The month of June is underway, which means the center of Philadelphia’s attention is on the……Eagles. The Eagles are the team to watch because of the dismal 2015 performance of the Phillies. The Phillies are 20-33 and 9.5 games back in the National League East. The scary part for the Phillies is that they have the worst run differential in baseball at -73. Their -73 run differential suggests that they should be 17-35 this season, which would be the worst record in baseball. The positive aspect of this season for the Phillies is that they have three very interesting trade pieces, and I think it would make sense to ship all three to the Boston Red Sox.
It is no secret that the Phillies are a bad baseball team. That doesn’t mean all their players are bad. The Phillies have three very interesting, and quite useful players that could be dealt before the trade deadline. In fact, it makes sense to send all three to the Red Sox to fill some glaring holes in their game. It is not a complete shock that the Red Sox rotation has struggled this season—posting an American League worst 5.05 ERA. While their 4.13 FIP suggests that they are pitching better than the results show, the ERA is all that matters in the end. It is good to know that Clay Buchholz has a 3.06 FIP, which suggests he is pitching better than his 4.33 ERA would suggest, but he does own a 4.00 career FIP. Maybe Buchholz is over-performing on things that he can control this season.
While I use FIP when doing player analysis for how good they actually are, or could be, it doesn’t always matter. Buchholz’s FIP is very good, but the Red Sox defense is the tied for the 10th worst in the American League with -12 defensive runs saved. In terms of UZR, the Red Sox are the 11th worst defense in the American League. Basically the Red Sox defense isn’t doing them any favors. While the Phillies don’t offer a solution for the Red Sox defense, they offer an intriguing solution for their pitching rotation.
The obvious trade piece that the Phillies can send to the Red Sox is their ace, Cole Hamels. Hamels was rocked by the Sox on Opening Day, and much of the month, but the left hander has responded. He now owns the 23rd best ERA in baseball at 2.91. Hamels is also averaging 9.20 strikeouts per nine innings, which only Clay Buchholz has done this season. A higher strikeout rate keeps the ball away from their lackluster fielding. Hamels FIP is nearly a run higher than his ERA, but that is because of his elevated home run rate this season. If you look at Hamels xFIP, which calculates that 10.5-percent of fly balls are home runs. Right now, Hamels is at a 14.5-percent rate. Hamels ERA, FIP and xFIP are better than the majority of the Red Sox starters, and Hamels had an all-time bad month to start the season.
The second reason that the Red Sox could use Hamels is they lack a front-line starter. There is no denying that some of the Red Sox have postseason experience, but Hamels adds to that. Hamels was the 2008 World Series MVP and has continued to get better with age. Right now, Hamels is in the peak years of his career, which would benefit Boston. Cole Hamels is also throwing harder than he has ever thrown in his career, so immediate regression shouldn’t be a concern. In May, Hamels rounded into form, cutting his walks per nine from 4.65 to 1.87, which helped his FIP drop from 5.52 in March/April to 2.80 in May. Hamels xFIP has also been consistently below 4.00 all season, so it appears the home run rate is the biggest concern.
It is rumored that the Phillies would take on some of the money remaining in Hamels contract, but it isn’t necessary. On the open market, Hamels would garner much more than he is owed through the remainder of his deal. Of course, if the Phillies want to bring more back, it may make sense for them to take some of the financial hit, but that is a different story. That is more of a strategic attack within the structure of the deal, which isn’t the discussion here. Since 2013, Hamels has the 14th best ERA in baseball at 3.03. In Wins Above Replacement, Hamels ranks 10th among pitchers since 2013. That is an elite pitcher, and would upgrade the Red Sox rotation.
In that same deal, the Phillies could send Aaron Harang to the Red Sox. This season, Harang has performed very well—posting 2.02 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched. While Harang owns a 3.06 FIP, that would be tied for the best on the Red Sox (with Buchholz). The red-flag with Harang is the xFIP, which is 4.22. That comes from Harang giving up home runs on the calculated 10.5-percent. This year, Harang is allowing a home run on just 4.2-percent of fly balls. That rate is alarming because of his 33.7-percent ground ball rate. Harang has been an extreme fly ball pitcher this year, but has avoided the long-ball. The real question is how long can he avoid them?
