The Major League Baseball non-waiver Trade Deadline is just two weeks away and the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves right in the middle of a division race it seems no one wants to win. Philadelphia, despite being 46-45 at the time of this writing, sit 2 games back of the New York Mets for first place in the N.L. East. Because of this, the Phillies and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski should view themselves as buyers at the deadline and make a run to try and break their now nine year postseason drought.
However, Philadelphia needs to be realistic in its shopping. This team as presently constructed is not a World Series contender. They are not one or two players away from becoming one. They should not burn their middling farm system for a short term upgrade. The only scenario in which they should trade a major prospect is for a piece with multiple years of control. That being said, let’s look at some fits that could be available.
High impact, high cost
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Buxton has already been linked to the Phillies despite not being clearly available. If he is, Buxton is the kind of player the Phillies should be willing to move a major piece for, as he is under control through next season and is just 27 years-old. Buxton is the perfect fit for the Phillies in center field, as he is a spectacular defender in center field and a budding superstar at the plate.
The Phillies would be at or near the front of the line if Byron Buxton became available. As @Ken_Rosenthal said the Twins are first attempting to lock him up. Tricky negotiation tough: superstar who’s been hurt a lot.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 16, 2021
The major caveat however is Buxton’s health. The former number one ranked prospect has played in 154 of a possible 384 games from 2018-2020. Buxton has only played in 27 of a possible 91 games this season and is currently on the injured list with a left hand fracture dating back to June 22nd. Since debuting for the Twins in 2015, Buxton has been placed on the injured list a total of 12 times. The Phillies would need to feel comfortable with his ability to stay healthy in the future as well as their ability to sign Buxton long term. That is if the Twins don’t lock him up first.
Kris Bryant, OF/3B, Chicago Cubs
Bryant’s name has perhaps been the most connected to the Phillies due to his fit on the roster and his close relationship with Bryce Harper. Most fans would probably expect Bryant to play at third but he has actually played more games in the outfield this season than at third. His best defensive position has actually been center, although he isn’t really a plus defender anywhere. Bryant also said at the All-Star game he would prefer to play center field for the rest of his career.
The former N.L. MVP and rookie of the year is enjoying return to form following a dreadful 2020 and will be a free agent at the end of the season. He is most likely the best hitter that will almost assuredly be available in a trade. Because of this, coupled with his age (will turn 30 this offseason) and his contract status, the Phillies would be wise to shy away from parting with the package it would take to acquire Bryant.
Craig Kimbrel, CP, Chicago Cubs
Bryant’s teammate Kimbrel is also most likely to be available in a trade. The 33-year-old closer has returned to elite form after posting ERA’s over 5 in each of the last two seasons. This year, Kimbrel has a minuscule 0.53 ERA and is 21 for 23 in save opportunities. His opponents average of .098 is the best of his 12 year career.
Kimbrel will be one of the most sought after players at the deadline. Relief pitching is always needed, and elite production from the backend always comes with a price. Kimbrel has a club option for 2022 that carries a $16M salary which automatically vests if he finishes 110 games across 2020-2021 and 55 games in 2021 as well as passes a physical. Kimbrel finished just 18 games in the shortened 2020 and is up to 35 this season. Therefore, the club option has no chance of automatically being picked up.
Kimbrel is a bona-fide lockdown closer, the thing the Phillies have desperately been searching for. It is precisely this reason that Kimbrel will have a long line of suitors looking to acquire his services. His price tag and age will prove to be prohibitive for Philadelphia.
Joey Gallo, OF, Texas Rangers
Gallo is the exact type of player the Phillies should be willing to pay a premium for. He is only 27 and will be in his final year of arbitration. The former third baseman is now a plus outfielder with 8 defensive runs saved this year and has some experience in center field. At the plate, Gallo has increased his walk rate from 12.8% to 20.3% and has cut his strikeout rate to 31.1% from 35%. The strikeout rate has also been consistently falling since 2019. Gallo was once the poster child of “home run, walk, or strikeout” hitters, but he has cut down on the bad outcome while improving the good outcomes. His traditional line this season is .237/.398/.516 with 24 home runs.
Gallo will be an interesting case at the deadline. The Rangers have discussed him in trades dating back to at least last season, but after moving to a new stadium and having no major contracts on the books, they may look to lock up their face of the franchise and build around him.
Fits with more reasonable price tags
Ian Kennedy, RHRP, Texas Rangers
Kennedy, also of the Rangers, is a closer upgrade that will be much more within the Phillies price range prospect wise. The former first round pick has once again reinvented himself in his 15th season, as he is now a closer who throws almost exclusively fastballs with an average velocity of 94.3 MPH. The 36-year-old carries a 2.57 ERA through 30 appearances and is 15 for 16 in save opportunities. His strikeout rate and walk rate are career highs, at 27.1% and 5.9% respectively. Kennedy will also be a free agent at year’s end.
The risk with Kennedy is that he has allowed an alarming amount of hard contact, as he is among the league worst in exit velocity and hard hit percentage. A move to Citizens Bank Park may prove troublesome with those underlying numbers as well as a 4.09 ERA on the road. Kennedy is not an elite closer by any means, but he could provide some stability in the backend, possibly in a package that includes Gallo.
Michael Fulmer, RHRP, Detroit Tigers
Fulmer was once upon a time a near lock to be traded by the Tigers after claiming Rookie of the Year honors as a starting pitcher in 2016. However, they decided to hang onto Fulmer, who unfortunately saw injuries wreck much of the following seasons, including missing all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery. Now, Fulmer serves as Detroit’s closer, posting a 3.62 ERA as a reliever in 21 appearances. The 28-year-old is 6 for 8 in save opportunities and boasts the best strikeout rate of his career at 24.1%.
Unlike Kennedy, Fulmer has been able to limit hard contact and is under control through next season through arbitration. His new role as a closer seems to be suiting him, but his injury history will give some teams pause as well as his overall lack of experience as a reliever. However, he should be well within the Phillies price range.
Michael Pineda, RHSP, Minnesota Twins
There is a lack of quality starting pitching on the market this year so the prices will probably be more than they should for quality starting pitching. Nevertheless, Pineda would be a nice pick-up to stabilize the back end of the Phillies rotation. His numbers this year are nothing special, sporting a 4.11 ERA through 12 starts and averages about five innings per start, but he played for Joe Girardi for four seasons from 2014-2017.
Pineda is a pure rental as he is in the second year of a two year $20M contract. He will have no shortage of suitors though, as he is the type of pitcher that many teams look to bolster their rotations for the home stretch. With the Twins being the biggest disappointment in the majors, Pineda is almost a sure bet to be traded.
Merrill Kelly, RHSP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kelly is a very under the radar trade candidate on the aforementioned thin starting pitching market. The 32-year-old carries a 4.46 ERA through 19 starts for the dreadful Diamondbacks. He also has only 56 career starts to his name despite his age. However, he averages just under six innings pitched in 2021, something the Phillies desperately need from the back half of their rotation.
Kelly pitches to contact, as evidenced by his high groundball rate and a pedestrian strikeout rate. A groundball pitcher mixed with the Phillies poor infield defense could be a mismatch, however Kelly’s ability to log innings is enticing as well as his low walk rate (5.9%). He has three more years of control as well through arbitration thanks to not debuting until 2019.