Trade Jeremy Hellickson? Detailing the Phillies' dilemma

Trade Jeremy Hellickson? Detailing the Phillies' dilemma

The Phillies are in an interesting situation with Jeremy Hellickson. Is it possible they don't trade him after all?

There were several reasons the Phils acquired Hellickson from the Diamondbacks this past offseason. They sought his veteran presence to balance a young rotation. They thought it would be beneficial for Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and their other young pitchers to have someone to look to in terms of preparation and approach to a 162-game season. 

Perhaps most importantly, in acquiring Hellickson, GM Matt Klentak was acquiring a trade chip. It was the kind of move you often see from Athletics GM Billy Beane — buy low on a veteran player, hope he produces and then try to sell high at the deadline.

The Phillies indeed bought low on Hellickson, acquiring him from Arizona after a down year (4.62 ERA, 5.4 innings per start). All it took was Sam McWilliams, a 2014 eighth-round pick who hadn't pitched above Rookie ball.

And now, they would be selling high if they moved him ahead of Aug. 1. Hellickson pitched another solid game Wednesday, allowing two runs (one earned) over six innings. He's 6-6 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.20 WHIP through 18 starts. He's averaging nearly six innings per start, and every peripheral number has improved — Hellickson's K/9 is up by 0.4, his BB/9 is down by 0.4, and he's allowing one fewer hit per nine innings.

But earlier this week, Klentak said he doesn't know if the Phillies will be "super active" at the trade deadline.

"Nothing is hot right now," the GM said. "I don't know if we’ll be super active. We'll see. We certainly have players that other teams like, but I also like the fact that they're helping contribute to this team. We're in a good stretch right now and we don't really want to pull the rug out. We'll just have to wait and see. We have almost 30 days. It's a long time."

Hellickson could make four more starts before the trade deadline. Each one is crucial to his trade value. If he doesn't fizzle out over this next month, he actually figures to be one of the more attractive starting pitchers on the trade market, despite his impending free agency.

There just aren't many worthwhile SPs available. The top two, A's lefty Rich Hill and Braves right-hander Julio Teheran, are both better pitchers but both have dealt with recent injuries. Padres right-hander Tyson Ross, a hot commodity at this time last year, has been out all season with shoulder inflammation. 

Other pitchers who could change teams over the next four weeks are Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi, Padres lefty Drew Pomeranz and Twins veteran Ervin Santana, who threw a shutout Wednesday. 

Odorizzi would cost a ton in trade because he's pretty good, young and under team control through the end of 2019. 

Pomeranz, with a 2.65 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine, is having a career year. But unless San Diego is wowed, why not just keep him? He's still young and cheap, too. 

Santana is the closest guy on the market to Hellickson, a veteran pitcher who's had his ups and downs but is a solid bet to eat innings and post an ERA right around 4.00. The major differences between the two, however, are that Santana is four years older and is owed $27 million the next two seasons.

Hellickson would be a two-month rental, which both adds and subtracts value. It adds because any team could deal for him — there's no big financial restriction. It subtracts because the acquiring team likely wouldn't give away a valuable piece for a two-month pitcher.

And that's where the idea of not trading Hellickson comes into play. Consider this: If the Phillies hold on to Hellickson, they could extend him a qualifying offer this winter and if he turns it down before signing elsewhere, they'd be compensated with a draft pick in between the first and second rounds next summer. Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail will have to gauge over these next few weeks whether or not the return in a Hellickson trade would outweigh that draft pick compensation. If the Phils aren't moved to move him, they could just stand pat.

However, the risk there would be that Hellickson accepts the qualifying offer this winter and the Phils are forced to pay him a one-year salary in the $16 million range. Last year, the qualifying offer, which is the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, carried a $15.8 million price tag. The year before it was $15.3 million.

But given the lack of starting pitching options in free agency this winter, Hellickson might still decline the QO. He looks to be in line for about $12 million to $14 million per year on a three- or perhaps four-year deal. He might value the long-term financial security over trying to squeeze every last dollar out of his career. It works both ways, because if Hellickson were to accept the qualifying offer and have a down year, he'd then be in line for less money in his next contract.

And it might be a good gamble for the Phillies either way because even if Hellickson were to accept the qualifying offer, the Phils would be adding his salary to an almost bare 2017 payroll. A rich organization could easily withstand that cost, especially since it would be for just one year.

What it comes down to, really, is whether a contending club on the brink is willing to part with a meaningful young player in a deal for a two-month, mid-rotation starter. The Giants did that just last summer, trading Adam Duvall to the Reds for two months of Mike Leake. San Francisco couldn't have predicted it then, but Duvall, with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs, has turned into an All-Star.

When Cincinnati acquired Duvall for Leake, Duvall was hitting .281 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs at Triple A as a 26-year-old. He was a player knocking on the door of the majors, but there was uncertainty whether he would be an actual big-league piece or a 4-A player. It wouldn't take that type of player specifically for the Phillies to move Hellickson, but it would have to be more than just some Single A lottery ticket. 

"I would hate to lose him," manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. "I don't know what's going on, that's not my area, but if they did (trade him) I'm sure we'd get something we really like in return. But you'd hate to lose a guy like that who sets the tone for the rest of the staff."

Stay tuned.

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

AP Images

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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