Part one of my thirty part series, which I may or may not finish by the trade deadline, on the Philadelphia Phillies, the worst team in baseball.
There’s no doubt the Phillies will be selling this year. They’ve been selling for a while now. The hole they’ve dug for themselves is huge, so they’re trying to dump salary any way they can. The problem is their trade candidates aren’t (for the most part) particularly attractive. They almost all have bloated salaries and options that mitigate whatever value they might have. If you like complicated options and having to sit in front of baseballreference saying “well he finished this many games in 2014 and he’s finished this many games in 2015 so far so if he keeps up this pace it looks like he’ll meet this vesting option”, congratulations! You just put more thought into Jonathan Papelbon’s contract than Ruben Amaro jr. did! (That’s untrue, I’m sure Ruben Amaro jr. thought very hard before that contract. I’m not sure why he did it after he thought long and hard about it, but he’s a GM overseeing what could loosely be described as a baseball team and I’m not and never will be, so advantage Amaro I guess.)
Ryan Howard: Howard barely qualifies here. He’s constantly rumored to be on the move, but it’s hard to take any of those rumors very seriously when Howard is making the money he’s making (whatever’s left of his $25 million this year, $25 million next year, and a $10 million buyout on 2017) and playing as poorly as he’s playing. Zips has his projected slash line for the rest of 2015 at .233/.300/.426, a .313 wOBA and a 97 wRC+ with negative defense. It’s hard to justify that bat at first base, and the trend toward using the designated hitter as a spot to rest players should rule out even more teams as candidates for Howard. It seems unlikely that Howard would be moved, even if Philadelphia kicked in a massive amount of money, which they would absolutely have to do.
Ben Revere: Revere isn’t a prototypical corner outfielder. He’s fast, and that’s allowed him to steal bases and maintain a high BABIP and batting average, but he doesn’t do anything else particularly well. He doesn’t walk enough to get on base at an above average rate, and his struggles to hit for any kind of power keep his bat from being league average. Any team acquiring him would have his rights through the 2017 season, so he’s not a rental. The problem is, Revere probably profiles best as a fourth outfielder (especially if he isn’t playing full time in center) and with his salary increasing through arbitration, it doesn’t seem like he would be that valuable to a team looking for corner outfield help, especially when compared to some of the other options potentially available at the deadline.
Carlos Ruiz: The best example of how being a bad pitch framer can hurt value. Ruiz is by far the worst pitch framer in baseball. Baseball Prospectus has him as -6.3 runs Framing Runs Added By Count, and the next lowest among people with at least 2,000 chances is James McCann at -3.9. And it’s not like Ruiz’s bat has been making up the difference. He’s currently hitting .231/.302/.269 with a .038 Isolated power. 6 doubles all season is the extent of Ruiz’s power. But Zips thinks he’ll rebound to hit .256/.329/.350 over the rest of the season, which is only an 89 wRC+, but if a team has a black hole at catcher and needs help, they might think of Ruiz. That is, if they’re also willing to take on his 8.5 million dollar age 37 season next year and pay him an additional 500k to buyout the team option on the season after that. The biggest concern I would have if I was thinking about acquiring Ruiz is this. He might rebound like ZIPS projects and become a serviceable MLB catcher. Presumably you can get the Phillies to pay down his salary for next season and probably get them to pay for the option buyout. But this is a player who is 36 years old, and while ZIPS thinks his BABIP will bounce back from .271, where it currently is, it’s declined in each of the past 3 seasons by 10 points or more. Ruiz seems like he’s reached the point where he’s likely done as a valuable starting catcher.
Chase Utley: Utley has fallen off a cliff in terms of value. He’s currently hitting .184/.263/.286, with a .240 wOBA and 48 wRC+. That’s terrible. ZIPS again, is projecting some rebound, up to a 90 wRC+ over the rest of the year, but Utley’s 36 and sometimes this is how careers end. He’s an interesting buy low trade candidate though, because his struggles have allowed the Phillies to bench him enough that he could potentially fail to reach the 550 plate appearances he needs to make his $15 million option for next season vest. So it’s possible a team could take a flier on Utley and either start him at second or use him as a bench player and hope to get some value out of him, all while making sure he doesn’t come close to vesting that option. His lack of positional flexibility would hurt off the bench, but a team looking to acquire “veteran presence” could be interested.
Cole Hamels: There’s already been a lot written about Hamels so I won’t waste the time or space here. He’s a front end starting pitcher right now, and even though the number of years, dollars, and prospects that a team would have to commit to acquire him is clearly a risk, the Phillies would do well to take the best offer they get for him this deadline (assuming it’s a good offer) and put those dollars and prospects they acquire toward rebuilding.
Aaron Harang: Does your team need a back of the rotation starter? Aaron Harang is available, probably wouldn’t cost many prospects, and only costs whatever’s left on his 5 million dollar contract when you acquire him? No complicated options here, just a good old fashioned #5 starter. Don’t buy his 3.24 ERA, it’s going to go up, maybe even as a member of your team. if you expect Aaron Harang to keep being good, you should probably re-evaluate how you evaluate, because it’s as easy as pointing to his .244 BABIP and saying “This is Aaron Harang” for most people to nod and see how this ends.
Jonathan Papelbon: Papelbon’s still a valuable relief pitcher. He’d be relatively easy to deal if it wasn’t for his 13 million dollar vesting option for next season, a vesting option he has a fair chance of meeting. So any team acquiring Papelbon to be their closer has to factor in the possibility of having him around for an extra season. The Phillies have a ton of complicated options that make these deals tricky.