Getting Young, Part II: Phils' vets tough to move

Getting Young, Part II: Phils' vets tough to move

Phillies Nation: Is Ryan Howard untradeable?

November 27, 2013, 8:00 am
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Ryan Howard is owed $85 million the next three years, while Cliff Lee is set to make at least $62.5 million and Jonathan Papelbon is owed $26 million. (AP)

On Sunday, we explained why the call for the Phillies to get younger is much more complicated than most realize. You can look to Part I for more detail, but the three main points were:

• Unlike in the NBA and NFL, draft picks don’t help for 3-5 years.
• In today’s game, teams lock up their young stars up at an early age.
• Few baseball players reach free agency before they turn 29 or 30 years old.

A handful of responses mentioned that the Phillies could still get younger despite those facts by trading away their valuable veterans.

But that’s just not realistic when you look at each player individually.

Let’s do just that:

Cliff Lee
Remaining contract: Two years, $62.5 million

The Phillies chose not to deal Lee at the 2013 trade deadline because none of the returns were right. Had the Red Sox offered Xander Bogaerts, a deal probably gets done. But for anything less than a young, impact player with a better-than-even chance of MLB stardom, it made more sense to Ruben Amaro Jr. to hang onto Lee.

Lee has more value than anyone on the Phillies because he’s a top-10 pitcher with only two more guaranteed years left on his contract. (He's owed $50 million the next two years and has a $27.5 million option in 2016 that can be bought out for $12.5 million.) But he gives the Phils a great chance to win every fifth day and won’t be moved for anything less than full value.

Cole Hamels
Remaining contract: Five years, $117.5 million

The Phillies didn’t sign Hamels to the richest deal in team history only to trade him 18 months later. He also has a ton of value, though his contract is pricey. He’s 29 and he’s not going anywhere.

Ryan Howard
Remaining contract: Three years, $85 million

As we outlined last week, Howard may be tradeable in a year if he rebounds in 2014. A year from now he’d have only $60 million remaining on that $125 million deal, and if the Phillies agreed to pick up half of that they could probably unload his contract or get something of value in return.

That’s if he rebounds in 2014 and stays healthy.

Jonathan Papelbon
Remaining contract: Two years, $26 million

His value hit an all-time low in 2013, the worst possible time for the Phillies. In a lost season, trading Papelbon for an intriguing prospect seemed like a great idea, only no team wanted to part with that prospect for an expensive closer with a declining strikeout rate.

If Papelbon has a great first half in 2014 and the Phillies aren’t in contention, you have to assume he’ll be shopped at the deadline. There isn’t a ton of guaranteed money left on his deal.

Chase Utley
Remaining contract: Two years, $27 million

Carlos Ruiz
Remaining contract: Three years, $26 million

These are two affordable contracts for players who are aging but still productive when healthy. Don’t expect to see either player moved.

Jimmy Rollins
Remaining contract: One year, $11 million

He’s in decline, but there’s always a premium placed on shortstops. Why else would Jhonny Peralta have found $53 million so soon after a 50-game PED suspension?

The issue with trading Rollins isn’t value or outside interest, it’s his no-trade clause. Because he’s been in the majors at least 10 years with at least five coming with the same team, Rollins has the right to veto any trade. And he’s made it clear he’s more interested in remaining in Philadelphia and breaking franchise records than concluding his career elsewhere.

***

Should the Phillies have thought twice about the Howard extension? Sure.

Should they have let another team make Hamels one of the richest pitchers ever? Maybe.

Should they have let Rollins, Utley or Ruiz walk? The easy answer is yes, but there were few internal replacements that would have or will keep them competitive.

In any event, hindsight won’t fix any of the current problems. Nor will trading a player for 60 cents on the dollar.

Baseball is different from the other sports. You don’t just trade a player to trade a player -- the return has to make sense. Clearing payroll doesn’t carry the added benefit of tanking for a better draft pick, because that draft pick won’t help you for a while anyway.

So if you want the Phillies to get younger, it more than likely won’t be through a trade. It will be through Cody Asche and Maikel Franco and Domonic Brown and Ben Revere producing and maintaining regular playing time, and Darin Ruf hitting lefties well enough to platoon somewhere. It will be through Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin and Jesse Biddle and Jake Diekman and (maybe) Phillippe Aumont developing into confident big-league pitchers. Maybe young catcher Tommy Joseph rediscovers his power and ability to block balls. Maybe 18-year-old outfielder Carlos Tocci grows into his body and hits.

There’s some young talent in the system. And the best way –- perhaps the only way -- to usher in a new era of Phillies baseball is to continue to foster that young talent. Because you sure aren’t getting anything worthwhile right now for the veterans.