Philadelphia Phillies: Why Catcher Tommy Joseph Is the Most Valuable Trade Asset

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Philadelphia Phillies: Why Catcher Tommy Joseph Is the Most Valuable Trade Asset
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After making so many blockbuster deals in the past few years, it is to no one's surprise that the Phillies minor league system has lost some of its depth and talent. Of these remaining prospects, it is the young pitching studs mostly located in Class-A that represent some of the team's best future talents.

In addition to the pitching prowess, there is really just one player that stands out as a potential major league star. His name is Tommy Joseph and although the Phils would love to keep him, he is their best trade chip. Plus, with the way Amaro has been almost mesmerized into mortgaging the future to win in the present, he may very well be traded before the 2013 season even starts.

Since the Ruben Amaro era began in Philadelphia, fans of the team as well as media personnel in the city have been accustomed not only to a winning tradition but also to a big-time deal that typically happens right around this time of year. What fans haven't really considered though is that in order to make some of these deals, Amaro had to trade away some of the players that could soon be major league talents and that represent the future of the franchise.

Every year, the organization's top prospect seems to be in danger of being traded. This year that prospect is Joseph and the situation is no different. Not only does he give the team great leverage in making a trade but also, his path to the majors could right now be blocked by the Phils former number one catching prospect, Sebastian Valle.

Valle, who last year played at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and is now on the Phillies 40-Man Roster, could be in place to serve as the Phillies back-up catcher next season. Although his plate discipline still needs some work, major league experience will show the Phillies if they have a future talent in Valle. If that turns out to be the case, Joseph, who would yield a better trade return, will likely find himself elsewhere next season.

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Before getting into why Joseph is so valuable to the team as a trade piece, let's briefly look at Amaro's big trades/free agent signings over the past three years and how these moves left the Phillies with not much to offer when it comes to making trades. Looking at the other available trade pieces (or the lack thereof) is important in understanding just why the young catcher is likely to be the starter for any trade talks the Phils engage in. 

 

Three Years and Three Monster Deals Later...

Late November signings brought All-Star and likely future Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay to the Phillies. It was also around the holiday season, the year after the Halladay deal, that fans were granted the ultimate Christmas present. In a shocking move that no one really saw coming, Amaro returned fellow All-Star and Cy Young award-winning pitcher Cliff Lee to Philadelphia.

With two of the top starting pitchers in baseball, Amaro pulled the trigger on yet another big offseason signing after the 2012 Winter Meetings. In what many consider to be a generous contract, Amaro paid closer Jonathon Papelbon to occupy that same role with the Phillies.

Three years and three big deals later, the most important number in all of this is zero. As in, no more World Championship trophies to add to the Phillies' collection.

Needless to say, the Phillies have really lived and died on this propensity to pull the trigger on the big deals at opportune times. As a result of these deals, Amaro has brought big names—and with them, big wins—to the team. But all of the acquisitions have failed to accomplish and many have failed to even reach the ultimate pinnacle of baseball.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Hamels led the Phillies to their second World Series in 2008. The team has not won a second since.

On paper, the team the Phillies boasted with Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in the rotation, and Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Hunter Pence in the field, should have put together the production to win several World Series Championships.

But they didn't.

They didn't even come close.

Trading the Future for the Present

 

So with the high-paid players failing to bring back that championship glory, you have to look more at what the Phillies have lost as opposed to what they have gained as a result of these trades.

Kyle Drabek, Travis D'Arnaud, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Michael Taylor, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart.

You probably remember at least some of these names. These are just a handful of what at the time were considered the best prospects Philly had to offer. All of them were traded away in efforts to acquire either Lee (the first time), Pence or Halladay. 

Essentially, the Phillies went from having one of the best farm systems with some of the strongest depth in all of the majors to one of the worst in just three years. In return for the trades, they received stellar players,

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
Travis D'Arnaud is one prospect the Phillies wish they could have back.

But after 2013, Philly could see a roster that includes none of them.

Their philosophy was to mortgage the future in order to win in the present. Unfortunately, the Phillies have pretty badly mortgaged that future, and yet have nothing more than a franchise record in wins and a few more NL East titles to show for it. 

