As the trade deadline approaches, fans, GM’s and media surrounding the MLB are evaluating what teams have of value and what holes they need to fill. A quick look at the Philadelphia Phillies and you may not see many pieces of value that the team can afford to lose; however, if you look a little closer, you may see one area where the Phillies have a bit of abundance. It also happens to be one of the most sought after positions, year after year for all teams.
What position do the Phillies have extra of? Well most people would say starting pitching — and they would be right. But it is highly unlikely the Phillies would trade any of their aces, and Joe Blanton isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with either his health or his play. Same for Kyle Kendrick, and to be truthful, the Phillies somewhat need him as he has shown dependability as a long reliever out of the ‘pen. And Vance Worley? No. They are going to need him down the road in years to come.
So it’s not starting pitching I’m hinting at.
Is it relief pitching? Kind of.
What I am referring to is the most coveted position in pitching — The Closer.
“What???” you say. “Closer” I respond.
So far this year the Phillies have used two closers: first Jose Contreras, and after he suffered an injury, Ryan Madson. Both are filling in for the actual closer, Brad Lidge, who was injured in spring training but is slowly working his way back to health. And both replacement closers have done an incredible job; neither Madson nor Contreras have blown a save. The Phillies are in fact the only major league team to have accomplished that this season. They are 25-0 when leading going into the ninth inning. That’s impressive for any team, but extremely impressive for a team who has used two replacement closers because their real closer is on the DL.
So, that would mean the Phillies have three pitchers who have proven ability to get the toughest three outs in the game. When I tell you the market for these guys is high, I mean it. Accomplished closers typically make in the high singles/low tens of millions of dollars a year. If you’re a team like the St. Louis Cardinals and you have playoff aspirations and are losing games on the ninth inning due to the lack of an effective closer, you are likely to pay dearly to change that.
So which contending hopefuls are currently in need of a closer? Plenty of them. The above-mentioned Cardinals are one: the team is 14 for 23 in save opportunities this year. The Boston Red Sox are eight for 13 in save opportunities. Sticking with the American League, the Texas Rangers have blown eight saves this year, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have blown a whopping nine saves.
So, we’ve established the two basics tenants of any transaction, supply and demand. The Phillies have a supply and the majors have a demand. The only question is, will the Phillies part with one of their closing arms?
Madson is in a contract year, Lidge has a $1.5M buyout of a $12.5M team option and Contreras is signed thru 2012.
Besides being great in their assumed roles as fill-in-closer, Madson was a tremendous eighth inning set-up guy and Contreras has proved to be a great back of the bullpen guy for the seventh or eight. Trading either would create a void in the back of their own contending-hopeful bullpen. Even though young arms like Michael Stutes (whom I love) and Antonio Bastardo have done excellent jobs, they are still young and the Phillies might not want to trust such important roles to players that untested.
But Lidge is a different story from Madson and Contreras. He has been amazing (zero blown saves in 2008) and awful (11 in 2009) and average (2010). And the Phillies have proved to themselves and to the world that they can get by without him. Brad Lidge, I believe, is expendable. So the only question that remains is whether or not there is a market for him.
There is, or at least there should be. Just not a huge one. History has shown that pitchers with the unique ability to get the last three outs are always in demand. Would St. Louis give up some extra player like Jon Jay for a Brad Lidge? Would the Red Sox deal Mike Cameron for closer help? How about the Cincinnati Reds, who have blown five saves this season; would they part with a Chris Heisey for end of game insurance? Or can Amaro put his mask back on really pull off an amazing deal.
The important thing here is for Lidge to get off of the disabled list and make an impact prior to the deadline. The better he pitches, the higher his value would go.
Surely Lidge won’t command young talent or a starting piece of some hopeful contenders puzzle, but the Phillies could maneuver their way into a really nice, well-needed extra bat.
Quite frankly, the way Ruben Amaro deals, who knows what he could pull off in a Lidge deal.
I am really just speculating here but I don’t think it’s that far out of the realm of possibility. I am quite sure they will at least solicit and entertain offers for Lidge and I wouldn’t be surprised if they considered a Contreras deal, right circumstances not withstanding. My hopes for Madson are different; I would like to see his contract extended and for him to assume the closers role for years to come.
I would love to hear your opinions on this.