Ruiz and Young will both have interest on the trade market if the Phillies become sellers.
The Philadelphia Phillies have been a very good team for the past decade with zero sub-.500 finishes, five division championships and a World Series title. They even cracked my "10 Most Brilliantly Run Franchises" list. So why have so many big-name Phillies players been so prominent in trade rumors this season?
Here's why. They weren't expected to place any higher than third in the division with the Braves and Nationals popular picks for division winners and World Series hopefuls. Combine that with an aging roster that included several veterans eligible for free agency after the season and little help on the way from the upper minors. It made plenty of sense to write this team off in early April.
The loss of Roy Halladay to a partial rotator cuff tear didn't help ease the trade rumors and a team that has played uninspired baseball through 79 games (38-41) has only added fuel to the Hot Stove.
Despite all that, they're only seven games back of a playoff spot. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would rather add to his 25-man roster and make another possible last run with this core of players, but the reality is that he'll have no choice but to "sell" if his team falls any further back in the next month. Given the talent on the roster, it wouldn't be a surprise if things didn't get better.
This team has to get younger in 2014 and Amaro would have a head start by shopping all free-agents-to-be on his roster and possibly even a player or two under contract for a few more seasons in order to bring back some elite prospects to a farm system sorely lacking in high-end talent.
Here are the five players that will generate the most interest and a perfect trade scenario for each.
While the Phillies are more likely to hold onto Lee so they can enter the offseason with a strong top-of-the-rotation—Lee and Cole Hamels—to build around, they'll at least be willing to listen on potential offers.
If a team is willing to take on most of the remaining portion of Lee's contract—he's due an estimated $75 million between now and through 2015, including a $12.5 million buyout on a $27 million vesting option for 2016)—and give the Phillies three good prospects in return, Amaro will have to think long and hard about taking the deal.
The Red Sox are one of the few teams with that kind of payroll flexibility, thanks in most part to last year's blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, and certainly have the prospects to make a deal work. They might not even have to include their top prospect, 20-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who is already in Triple-A.
For the 34-year-old Lee, who would give the first-place Red Sox a reliable No.1 starter ahead of the struggling Jon Lester and oft-injured Clay Buchholz, here's what the Phillies could receive in return:
Red Sox receive:
Cliff Lee: 2.51 ERA, 118.1 IP, 96 H, 18 BB, 105 K in 16 starts
Garin Cecchini, 3B (Double-A): 39th on Baseball Prospectus' Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (Triple-A): 29th on Baseball Prospectus' Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List
Anthony Ranaudo, SP (Double-A): 2.28 ERA, 79 IP, 50 H, 27 BB, 86 K in 14 starts
As is the case with Lee, the Phillies are saying that Papelbon is not on the market. The 32-year-old is under contract through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016 that is easily attainable barring injury and he's still one of the most effective closers in the game.
Without a capable replacement, a Phillies team that will have playoff expectations in 2014 won't give up Papelbon without getting a solid return that could include a potential "Closer of the Near Future".
The Tigers have a very good chance to return to the World Series again in 2013, but they'll have a much better chance of winning it all with a reliable closer this time around. Giving up one of the top closing prospects in baseball and a talented major league-ready right fielder could get them their man.
For Papelbon, who would make life much less stressful for Tigers manager Jim Leyland, here's what the Phillies could receive in return:
Jonathan Papelbon: 2.05 ERA, 30.2 IP, 22 H, 5 BB, 27 K, 15 Sv
Bruce Rondon, RP (Triple-A): Ranked third by Baseball Prospectus in preseason organizational prospect rankings
PTBNL: Could include one the Detroit's top draft picks in 2013
Ruiz's value has taken a nose dive since his breakout season of 2012 (.325 BA, 16 HR, 68 RBI, 32 2B). Since returning from a 25-game suspension for a positive test for amphetamine use, the 34-year-old is hitting .273 with no homers and two doubles in 77 at-bats.
He does have nine hits in his last 26 at-bats since returning from a stint on the disabled list, but the Phillies won't get near the return without any sign of the power he displayed last season. Still, he could be a useful piece on a contending team in need of catching help.
The Yankees might be a great fit for the veteran Ruiz, who has thrown out six of 19 attempted base stealers on the season and would actually be an offensive upgrade from the Yankees current tandem of Chris Stewart (.646 OPS) and Austin Romine (.364 OPS).
For Ruiz, who is making $5 million in the last year of his contract, here's what the Phillies could receive:
Carlos Ruiz: .273 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 2B, 4 BB, 14 K in 2013; .935 OPS in 2012
Vidal Nuno, SP/RP (Triple-A): 2.25 ERA, 20 IP, 16 H, 6 BB, 9 K in MLB; 1.44 ERA, 25 IP, 14 H, 2 BB, 30 K in Triple-A. Potential No. 5 starter who could, at the least, turn out to be a useful bullpen piece.
Signing Chase Utley to a multi-year deal next offseason could be a huge risk, considering the potential that his knee conditions can worsen. For now, he appears healthy and he's having another productive season (.797 OPS, 8 HR, 6 SB).
Teams looking for second base help will have plenty of interest and the Phillies could get a nice return if the 34-year-old waives his partial no-trade clause to one of the 21 teams on his no-trade list. The Oakland A's, in particular, could be a good fit with some interesting players to offer in return, including a former Phillies farmhand who has yet to produce in the majors but is still putting up impressive numbers in Triple-A.
For Utley, who is making $15 million in the last year of his contract, here's what the Phillies could receive:
Chase Utley: .266 BA, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 8 2B, 2 3B, 18 BB, 30 K, 6 SB
Cash ($3.75 million)
Michael Taylor, OF (Triple-A): .311 BA, 8 HR, 36 RBI, 16 2B, 18 BB, 41 K. Worth giving regular playing time in right field for the remainder of the season as an early audition for the job in 2014.
Nolan Sanburn, SP (Injured): Ranked sixth by Baseball Prospectus in preseason organizational prospect rankings.
Considered one of the better hitters in the game a few years back, those days seemed far behind him when Young hit just .172 with one homer in May. But although that month hurt his overall numbers (.281 BA, 4 HR, 13 2B), Young is working on his second month of the season in which he's had an .800-plus OPS.
The 36-year-old, who also had an .801 OPS last September after struggling most of the season, hit .341 in April and is hitting .326 this month. With limited third base options on the trade market, the Phillies can expect some calls on Young, who could still hit at the top of the lineup for a contending team.
For Young, who is will be owed around $3 million for the remainder of the season, here's what the Phillies could receive:
Michael Young: .281 BA, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 13 2B, 3 3B, 25 BB, 43 K
Garrett Gould, SP (High-A): Ranked ninth by Baseball Prospectus in preseason organizational prospect rankings.
Jose Dominguez, RP (Triple-A): 1.85 ERA, 24.1 IP, 9 H, 13 BB, 38 K between AAA/AA