Tuesday evening, while evaluating Jimmy Rollins’ trade value, I said that if Rollins was in the final year of his deal, he might have some value. Given that Rollins only needs to reach 500 plate appearances this year for his $11 million option for 2015 to exercise (he already has over 200), Rollins isn’t going to be a free-agent next off-season. So for as much as you like that he provides some pop, is putting together better at-bats this year, and is a tremendous fielder, the $11 million that he is owed next season will hamper his trade value.
As ESPN’s Buster Olney said this morning (via MLB Trade Rumors), the Phillies chances of getting much of any return for anyone on their roster is going to be hard, because a majority of their good players, have contracts that don’t match their current production level.
While it is easy to say that the Phillies should become sellers, the reality is that the club lacks attractive pieces or a young core that can be built around, writes ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required and recommended). Even the players who are performing well — such as Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd— have middling value because they are owed significant amounts of money beyond the season (or, in the case of Rollins, soon will be; his $11MM option will vest barring injury).
Olney made the case that while anyone can sit on their couch and say that the Phillies should sell off a majority of their veterans, there really isn’t much chance of it happening.
A Phillies sell-off, on the other hand, might actually be bleaker than how they’re playing now, because they don’t really have movable pieces, and there really isn’t a core they’d be adding to.
I see Olney’s point, and I agree that the Phillies aren’t likely to get any blue-chip prospects for guys like Rollins, but there are moveable pieces on the Phillies roster, who could be moved for future major-leaguers.
Chase Utley, who the MLB Network’s Peter Gammons thinks could help decide who wins the National League Pennant, is playing at an All-Star level, and could fetch a solid B level prospect in a trade.
If Cliff Lee could get healthy, then Lee could fetch a few B level prospects and you could get some salary relief. Frankly, I’m not sure the Phillies aren’t better off waiting until August, waiving Lee, and seeing if they couldn’t dumb his salary off on another team. It’s not that I don’t respect Lee–that couldn’t be further from the truth–but continuing to pay a mid-30′s lefty who is making $25 million a year, doesn’t really make sense if the Phillies are finally going to start to rebuild. Paying him to go away (eating part of his salary), especially if you don’t get blue chip prospects, might not be worth it.
Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz–all whom are overpaid, but you would like to see them go for different reasons–aren’t going anywhere. Papelbon is the only one of them who is performing near an All-Star level, but I’d be shocked if anyone wants to take on his contract, or bring his ego into a contending clubhouse. Howard and Ruiz are still producing (maybe not to the level of their deals, but they are producing), but their contracts are so horrendous, that the Phillies are pretty much stuck with them.
I think Olney is wrong about Marlon Byrd, because while he is due eight million next year, I don’t think that is a ridiculous amount for his production level. Maybe a team looking for a rental doesn’t go for him, but a contender who needs a permanent solution in the outfield might be interested in him, because you are unlikely to find a veteran outfielder making less than Byrd, who is producing at a better level.
So generally speaking, barring a miraculously quick recovery from Cliff Lee, the Phillies might not get a ton in return for players if they become sellers. What they will get, much like when they traded Bobby Abreu in 2006, is a chance at some sort of culture change. I think that chance really improves if you move Utley and Rollins, two players who are Phillies greats, because you can start to build a new identity. The Phillies will also get a ton of salary relief if they move guys like Rollins, Utley and Lee, which would allow them to start to build a whole team, rather than allocating all their resources in a few players.