Matt Klentak would not say how close he came to making a deal before Monday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline.
But the Phillies GM did offer a glimpse at his thought process in not peddling pitcher Jeremy Hellickson to a contender.
“We were pretty focused on balancing the present and the future,” Klentak said in a conference call with reporters 75 minutes after the deadline passed. “If there was a trade to be made that made sense on both fronts, we would have done it.
“But at the end of the day, there was nothing that we felt made sense for this organization at this time.”
The Phillies are all about the future these days. They wanted a top prospect for Hellickson, who will be eligible for free agency after the World Series. When no team offered the Phils a player that they deemed a top top talent, they decided to keep Hellickson and roll the dice that they can turn him into a top prospect in the 2017 draft. To do that, the Phillies will have to extend the pitcher a qualifying offer that could be worth as much as $17 million in 2017 then hope he turns it down. If Hellickson turns the offer down and signs elsewhere, the Phillies will receive a compensatory pick after the first round of the 2017 draft. That pick would be in the No. 30 to No. 50 overall range — in other words, quite good.
For the record, Klentak would not say whether he planned to make Hellickson a qualifying offer, but indications are that is the plan.
“We’ve got several months before we have to make that decision on Jeremy or any player,” Klentak said. “I think it would be unwise of us to commit this soon.
“[The qualifying offer] is a part of the equation, for sure, in trying to discern the value of a potential Hellickson trade. But I would not tell you that we have definitely made a determination on a qualifying offer.”
There are scenarios in which the Phils would not extend a qualifying offer to Hellickson. Injury is one. Performing poorly over the remainder of the season would be another. That would dim Hellickson's free-agent value and leave him jumping at a $17 million safety net. There is risk in the Phillies' strategy. Basically, if Hellickson takes the Phillies’ $17 million offer, he remains tied to the club for 2017 at a high price for a pitcher who profiles as a back-end-of-the-rotation starter. The best case for the Phillies is Hellickson finishes the season strong and rejects the offer because he senses a strong market for his services in free agency. The team that signs a player who has received a qualifying offer loses a first- or second-round draft pick, so a qualifying offer could shrink the market for that player. That is another part of the risk for the Phillies, but they seem ready to take it because, as Klentak said, “Those draft picks have value, as well. I’ll go back to what I said earlier — we never reached a point where we felt that there was a trade that appropriately balanced the present and future value.”
The Phillies may have had a trade they liked cooking with the Marlins last week, but sources say it short-circuited when the Marlins asked that a second pitcher be included in the deal (see story).
Relievers Jeanmar Gomez and David Hernandez were also trade candidates that stayed put. The Phillies had received feelers on both, but nothing worth pulling the trigger on.
The Phils also had high-ceiling starter Vince Velasquez in play at a super-steep price. They spoke seriously to Texas about Velasquez (see story) but in the end the Rangers made other deals (Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Beltran) to fortify their roster (see trade deadline roundup). Sources say the Phillies wanted two high-end bats for Velasquez.
If the Phillies put Velasquez in play once, they would likely do it again, so keep an eye on that name over the winter.
Teams can still make trades in August but players must first clear waivers. It is doubtful a pitcher like Hellickson (low cost and unsigned for next year) gets through waivers.
Next up on the Phillies’ to-do list could be some roster moves on Tuesday. A bullpen shakeup is possible.
Beyond that, the Phillies have three Triple A prospects who could be in the majors in the coming weeks in pitcher Jake Thompson, outfielder Nick Williams and shortstop J.P. Crawford. At the moment, it appears they would come to the majors for the month of September, but things can change. Crawford could force his way to Philadelphia in September with his play. But the team does not have to protect him on the 40-man roster this winter, so it could decide against promoting him in September if it feels it needs 40-man roster spots for other up-and-comers.
“I have said routinely that we will promote young players to the big leagues when those young players are ready to be promoted to the big leagues,” Klentak said.
“I think there’s a decent chance that we will see another promotion of a first-time big-leaguer before the season is out. Whether that is in August or September, there’s not a huge separator for me in what month that is. I suspect we will have another somewhat notable promotion before the season is up.”