Rebuilding and Regrouping


Having made so many big deals, the Phillies found that their farm system had become something it hadn't been in years: barren.

So in an effort to rebuild their developmental program for future prospects, the Phillies, which fell out of the playoff race in 2012, traded both Pence and Shane Victorino. They also focused on the player draft and acquired a handful of stellar pitching prospects over the past few years.

The Pence and Victorino deals brought some pretty solid prospects. Nate Schierholtz and Josh Lindblom landed almost immediately in the majors, while Ethan Martin and Joseph joined the Reading Phillies team that reached the playoffs in 2012.

Martin, a pitching prospect who came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers, supplants a very strong core of pitching talent in the Phillies' farm system. The pitching depth, by far, is the strongest of any position this team has in the developmental stages.

Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images
Nate Schierholtz accompanied Joseph to the Phillies as both were traded as part of the Pence deal.

The Importance of Tommy Joseph


Trade Value

And then there is Joseph. Other than the pitching stars and possibly third baseman Cody Asche, Joseph is a player that the Phillies can afford to trade away.

It may seem curious that I am talking about the team trading Joseph, especially after they are just starting to rebuild. But Valle is ahead of Joseph in terms of experience and although Joseph has a higher ceiling, Valle is a little more polished and closer to being major league ready. As a result, if or more likely when Ruiz departs, Valle is the guy who will likely fill the spot. For that reason, Joseph and his path to the majors seems to be blocked.

Meanwhile, other teams, such as the New York Mets, have a need for a catcher. They also have players that the Phillies would really like to have.

In speaking of a potential trade of David Wright to the Phillies, it is important to note that Joseph fills one of the Mets' needs. Without the inclusion of Joseph in a trade, the Phils would likely not stand a chance to acquire Wright, even though he is a third baseman—and a perfect solution for the team's needs.

Other than Joseph and the aforementioned pitching prospects, the Phillies really don't have much that other teams would likely be interested in. It is for that reason that Joseph is the most important trade asset the Phillies have that's not currently in the majors.

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Joseph would no doubt be the starter if the Phillies wanted to trade for Wright.

Upside

I hate using the word upside. Any player can, and likely does, have an upside. They wouldn't have been drafted if they didn't.

That said, Joseph has upside and has shown this by gradual improvement at each level of the minors.

When Joseph first played in the Giants' minor league system, there was a question.  It wasn't about his bat, but instead about his durability. Joseph had below average skills as a defensive catcher behind the plate, giving some worry to scouts in terms of a possible major league career. According to Baseball Prospectus, who ranked Joseph as the Giants 4th best prospect, the biggest factor determining Joseph's progression was going to be his defense behind the plate. Since reaching the Double-A level however, Joseph has performed much better defensively posting a career best 99 fielding percentage with just four errors. Joseph also saw his raw power develop a little more at Double-A and that adds to his value as a top prospect. 

Having the ability to play well and play for a long time is something that really plays on the mind of a general manager when he considers trading for a prospect. With Joseph now looking like he can be that everyday guy, his trade value goes up.

Catchers Are at a Premium

With the exception of pitchers, good major league catchers are really at a premium. 

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This plays perfectly into the hands of the Phillies, which have a top 15 catching prospect in Joseph and leverage when it comes to trading with a good number of teams in the National League. Also, with Valle already being listed as "untouchable," the Phillies get to keep their top catching prospect and at the same time are able to make a trade to make their major league club better.

When the Phillies traded for Halladay, the Blue Jays would not have made the trade if Travis D'Arnaud had not been included in the deal. The same was true for the Cleveland Indians, which insisted on getting Double-A catcher Lou Marson as the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade in 2009. Ultimately, the Phillies parted with their then-best catchers as well as a pretty good pitching prospect in each deal.

A similar situation could work in the Phillies favor as they now have a top catching and top pitching prospect that affords them the freedom to be in the driver's seat. If they want Wright of the Mets or a player such as Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels or Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Joseph and one of the "baby aces" are no doubt going to be front and center in a deal.

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