Each day this week, we'll examine the packages of prospects the Phillies should look to acquire in potential deals for their talented veterans. We'll go team-by-team, looking only at realistic contenders and trade partners.
First up: Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore leads the AL East by a game over Toronto and 3½ games over the Yankees. It's been a tightly contested divisional race that could be decided by trade deadline acquisitions.
The Orioles need pitching help. They can't simply stay afloat in the American League while Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Chris Davis are in their primes and Nelson Cruz is having a career year.
Baltimore's starting rotation currently consists of Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez (not that one) and Bud Norris, who is due to return from the DL early this week.
It's a rotation that lacks a No. 1 starter or even a No. 2 starter.
Cliff Lee would make a lot of sense for the O's. For one, he's a proven AL ace, unlike Jeff Samardzija, who went to the Athletics last Friday for a king's ransom (see story).
Lee would also be attractive to Baltimore because of his cost certainty. Lee is owed at most $60 million through the duration of his contract -- about $8 million this year, $25 million in 2015 and at most $27.5 million in 2016.
Pitchers like Samardzija and David Price don't have that cost certainty. They will both be free agents after 2015 and will be in line for $100 million-plus paydays.
The Orioles could better afford Lee and have the prospects to obtain him. The Phillies would likely be willing to eat some of Lee's remaining salary to obtain a better package of prospects.
The Phillies are seeking major league-ready help. Baltimore has it in pitcher Kevin Gausman and infielder Jonathan Schoop.
Gausman is a 23-year-old, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft out of LSU, the same school that bred Phillies first-rounder Aaron Nola.
Gausman entered the year rated the 20th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. In 33 minor-league games (32 starts), he has a 3.41 ERA with 140 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 142 1/3 innings.
Baltimore has summoned Gausman back and forth from the minors to make spot starts and he has a 5.00 ERA in the majors in 25 appearances, 10 as a starter. The control has remained steady even at the game's highest level -- Gausman has struck out 66 and walked 24 in 75 2/3 innings.
He's the Orioles' top prospect right now, but at a certain point a team needs to take a chance. That's where Baltimore is right now. Lee offers the Orioles a better chance to win division titles and postseason series over the next three years than Gausman does.
Schoop (pronounced "scope") could be a valuable second piece to the trade. He's a 22-year-old from Curaçao who plays second base and third base and has some power. He cracked Baseball America's top-100 a few years ago, and last season he slugged .460 in a season spent mostly at Triple A Norfolk.
This year, Schoop has 10 doubles and six homers in 274 plate appearances for the O's. He's not a budding star, but he'd give the Phillies some young, cheap infield depth.
Baltimore also has a pair of prospects at the lower levels of the minors in Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey.
Bundy, the fourth overall pick in 2011, is still just 21 years old. He's at High-A Frederick after missing about a year after Tommy John surgery. But Bundy has dominated each level of the minors so far, going 9-4 in 27 starts with a 2.04 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and just 2.4 walks.
Harvey continues to turn heads. He's a 19-year-old at Class A Delmarva who has a 2.71 ERA in 23 minor-league starts with 11.0 K/9.
The Orioles would probably prefer to trade Bundy or Harvey over Gausman because Gausman can help sooner. But if the Phillies truly value major league-readiness over pure upside, they shouldn't budge from centering a deal around Gausman.
Whenever a star is traded for trendy prospects, the media has a tendency to say the team that dealt away young talent overpaid. But that rarely turns out to be the case. Analysts and fans often overrate prospects and think that every one will experience his best-case scenario. Just think about what 2013 Maikel Franco and Jesse Biddle could have brought the Phils in a trade compared to what they'd bring now.
A package of Gausman and Schoop for Lee, or Bundy and Harvey for Lee and perhaps Jonathan Papelbon, would make sense for both teams. It'd give the Phillies young building blocks and it would give Baltimore the parts needed to not only make a second-half run, but to contend in 2015 and perhaps 2016 as well.
Tomorrow, we look at Baltimore's rival, the Toronto Blue Jays.