Carlos Ruiz (left) and Michael Young (right) have expiring contracts. (USA Today Images)
Eight games out in the NL East and 9½ back of the Reds in the wild-card race, the Phillies pretty clearly have to sell. The Braves have gone 2-4 since July 20 and actually picked up 1½ games on the Phillies.
They just can’t make up ground or play consistently enough to threaten in either race, and if you haven’t seen enough over their last 264 games that these Phillies are at best a .500 team, you haven’t been paying attention. There are only four teams in baseball that have been outscored by more runs than the Phils -- the Astros, Marlins, White Sox and Brewers. That’s it.
The epicness of the Phillies’ failures on their post-All-Star Game road trip were beneficial in a way, because it pushed this team from buyer to tweener to seller. Had the Phillies gone 3-3 or even 2-4 against the Mets and Cardinals and put a little better product on the field, maybe we’re viewing this situation differently. But an embarrassing five-game losing streak and sweep? Yeah, that did the trick.
So here come the familiar names. Michael Young. Jonathan Papelbon. Carlos Ruiz. Delmon Young. Maybe Cliff Lee. Maybe Chase Utley.
Jim Salisbury reported this week that the Phillies are trying to work out an extension with Utley, who has a lot of trade value but probably wouldn’t bring back a return that would justify letting him leave. So let’s eliminate him from the list.
Delmon Young? Maybe an AL team looks at him as a DH. The Orioles could use one -- their designated hitters have hit .201/.260/.376. Young is by no means an offensive savior, but he’s a huge improvement over that, and could probably be had pretty cheap since he’d be a two-month rental.
Ruiz is a bit trickier. Sure, some teams need catching help. The Yankees stick out. They’ve been rolling with Chris Stewart (.238 BA, .619 OPS) and Austin Romine (.195 BA, .495 OPS) behind the plate.
But this isn’t 2012 Ruiz we’re talking about. In 44 games this season Chooch has hit .252 with four doubles and no homers. His value is probably the lowest it’s ever been considering his contract is up after the season. What are you even going to get for Ruiz? The player the Yankees just gave up for Alfonso Soriano, Corey Black, has some upside but as a reliever. You’d likely be looking at a similar return.
Michael Young and Papelbon would draw the most interest. The Red Sox have been all over Young because third base (.284 OBP) is their weakest position. Boston already has the best offense in baseball and this would be turning a weakness into a relative strength. Young might be the most realistically tradable piece, and the Phils might even get out of it more than they gave up (Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla) to acquire him. It’s all about supply and demand.
As far as Papelbon, he’s been connected to the Tigers all season because Detroit hasn’t had a true closer. But is there legitimate interest there or is it just an easy connection to make?
Papelbon’s stock has dropped in recent weeks. Over his last 20 games he has a 3.60 ERA and five blown saves.
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ closer situation has improved. Since Joaquin Benoit moved into the roll in early June he’s saved seven games and allowed one run in 16 innings.
Some other teams could give Papelbon a look because a bullpen can never be too stocked heading into the playoffs, but any deal would be complicated because of his contract. Papelbon is due roughly $4.4 million the rest of the season, $26 million total in 2014 and 2015, and he has a $13 million vesting option for 2016. That is a ton of money for a 32-year-old closer with declining velocity and strikeout rates.
If the Phillies were to deal Papelbon, they’d be looking to receive either a difference-making youngster or salary relief. You won’t get both, because no team is going to be foolish enough to trade away a valuable prospect for the chance to pay a reliever that much money for that many years.
So if the Phils want that top-tier prospect -- Nick Castellanos of the Tigers has had his name bandied about in trade speculation -- they’ll likely have to pick up most of Papelbon’s remaining money. They’d still have eight figures committed to Papelbon and Mike Adams next year and they’d be getting little to no production from either. It’s a tricky situation Ruben Amaro Jr. will have to navigate through, and that’s why you may see Papelbon still in Philadelphia after July 31 even though he’s been used in one meaningful situation in 12 days.