The trade deadline is, according to RAB’s visitor statistics, the most popular part of the season for baseball fans. In the week leading up to July 31st we frequently record single-day traffic records. (No day has yet topped the failed Cliff Lee trade day in July, 2010.) While there are many aspects of the trade deadline to love, one has always particularly caught me: there’s always a player who, before the season, we couldn’t conceive would become available.
Sometimes, if not oftentimes, that player is of direct interest to the Yankees. Heading into last season no one thought Ubaldo Jimenez would become available. He was seemingly a fit for the Yankees, since they could have used a pitching upgrade or three. But his price was too high, and as it turns out they were probably better off for having passed.
This year the landscape is a bit different. The second Wild Card will surely have teams holding off longer than normal before selling. Instead of trying to get top dollar in early July, teams might hold off until the final few days before trading players for prospects. But come deadline we can still expect a number of players to change teams. As usual, the Yankees will play the role of buyers.
Instead of some unexpected player becoming available this year, we might instead see an unexpected team playing the role of seller. It actually lines up well. They’re floundering this season, and play in a relatively tough division. Their farm system has been decimated in recent seasons due to deadline buying, so they could use any replenishment they can find. But what makes them ideal sellers is that they have the chips that can bring back a decent return. Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies could sell significant reinforcements to any contender.
Where they stand
For those who don’t keep up with the NL, the Phillies currently sit nine games back in the NL East, and 7.5 games back in the NL Wild Card. Most teams in that position, especially when they’re five games below .500, will get into selling mode around this time. They might not jump on the market early, as truly terrible team such as the Cubs might. But by mid-month you’d normally see their names cropping up in trade discussions.
At the same time, the Phillies could be in for a rally. They recently got Chase Utley back from the DL, after missing him all season. Another season-long absentee, Ryan Howard, is about to start a rehab assignment. Roy Halladay has missed significant time, but should be back soon enough. With those three replacing their inferior understudies, the Phillies certainly could make a run at the Wild Card, if not the division. That makes their selling position a bit tougher.
The largest obstacle in the way of Phillies and the sellers pool is the way they’ve operated the past few years. At the last three trade deadlines they’ve made significant trades. In 2009 it was Cliff Lee. In 2010 they picked up Roy Oswalt. In 2011 they traded for Hunter Pence. They also spent significant money in free agency the past few seasons. In signing Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, and Jimmy Rollins they’ve signaled that they plan to contend into the future.
If the Phillies’ spending and trade habits signal a focus on winning now and winning in the future, they become less likely to sell at the deadline. After all, a 10-game win streak in August can change everything. But the Phillies don’t have to mortgage the future if they’re to sell at the deadline. They have a number of players who might be gone after the season anyway.
You don’t need to tell a Yankees fan that Cole Hamels becomes a free agent after this season. Most of us have already imagined how the 28-year-old will look in pinstripes, providing a second lefty ace behind CC Sabathia. The Phillies have put on a public display of optimism regarding a Hamels extension, but it’s a near certainty that he’ll file for free agency. Can the Phillies afford to dole out another huge contract, with all the other ones they have on the books?
Hamels will cost plenty in a trade — think the return the Mariners got for Lee in 2010 — but he could be worth it. Not only does he add another high-end arm, but there’s always the chance that the team trading for him has the upper hand in signing him. The Yankees might not be interested in that, not if they’re truly after the $189 million goal, but you never know. With Andy Pettitte out at least six weeks, perhaps the Yankees will seek a high-end replacement such as Hamels.
There’s also Shane Victorino. My personal feelings for him aside, he could provide some production in the outfield should Brett Gardner suffer yet another setback. Victorino isn’t hitting quite as well as he did during the 2011 season, but his numbers are still decent. He can play the outfield well enough, and presumably could handle left field at Yankee Stadium. His price tag likely won’t be that prohibitive, and he’d be a true rental; there’s little chance the Yankees would explore a long-term deal with him after the Phillies already got his prime years.
(There’s also Joe Blanton, but I just can’t see the Yankees at all being interested.)
1.5 season trades
In addition to having a pair of attractive trade options with expiring contacts, the Phillies also have a few players whose contracts expire after the 2013 season. This works for the Yankees, since they’re free of any contractual burden during that key 2014 season. The Phillies will be less likely to deal these players, since they clearly aim to contend in 2013. But with a rough farm system, perhaps they’d be open for the right package of prospects.
Hunter Pence could help the Yankees in two ways. First, he could take over a corner spot this year in case Brett Gardner isn’t ready. Even if Gardner is ready, Pence is plenty valuable in any role the Yankees can find for him. Next year he could take over in right for Nick Swisher, giving the Yankees one more year to find a more permanent replacement. His numbers on the road this year, considerably better than his numbers at home, suggest that he’s not merely a product of hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
It sounds crazy, and I’m 99.9 percent certain the Phillies won’t even entertain the idea, but they could, if they so chose, deal Roy Halladay. He has a 2014 option that vests with 225 IP in 2013, and knowing Halladay he’ll reach that mark. He was ineffective this year, but if that was just a lingering injury, he could provide a year and a half of superb production. Even if the 2014 option does vest and the Yankees want to avoid paying it, they won’t have much trouble finding a trade partner. Again, I don’t expect this at all, but it’s one of those “so crazy the Phillies just might try it” things.
I’ve heard people mention the idea of trading for Cliff Lee. When first hearing that, I wondered why in the world the Phillies would trade Lee just so they’d have the money to sign Hamels long term. But then I remembered that Ruben Amaro once traded Cliff Lee so that he could trade for Halladay. Again, when you think, “that’ so crazy it might just work,” you have to immediately think of Ruben Amaro.
All of this is, of course, just thinking aloud. The Phillies, like the Yankees, don’t seem like a team that will ever truly become sellers. But this year is an odd one for Philadelphia, and they might take a step back now in order to build for 2013 and beyond. If that’s the case, it’s easy to see where the Yankees fit in.