Last night I made my third trip to Lehigh Valley this year to watch the Phillies top bats take on the Rays’ top prospect Brent Honeywell of Durham, who is considered one of the best pitching prospects in the baseball right now. Honeywell had his way last night after scuffling through the 1st five batters throwing six innings, striking out and allowing his only run on a Jorge Alfaro solo shot in the 2nd. As I started my ride home, I had an idea of what my article would be for today. And then just as I got on I-476, the Phillies post game crew had some news and plenty of it. In a span of 40 minutes, Howie Kendrick and Jeremy Hellickson were gone.
Let’s start with Kendrick, who a week ago I thought would be more of an August trade candidate. But as the week went on, I thought he could be dealt by the July 31 deadline, only because he was productive and versatile when he had been healthy. That should’ve been enough for an interested team to make sure to secure him so he couldn’t get blocked or traded to another team in the August waiver deadline period. The Nationals decided that they needed to improve their bench depth, particularly in the OF. Adam Eaton is out for the season with an ACL tear, and our old friend Jayson Werth has been out for nearly two months with a left foot contusion. The Nationals are good with Brian Goodwin in CF right now. But LF is currently occupied by Adam Lind, who is mainly a RHP masher, and Chris Heisey, who is currently on the 10-day DL. Kendrick can provide them with a good option vs LHP. So the deal was consummated and the Phillies received back LHP McKenzie Mills and international bonus money.
As I arrived home, Hellickson was next and the Orioles were the team that wanted him the most. The O’s are basically too far out of the Wild Card race, but Hellickson provides an upgrade in what is the worst rotation in the AL. Really they acquired Hellickson to survive the season as they are still listening to offers on their top relievers, Zach Britton and Brad Brach. The Phillies provided some extra cash and then took back the salary of Hyun Soo Kim in order to get back LHP Garrett Cleavinger and more international bonus money. The Phillies might keep Kim on the roster as Matt Klentak has stated, but he’s also going to be a free agent, and I would think they will allow him to walk at season’s end
What Did the Phillies Really Get?
Let’s start with the prospects, as the Phillies added some much needed LHP depth to their organization. In case you forgot the 1st article I wrote for this site was about the lack of projectable starting southpaws. Since then Jojo Romero, Ranger Suarez, Bailey Falter, Cole Irvin and Nick Fanti have all had excellent seasons. And while my projections on some of them have remained the same, certainly my attack on them motivated them. In the two deals the Phillies would add one starter and one reliever. McKenzie Mills, a 18th round selection in 2014, had terrible control entering the season walking 74 batters in 111 innings across three years in short season leagues. In his first year of full season pro ball, Mills dominated low A thanks to some mechanical adjustments. In 104.2 innings he had 118/22 K/BB, 3.01 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and a .202 opponent’s AVG. These numbers had him recently promoted in the last few days to high A and he will likely report to Clearwater now that he is a member of the Phillies organization. Mills throw a lively low 90s fastball with some deception and some think he has more room to grow in his 6’4″, 205 lb frame to add velocity. He’s got a pretty good curveball with good spin, but goes to his change-up more which has improved this year. He’s has the ceiling of a back-end starter if he can continue with the success he has had this season.
Garrett Cleavinger has many mixed reviews at this point. Before the season, many thought he could be a very good southpaw out of the bullpen. It’s been pretty ugly this year, as six of his 27 appearances have ended in him allowing two runs or more. His strikeouts are down from 12 K/9 in 76.1 IP last year to 9.78 K/9 in 38.2 IP in AA this year. His walks are also up from 4 BB/9 to 5.4 BB/9. In a recent report, his fastball sat 91-94 but couldn’t command it well. He has curveball that he has some feel for, and a below average change-up. Cleavinger’s best chance at the majors might be as a LOOGY or mop-up guy more than a reliable full inning reliever.
While adding southpaws to a system lacking them was beneficial, the most important part of adding these two prospects in particular is that neither of them are going to be added to the 40 man roster this offseason. With Mills only in his fourth season out of high school and Cleavinger in his third season out of Oregon, they will not be subjected to the Rule 5 draft this winter. And if they were, both seem far away from being considered selected at this point. This will allow the Phillies to protect Rule 5 eligible prospects like Carlos Tocci, JP Crawford, Rhys Hoskins, Franklyn Kilome, Victor Arano, and Austin Davis.
