Chase Utley would be a top trade target if the Phillies go into "sell mode."
Now a month into the MLB season, it's as good a time as any to take a look at the latest trade buzz around the league.
Phillies Itching to Sell?
The Philadelphia Phillies could possibly shape the trade market it they fall out of content and go into "sell mode." Currently sitting at 14-16 and three-and-a-half games back in the NL East, they are by no means anywhere near that point.
And considering that they probably gave up too early in 2012, trading two starting outfielders at the trade deadline when they were in last place and 15.5 games out, it could take an even more hopeless situation this time around.
After trading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino on July 31, the Phillies finally started clicking in other areas of the ballclub and made a legitimate run at a wild-card spot late in the season.
At this point, they seem focused on 2013 and have reportedly inquired multiple times about Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. The 23-year-old Stanton would help them immediately and for at least the next three seasons.
Stanton, currently on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, is not available at the moment, but the Phillies’ interest shows that they’re willing to sacrifice what would probably amount to three or four of their best prospects in order to upgrade their outfield now. That’s not the mindset of a team that expects to fall out of contention.
If they do, however, there are several veteran players who would be valuable trade chips in July. Salisbury mentions players with partial no-trade clauses like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley, as well as Jimmy Rollins, who has a full no-trade clause.
Utley is the most likely to be dealt since he is a free agent after the season. Roy Halladay is a free agent after 2014. It's hard to see them passing up the chance to move over to a contender if the Phillies are out of it, so it shouldn't be too difficult to convince either to waive their no-trade clause, if necessary.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz, a free agent at season’s end, could also be on the move if the Phillies aren't in contention. The 33-year-old is 2-for-15 since his return from a 25-game suspension for a positive amphetamine test, but he had a career year at the plate in 2012 (.934 OPS in 114 games).
Salisbury mentions that the Phillies could then begin the transition to prospect Tommy Joseph as Ruiz's successor, although easing him in with Ruiz still around to mentor him could be more beneficial.
Lucas Harrell vs. Bud Norris
In Jayson Stark’s latest Rumblings & Grumblings column for ESPN, he opines that Lucas Harrell would be the preferred Astros starting pitcher in a deal by most teams. Harrell has two more years of team control (free agent after 2017) than Bud Norris (free agent after 2015), who is also considered by some teams to be better fit as a late-inning reliever on a contender rather than a starter.
I mentioned both as potential early-season trade candidates in a recent article. The Astros are 6-7 when Harrell or Norris start and 2-15 when they don't.
Chase Headley Watch
San Diego Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler is still hopeful the team can sign Chase Headley long-term despite Headley not wanting to discuss an extension during the season. Fowler said he doesn’t feel extension talks would be a distraction and a deal could be done relatively quick if Headley and his agent were interested.
While Headley's resistance to contract talks doesn't necessarily mean the Padres will trade him during the season, it definitely makes it more likely that they'll deal him if they get the return they want. More teams will be interested in the offseason, however, which could drive up the price. It's also beneficial to wait if the Padres wanted major league talent in return. That's highly unlikely during the season.
It's also important to point out that the Padres aren't ready to give up on the season. They're 12-17 and five games out in the NL West, but the division doesn't seem as strong as expected. They've won seven of their last 10 and proved in the second half of last season that they are capable of stringing together a few really good months.