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.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.