The other key to the two trades is the international bonus money. Klentak mentioned last night that between the two trades the Phillies added over $1 million in bonus money for international scouting director, Sal Agostinelli to play with. The Phillies entered this signing period with $4.75 million and had already committed $2.5 million to a top international prospect, SS Luis Garcia. Three other signings with financial reports totaled at $1.075 million bringing the known total to $3.575 million. There are still five more reported signings with undisclosed finances, so now with an extra million in the back pocket, this gives the Phillies extra wiggle room to pay those players and perhaps add another international prospect they’ve sought out.
The Phillies traded the three rental players on their roster that were probably going to bring back the most value at his point. Joaquin Benoit and Daniel Nava could still be dealt, but I would think that both are more August trade candidates at this point, with Nava going quickly. The Phillies have already called up Jesus Therrien to fill Pat Neshek’s spot on the roster. Jake Thompson, who spot started yesterday for the scratched Hellickson, took Ricardo Pinto’s spot days prior to get a fresh bullpen arm in there. I would think Pinto might get the call back up at some point to take Hellickson’s spot. Kim might stay on the roster or get bounced to AAA. Things could get a bit complicated here in the next few days, because right now, I don’t see another trade on the horizon, particularly with controllable players. But I think the Phillies should keep an open mind and continue to listen and explore the market.
The “trade Tommy Joseph to make Rhys Hoskins the everyday 1B” chatter has dominated the social media airwaves. I see this as less likely now because he would have worked better in a combination deal with Hellickson or Neshek. Still teams like the Angels, Yankees and Royals could use a league average 1B or DH (100 OPS+). Since July of 2016, Joseph has .263/.327/.490 with 61 XBH (29 HR), 8% BB and a 22.1% K in 587 PA. He’s been better since a horrid April, having a 117 wRC+ since then. The thing is Hoskins is big league ready, and while Klentak hinted at a potential timeshare at 1B this week, Rhys might be the better answer long term due to his high walk rate, the long ABs takes, and his consistency of putting the ball in the air (51.6%, 47.8% fly balls last 2 years). Joseph probably would fetch a return similar to McKenzie Mills, a back-end starter projection prospect.
But the one I want to address is Cesar Hernandez, and it ties into the opposing team I watched last night. You may recall Matt mentioning Freddy Galvis as an option at SS for the Royals. That’s probably not likely to happen since I think the Royals probably want to stick with their SS for the rest of the season and the Phillies want to keep JP Crawford hot in the minors (also Hellickson being dealt now). But the idea also reminds us that the Phillies do have to make a decision the next 6-8 months on the future of their middle infield. Right now Galvis occupies SS with his superb defense and surprising power and Cesar at 2B with his excellent speed and on-base skills at the top of the lineup. But JP and Scott Kingery are lurking in AAA. JP has to take a 40 man spot next year and Kingery is forcing the Phillies hand. Last night against Durham’s daunting pitching staff, which started with Honeywell, Kingery held his own had a lot of long ABs and hit two hard singles in five trips to extend his hit streak to 14 games. Even though he still struggles with off-speed pitches down and away, Scott continues to show signs of being an above average 2B at the next level as he has not slowed down since being promoted to AAA a month ago.
Hernandez has had a fine season despite missing over a month recently due to an oblique injury. Since last year’s All-Start break he has a 112 wRC+ with a .289/.379/.404 line and has been one of the 10 best regular 2B in baseball. The Rays are in the thick of both the AL East and Wild Card race and despite them recycling players constantly, they have a deep farm system and a lot of controllable major league pieces. While they continue to search the trade market for more relief pitching, their crop of 2B that has featured Tim Beckham and Brad Miller among others, has been the worst in baseball defensively and offensively.
While Hernandez wouldn’t walk as much as the current Rays 2B group, he wouldn’t strike out as much and provided above average defense and speed to the position, creating a heck of a double play combination between him and recently acquired SS Adeiny Hechavarria. On top of that the Rays would acquire a 2B who has three more years of control beyond this year. So what would the cost be? My guess is that it would be one quality prospect and another fringe prospect at least. And I’m sure the Phillies would like to avoid acquiring as many prospects that will need protection in this year’s Rule 5 draft. We are talking probably somebody as high as 2015 1st rounder Garrett Whitley for the Phillies asking price in order to move Cesar. Is it likely the Phillies get that price? Maybe. Are they actively going to shop Cesar around? No, because they want to stagger the free agent years between some of these kids. But at this point, I can’t imagine the Phillies going into 2018 with Hernandez and Galvis still the starting middle infield with all the buzz around the AAA guys. One is going to have to move and Cesar has the most value currently. The Rays and Phillies should think about executing a deal.