The Philadelphia Phillies have had a smaller-profile offseason but certainly not a quiet one. They have traded for Ben Revere and Michael Young to fill their respective center field and third base holes. The Phillies also have made two major free-agent signings, inking starting pitcher John Lannan and set-up man Mike Adams to contracts.
Aside from that, though, it's been an offseason of expecting the Phillies to make a major move but not seeing one come around. It's been unusual considering Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.'s tendency to make big splashes in the offseason and at trade deadlines. He's acquired or signed Cliff Lee twice, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Jonathan Papelbon, so to see the offseason go by without a marquee move is rather unorthodox.
Nevertheless, it is a method that should be praised, as Amaro has refused to jump the gun and set the market for big-name players for the first time. He's been fiscally responsible and has found alternative ways to improve deficiencies on the team. They may not be overnight, difference-making moves, but they allow prospects in the future to make their way to the majors in conjunction with veteran players. It's a savvy system.
However, there is still one glaring weakness for the Phillies, and that's their outfield. Other than Revere, the Phillies will be going with platoons at both outfield corners should the season start today. The candidates for these platoons are currently Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix. While Ruf and Brown have starting potential, Ruf is entering his rookie season and Brown has failed to make an impact in the opportunities he's had in the past.
If Amaro were to make an outfield move, the biggest free agency name available is Scott Hairston, and he is far from the answer. Trade-wise, the Phillies could pursue Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells, but both come with their question marks in addition to massive contracts.
In light of this, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb recently interviewed Amaro, who said that the Phillies are "likely going with what they've got" in both the outfield and the rest of the roster. If any move is to be made in the remaining offseason, it would likely be one involving "low-risk, high-reward type of players," as Amaro stated.
It could mean that creativity could come into play, and if that's the case, the Phillies could look to make a trade from depth.
Depth? What depth?
If there's any position the Phillies can trade from, it's the bullpen. Most, if not all of their minor league players close to the majors or major leaguers with little MLB experience—fringe players, I'll call them—are relievers, and the Phillies have some depth from both arms in the bullpen should they choose to utilize it in trades.
Not all of their young relievers are exactly valuable, however. Guys like Joe Savery and B.J. Rosenberg have failed to impress in the majors and are more likely to be cut than acquired by means other than waiver claims. Michael Schwimer has done an average job in the major leagues but his qualms with the Phillies' brass about a potential lack of DL placement could indicate that he has lost favor within the organization, especially since he didn't even make it back to the majors in September after his August demotion.
The young relievers the Phillies have who could be worth something in trades are right-handers Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont and Michael Stutes, and southpaws Jake Diekman, Jeremy Horst and Antonio Bastardo. Schwimer could also be appealing, though likely not as much as some of the other names on this list.
None of these relievers alone would be enough to woo another team to trade an outfielder of starting caliber, so in that regard it's essentially useless. However, there have been some teams looking for relief help, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. In addition, five teams, including the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, all showed interest in left-handed reliever J.P. Howell before he latched on with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Milwaukee Brewers were at one point seeking southpaw relievers but have since signed Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. And the Toronto Blue Jays—though this is just my speculation—may have interest in trading for a reliever if Darren Oliver retires, since they are apparently over budget by about $15 million and may even have to eliminate salary in other places to make room for Oliver's $3 million salary for 2013 should he choose to play. Oliver's issue, according to the previous links, is that he feels he should earn a raise for 2013 and restructure his contract, but the Blue Jays have so far refused.
This means that any of the Rays, Orioles, Nationals, Cubs, Mariners, Rangers, Brewers and Blue Jays could have interest in relief help. My belief is that a team like the Orioles would need to trade a left-handed reliever before making any additions since they have a plethora of them. The Rangers and Brewers are likely out of the running since they have already made bullpen additions this offseason, the Rangers with Joakim Soria and Jason Frasor and the Brewers with Gonzalez and Gorzelanny.
That leaves the Rays, Cubs, Mariners and Blue Jays, and possibly the Nationals if the intra-division hump can be resolved. But do any of these teams match up in a trade with the Phillies?
The Rays recently acquired top outfield prospect Wil Myers as part of the James Shields trade to Kansas City, but they otherwise struggle with tradeable outfield depth. Their current outfield consists of Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce, none of whom would likely interest the Phillies nor would compel the Rays to trade one for a Phillies reliever.
The Cubs have Alfonso Soriano to trade or could even consider dealing David DeJesus (again, my speculation) should they opt to go with top prospect Brett Jackson in center field. Soriano could be appealing to the Phillies as I already mentioned, but DeJesus, as a platoon-type outfielder who bats left-handed, would not be especially appealing to the Phils.
Seattle could trade Casper Wells or Michael Saunders, but neither would be the answer for the Phillies. If the Mariners were willing to deal Franklin Gutierrez, the Phillies would surely listen, but his defense and ability to hit for average likely deter the Mariners from trading him.
That leaves the Toronto Blue Jays as a possible match. In terms of outfield assets they might consider trading, the Jays have Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra. Davis has speed, as does Gose, who also excels defensively. Sierra is more of a bench-type player as of now. But would Toronto, who doesn't otherwise have a glaring bullpen need, consider it a necessity to deal any of these outfielders? Probably not.
The Washington Nationals would be the final team left, and they could very well be the Phillies' best trading partner. Washington's lone left-handed relief option right now is Zach Duke, and he is far from a proven commodity in recent years. That creates an opening for the Phillies to deal one of Bastardo, Diekman or Horst to the Nationals should they choose. But who would the Phillies receive in return?
It's likely out of the Phillies' reach due to the divisional issue, but now that Washington has re-signed first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year contract, Michael Morse is in limbo with the Nats. With Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper all more likely to earn outfielding jobs than Morse, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal has since tweeted that the Nationals are discussing Morse with about five or six teams in trades.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman also tweeted that the Phillies could use Morse's bat, but Rosenthal also opines in a separate tweet the obvious divisional hump the two teams would have to overcome. Nevertheless, I'd speculate that any Morse trade would have to consist of more than a left-handed reliever. But what could give the Phillies some more leverage is that Morse is only under contract through 2013 before hitting free agency, so his value decreases, even if only slightly.
If Morse were to become a Phillie, the Phils may have to trade at least one top prospect to get a deal done. Jesse Biddle would probably be an overpay, but would the Nationals, as an intra-division team, settle for anything less?
The Phillies could try to make a package around shortstop Roman Quinn, who Baseball America recently ranked as the Phillies' second-best prospect entering 2013. They could also trade one of Tommy Joseph or Sebastian Valle since the Nationals' only area of potential improvement is catcher. I have a hard time seeing either happen unless Morse agrees to a contract extension, though, but a package of Quinn or Joseph and maybe Diekman could get a trade done since the Nationals don't have a severe need for starting pitching.
Personally, I wouldn't trade Quinn or Joseph right now, much less for Morse. But if Morse is on the table for the Phillies, should they pursue him? Possibly. Should they go in a different direction and try to trade for someone else? Maybe, but who? What package should the Phillies try to surrender in any trade for an outfielder? Or, even more radical, should the Phillies surrender their first-round pick this year for someone like Michael Bourn on a one-year deal?
I'm not sure what the answer is here. Maybe a Quinn-Diekman package for Morse would suffice since Ian Desmond did not show anything prior to 2012. Kurt Suzuki is also not a reliable option, though he did show improvement after being traded to the nation's capital. But with the Nationals currently sitting as one of baseball's best teams in all areas, they don't need a lot, and unfortunately for the Phillies, they may not have the assets the Nationals want.
What do you think the Phillies should do? Please comment your thoughts below.