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If we excuse the xFIP, which Boston may, the Red Sox would be getting a good veteran in their rotation. Harang is walking just 1.89 batters per nine innings, while striking out 6.69. That makes him better than Wade Miley this year, and similar to Rick Porcello. The reason that some of Harang’s success may be sustainable this year is because his hard-hit rate is lower than his career average—at just 25.6-percent. Also, Harang is giving up line drives on just 19.5-percent of balls put it play. The high fly ball rate is concerning, but Harang would be a pretty good fit in the back-end of the Red Sox rotation.
Aaron Harang signed a one year, $5 million deal with the Phillies this past offseason. If the Red Sox acquired Harang, they wouldn’t have to worry about acquiring a contract that extends into next year. Harang has been having a career year, and is a veteran so it could be a valuable addition to the Sox.
The Red Sox bullpen currently has a 3.59 ERA, which ranks 8th in the American League. That makes the Red Sox a mediocre bullpen in a division that is still wide open. The concern for the Red Sox is that they have the second worst FIP among bullpens in the American League at 4.34. Only the Rangers bullpen has a higher FIP. The Red Sox 4.26 xFIP is the second worst in the American League as well. As a unit, the Red Sox bullpen has been -0.2 Wins above Replacement, which is the only negative value bullpen in the American League.
The back-end of the Red Sox bullpen has been good with Uehara and Tazawa, but they could still use the improvement. Jonathan Papelbon has a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings pitched this season. Papelbon does have a 2.30 FIP, which is still very good. Even Papelbon’s 2.68 xFIP is very good, but that calculates Papelbon giving up a home run on 10.5-percent of fly balls, which he has done just twice in his career. In saves situations this year, Papelbon is a perfect 11 for 11. The issue with Papelbon is that he needs to get games finished in order for his option to vest in 2016. If Papelbon wants to go to Boston, he will need his option guaranteed, and most likely, he will need to close.
Could all three go to Boston?
The Red Sox could benefit from the additions of Hamels, Harang and Papelbon. All three are veterans with pretty favorable contracts. The worst of the three is Papelbon, but he has pitching very well the past few years despite claims that he would regress due to his velocity.
A package involving Cole Hamels is going to bring back a large return—but the Red Sox may need more than Hamels to win. As stated above, their rotation is pretty bad despite an average FIP. The defense in Boston is one of the worst in the American League, so Hamels missing bats could help the Sox prevent balls in play. Harang profiles as an extreme fly ball pitcher, and maybe even a lucky one at that, but he would be an upgrade for the year to the Sox rotation.
Papelbon is an interesting addition to a possible deal, but I would bet that it is contingent on the closer role and his 2016 option. Papelbon is probably better than Uehara at this point, and I think he is safer going forward.
I believe a deal to Boston involving Hamels, Harang and Papelbon is a possibility, but there will be some variables to the deal. The contract of Cole Hamels will be talked about because the Phillies feel that if they take on some of the remaining money, they may get a better deal. Aaron Harang’s contract won’t be of concern in a deal to Boston. Papelbon, as stated above, has an option that I am sure will need to be guaranteed in order to move him to Boston. If the Phillies take on some of Hamels contract, and even some of Papelbon’s, the deal could happen. Packing these three together increases the talent in the deal while taking some of the financial hit, which would allow the Phillies to ask for a little more in return for their services. The Red Sox spent big this past offseason and are in the American League East, which is wide open. It would make sense for the Phillies to send these three players to the Red Sox. At this point, we know the Phillies won’t be getting Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and now likely, Eduardo Rodriguez, but the could shoot for Henry Owens, Manuel Margot or Rafael Devers as a centerpieces of a deal. It may not happen all in one deal, but Boston may need a trade like this to contend in 2015.