There may not be a team in baseball with more to trade and less to offer than the Philadelphia Phillies. We’ve covered Cliff Lee’s status in earlier pieces — essentially the only way he moves is if the Phillies are willing to eat substantial money or if they’re willing to trade him to a team that can absorb the entirety of his financial situation (your Dodgers or your Yankees) in a straight salary dump — but there are other assets that Philadelphia will (or should) look to be moving. They’re just not assets that are going to get a lot of talent coming back the other way.
The best of a problematic group, but perhaps the hardest to trade. Papelbon’s fastball velocity dipped a couple MPH in 2013 and has kept it up this year, and while he brings the boilerplate standard proven closer package to the mound, he also brings a flagging strikeout rate and a contract that pays him $13 million next year with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 — and it’s an easy vesting option, requiring Papelbon to finish only 55 games in 2015 or 100 in 2014 and 2015 combined; he’s already finished 31 this year, and hasn’t finished under 50 games in a season since 2006, it’s hard to imagine that option not vesting without Papelbon losing his job as a closer.
There’s a lot of teams looking for relief help right now; Detroit’s trade for Joakim Soria likely removed them from the Papelbon equation, however, though one good reliever does not a solid bullpen make. Perhaps the best remaining landing spot for Papelbon is the San Francisco Giants, who have a great bullpen whose sole weak link at the moment is closer Sergio Romo, who is having a horrific season. The Giants love veteran pitchers and have a need, and if the money works it’s hard to imagine a better destination given that Detroit’s off the board.
Prediction: Giants; Dodgers and Blue Jays are still dark horse options.
The good news is that Byrd’s career resurgence appears to be for real, so far as those things go for 37 year olds: he’s got a 120 OPS+ through the first half of 2014, following up last year’s 137 OPS+. However, for reasons known only to the Philadelphia front office, the contract they offered Byrd — a contract he signed almost immediately when the free agency period began this winter, indicating it was their initial offer — included not only a third year option, but a no-trade clause. It’s a limited NTC, allowing Byrd to only block trades to four clubs, but one of those clubs — the Seattle Mariners — is the primary suitor for Byrd at the moment, and he (as is his right) is only willing to waive the NTC if Seattle will pick up his 2016 option.
Toronto might be a secondary option as well given that Anthony Gose is the team’s current right fielder (injuries to Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion have moved Jose Bautista into the DH role), but they’re on the four team list, too. Kansas City won’t be sellers at the deadline and could also use a right field bat to push Nori Aoki into a bench role if they’re going to make a run for the playoffs, but guess who the third team on the list is? At least the Tampa Bay Rays won’t be inquiring for his services.
The Phillies are in luck, however: there is one contending team that desperately needs outfield help that’s not on Byrd’s list — the Cincinnati Reds — and talks are reportedly ongoing between the two sides. As for the return, however, even without the 2016 option getting picked up, he’s still an old outfielder under contract for another season, and Walt Jocketty’s a pretty cagey GM on the trade market; the Reds might give up a lottery-ticket type prospect, but that’s about it. The Indians could use a rigtht fielder with more impact than David Murphy has given them so far, but it remains unclear how much of a buyer Cleveland sees itself as at the deadline.
Prediction: Cincinnati, with Cleveland as a dark horse.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Phillies would like to move Burnett, but his age and future contract commitments complicate matters and could dampen the return. The veteran starter isn’t nearly as effective as he was last season as a starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates — 108 ERA+ there against a 91 ERA+ in Philadelphia this season — and it’s not just the Phillies’ defense that’s letting him down: his strikeout rate has dropped and his walk rate ticked up since he switched cities in Pennsylvania.
That said, if a team needs a back of the rotation starting option, Burnett’s available — but though his $15 million option for 2015 is a mutual option that the club acquiring him could buy out for $1 million, if he gets injured down the stretch, the team has to be prepared for the possibility that Burnett will trigger the $7.5 million player option that’s also in the contract for 2015. No, a veteran free agent contract offered by Philadelphia just can’t ever be simple. Burnett’s been connected to Baltimore and Pittsburgh so far — Baltimore only makes sense inasmuch as they have an entire rotation full of back-end pitchers, so why stop acquiring them now, while a reunion with Pittsburgh is a slightly more realistic option given the underwhelming state of their rotation.
New York would make sense in a vacuum, but the past history there makes a deal to the Yankees unlikely. Again, the Cleveland Indians would be a particularly good fit for Burnett given Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister’s absences, though there’s been no special buzz connecting them to him as of yet.
Prediction: Pittsburgh, with Baltimore and Cleveland as outside possibilities.