Murphy: Don't count Phils out as trade-deadline buyers

Murphy: Don't count Phils out as trade-deadline buyers

Murphy: Don't count Phils out as trade-deadline buyers

THE TRADE deadline might look a lot different for the Phillies this time around. Since midway through the 2014 season, they’ve been the team looking to stock up on prospects while trading away veterans. Sellers, in baseball parlance. Come July, though, nobody should be surprised if the Phillies sidle up to the opposite side of the table.

In all likelihood, they wouldn’t be buyers in the classic sense, willing to part with young, cost-controlled talent in return for expensive short-term fixes. Cole Hamels isn’t going to walk back through that door.

But someone such as Jake Odorizzi or Gerrit Cole might. Or perhaps even Giancarlo Stanton.

While none of these stars has generated much in the way of trade buzz this offseason, each represents the type of player the Phillies could look to make a play for as they move toward the next phase of their rebuild. That is, they are players who are early in their prime and could become cost-prohibitive for their teams in the near future.

In his first meeting with the Philadelphia media since late June of last season, club president Andy MacPhail portrayed Phillies ownership as ready, even clamoring, to resume taking advantage of their considerable financial resources by adding player salary. Though they do not yet believe themselves to be within a player or two of competing for a playoff spot this season, they could get to a point where they feel that way about 2018, when the members of one of the best free-agent classes in recent history will be entering the final years of their deals. That could make July 2017 the time to pounce.

Like all teams in the majors, the Phillies are aware of the talent that could be coming available on the free-agent market over the next few seasons, and they’ve been doing plenty of due diligence to prepare for a scenario in which one of those players becomes available via trade.

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“We know that as teams fall out of contention, they are going to be looking at opportunities to get the maximum amount for their playing talent, and often that comes as a result of a trade maybe a year or two prior to free agency,” MacPhail said. “Our goal is to be ready for that eventuality. Identify those teams that might find themselves in that situation and be ready to move if the opportunity presents itself.”

Identifying that opportunity will primarily be the responsibility of general manager Matt Klentak, who has an army of major league scouts coordinated by Mike Ondo that is already filing reports on players who could become available. If someone they covet becomes available, “we won’t be looking for another look. We’ll have enough looks and will have done the due diligence.”

“I know Matt has identified some guys already,” MacPhail said. “He has targets right now.”

Possible targets for the Phillies would fall into one of two categories. The first is a veteran who is still in his prime and is signed to an expensive, long-term deal for a team that either needs payroll flexibility or is entering a multiyear rebuild. This would be a situation similar to the one the Phillies were in with Hamels in 2015, when they traded him to the Rangers with three-plus years remaining on his contract.

Mike Trout would obviously be No. 1 on the list of every team that has the capacity to absorb the four years and $122 million remaining on his six-year deal with the Angels, a team that went 74-88 last season and desperately needs to inject its minor league system with young talent. But would the Angels really trade a player who is only 25 and already belongs in the conversation for greatest of all time?

A more realistic scenario might involve Stanton, who was a perennial mention in hypotheticals like this before signing a 13-year, $325 million contract in 2015, but probably still belongs. He can’t opt out of his megacontract until after the 2020 season, but his salary is scheduled to jump from $14.5 million to $25 million next year, and Marlins ownership could be leery about carrying a $300 million obligation on their books for a player who has played in only 193 games over the last two seasons and has averaged only 115 over the last five. Some owners can afford that kind of risk. Historically, the Marlins have not been one of them (Jeffery Loria’s reported intention to sell his team could alter that ability).

The second type of player is one who plays for a low-revenue team and is in his arbitration years, his salary escalating dramatically for three or four seasons before he hits free agency.

Take, for example, Tampa Bay’s Odorizzi. While the righthander isn’t scheduled to hit free agency until after the 2019 season, the notoriously cost-conscious Rays have a track record of trading players well before they are scheduled to hit free agency. In 2011, they traded Matt Garza when he was still three years away from the open market. They did the same with Wade Davis in 2012.

Odorizzi and the Rays are in the midst of an arbitration battle over his salary, with the club offering $3.825 million and the player asking $4.1 million. In three big-league seasons, Odorizzi has posted a 3.72 ERA and very good strikeout and walk numbers (8.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9) while averaging 31 starts and 175 innings per year. Heading into his 27-year-old season, he is still under club control for three more years, but the prospect of paying him another big raise could incentivize the Rays to move him while his value is near its peak.

Cole, the Pirates’ star righthander, could also fit this profile, though Pittsburgh has a more ardent fan base and thus more incentive to keep a face-of-the-franchise star in the fold for as long as fiscally possible.

But if someone of his ilk hits the trade block, the Phillies can – and should – make a serious attempt to strike.

dmurphy@phillynews.com

@ByDavidMurphy

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Published at Tue, 14 Feb 2017 01:58:05 +0000

Categories: Phillies

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