00 to start 2012 at AA Reading.
Seeing if Cloyd is in the mix for the 5th starter’s job in 2013 would allow the Phillies to decide whether Kyle Kendrick might fit better in the bullpen in 2013, or even whether his $4.5 million 2013 salary (before heading to arbitration in 2014) is a luxury they can afford to live without.