Getting Young, Part III: A few failed trades

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Getting Young, Part III: A few failed trades

In Part II of our series examining the serious roadblocks preventing the Phillies from getting younger, we explained why trading any of their high-priced veterans is, at the moment, impossible.

But while five of their eight projected starting position players will be 35 or older come opening day, the Phillies do have a good amount of young talent on the roster.

Darin Ruf and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are 27. Domonic Brown, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus are 26. Ben Revere and Cameron Rupp are 25. Freddy Galvis, Ethan Martin and Phillippe Aumont are 24. Jonathan Pettibone, Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez are 23.

The problem is that, aside from possibly Brown, none of those players are on the verge of stardom. The Phillies don’t have the kind of young, impact talent that seems to be sweeping the league.

Ruben Amaro Jr. traded 16 young players from 2009-12 to acquire Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Revere. In all fairness, none of those 16 players has yet blossomed into a difference-maker at the major-league level.

Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ fizzled out. Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp couldn’t stay healthy. Michael Taylor was dealt at his peak, as was Vance Worley.

In that list of 16, the players with the best chances of stardom are catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who has since been dealt to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, and the three players traded to the Astros for Pence -- right-hander Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder Domingo Santana. If the Phillies had those three players right now, the future would look much brighter.

But they don’t. They do have Aumont, Martin, Tyson Gillies and Tommy Joseph.

And that’s the issue.

The Phils made three big trades from 2009-12 to get younger and replenish a weakened farm system, but none of the three moves panned out.

Lee to Seattle
The Lee-to-Seattle trade in December 2009 remains the worst move of Amaro’s tenure as Phillies GM. He hurriedly dealt Lee to the Mariners for a package of prospects the front office liked. Many criticized the rushed nature of the trade -- remember, they traded Lee the same day they landed Halladay -- but the Phillies didn’t want to give fans a chance to get used to a rotation fronted by Halladay and Lee since they didn’t plan on keeping both.

When Aumont was mercifully demoted to Triple A this past season, he had thrown the highest percentage of balls of any major-league reliever. Control and confidence remain major hurdles. He’s not a starter, he’s not a closer, he’s not even a right-handed specialist. How can a team be confident putting Aumont into a tight situation? He’ll never meet Phillies fans’ lofty expectations (which isn’t solely his fault), and he may never justify his former first-round status.

Gillies hasn’t been able to stay healthy or avoid off-field controversy. He also hasn’t been able to hit. When the Phillies acquired him, he was coming off a ridiculous age-20 season at High-A in which he hit .341/.430/.486 with 17 doubles, 14 triples, nine homers and 44 steals. He looked like a toolsy centerfielder who could one day replace Shane Victorino.

Didn’t work out. Those numbers were compiled in notoriously hitter-friendly ballparks in the California League. Gillies’ power began disappearing as he made the switch to the East Coast, and while the singles were there in Double A, he hit just .220/.286/.313 this past season at Triple A.

The failures of that deal became even more apparent late in the 2013 season when the Phillies needed a setup man to replace Mike Adams and a centerfielder to replace Revere ... and couldn’t turn to either Aumont or Gillies to fill the voids.

The third player in that deal was J.C. Ramirez, whose 95 mph fastball played well in the bigs for a few weeks until hitters figured out it was his only pitch. He was granted free agency and signed with the Indians.

Victorino to the Dodgers
At the 2012 deadline the Phils dealt Victorino to the Dodgers for Martin and reliever Josh Lindblom.

Lindblom was mediocre, and the Phillies used him to acquire Michael Young several months later.

Martin’s ceiling appears to be a late reliever, which isn’t bad considering it cost the Phils just a half-year of Victorino. 

The second Pence trade
The same day they traded Victorino, the Phillies sent Pence to the Giants for Joseph and Nate Schierholtz.

Schierholtz was strangely non-tendered last winter (only to have a career year with the Cubs), and Joseph’s development time was stunted in 2013 because of concussion issues.

So yeah, there are factors and reasons and excuses for why the few moves the Phillies did make to replenish the farm system haven’t worked. But all that matters is that those moves haven’t worked. They traded Lee in his prime for very little. They traded Pence -- who was then a year and a half away from free agency -- for significantly less than 100 cents on the dollar. And they’re paying the price.

The Lee and Pence deals were genuine opportunities to add talent and depth to a barren farm system. But trading is an inexact science -- as evidenced by the mediocrity in that list of 16 -- and that’s a major reason Amaro chose to hang onto Lee at this past trade deadline rather than flip him for a prospect who may or may not pan out.

The outlook isn’t completely hopeless, though. The Phillies do have all those twenty-somethings mentioned above, as well as the rapidly developing Maikel Franco and a potential front-line starter in Jesse Biddle. But it would have helped a great deal if they acquired just one difference-maker for Lee, Victorino or Pence. Had Amaro “hit” on just one of those players acquired from Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco, we may not even be talking about this today.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

"I got to briefly shake his hand," Pivetta said Sunday morning. "He knew I was like a stalker. He said, 'Oh, right, you're the guy from British Columbia.'"

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.