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The current version of the Phillies front office is relatively new. They are still adjusting the coaching and development staff to fit what they prefer. While those paying close attention are starting to figure out how Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail like to run the organization, there still has not been enough time and enough examples of certain situations in order to predict every move. However, even in such a short run, they have made it known they are not afraid to make a big move. Jake Arrieta was a big name signing two years ago. Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura were big moves to start the last offseason, and then that was ended with trading for JT Realmuto and signing Bryce Harper. They even got close to making a trade for Manny Machado in between. This front office is not averse to a blockbuster, and with another offseason upon us, it would not be surprising to see yet another.
While the 2019 Phillies did not do much to revive hopes that the team is close to another World Series, they still are in a good enough position to compete in 2020. They have a solid core in Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Aaron Nola all in their prime in order to compete. Plus, the fact that they have many players on long-term contracts means that 5 to 10 years from now, it will not be very easy to supplement the team through free agency. Therefore, 2020 is where the Phillies will need to put their focus on, not necessarily past then.
That does not mean they should keep the status quo, either. Moves will be needed. They finished around .500 the past 2 seasons, and the current projections don’t seem to think there will be much natural progression. There is not a strong farm system ready to breakout next season, and although there will be a new coaching staff, they likely cannot take the team all the way to October. There are holes on the team and more All-Star level players are necessary for the Phillies to finally compete for a championship once again. As Klentak has done before, he may need to make big moves once again if the team has any chance in the current window.
While it is already well-known that they will be looking at the starting rotation for upgrades, and it is rumored that they are in the market for a new name at 3rd base, there is another position they could look to improve upon. Center Field could also see some changes this year. Since Shane Victorino, only Odubel Herrera has been a consistent starter in that spot, but he likely won’t be a consistent starter for the 2020 team.
Herrera struggled mightily in 2019 and is still currently suspended for violating MLB’s domestic violence policies. From press conferences with front office members, it sounds as if Herrera is more likely to be traded or released before he ever plays another game in red pinstripes. Some of the names that often get mentioned to take his place are intriguing.
Adam Haseley was fun to watch in his short time late last season. He certainly impressed in some aspects of the game. He is probably the favorite to be an Opening Day starter in center as of now. However, as I previously wrote, not much stock should be placed into how he played. He is still like a prospect, with plenty to prove. He can certainly be improved upon in center. Roman Quinn is another option, but his lack of impact with the bat, injury history, switch-hitting ability, and pinch-running ability makes him more of a 26th man rather than a starter. Scott Kingery is the third choice. However, Franco and Hernandez could be non-tendered. If either is, Kingery will likely fill in at an infield spot, where he is better. If not, and Kingery is free to play in center, his bat is still mostly unproven. Steamer projects his wRC+ to be 78, which is not good enough to start consistently.
While there are plenty of options, it does seem like looking for an upgrade is worthwhile. With McCutchen coming off a knee injury and aging, the upgrade definitely needs to be a center fielder and not somebody that fits better in a corner spot. That leaves you with free agents Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, and not much else. In the trade market, the options are unclear. Starling Marte and Jackie Bradley Jr. could be available, but both seem more likely to stay with their respective teams than not.
Another possible trade target is maybe more intriguing is Mookie Betts. It has been rumored ever since the replacement of Dave Dombrowski that Betts may be available due to Boston prioritizing getting under the luxury tax this upcoming offseason. While as of now, the Red Sox appear more likely to complete that task through trading players such as Nate Eovaldi or Jackie Bradley Jr., it at least sounds as if there is a possibility of Betts being shopped.
While Betts has not primarily been a center fielder the past few seasons, he clearly has the ability to. He has been one of the best defensive right fielders in the game in the past few seasons and has shown elite speed both out in the field and the bases. The only reason for Betts to stay out in right is that Jackie Bradley Jr. has also been with the Red Sox, pushing Betts off his natural position. While many came back in 2015, Betts still has over 1500 innings played in CF in his career, and he posted a 3.0 UZR/150 and 11 DRS. The biggest difference between center field and right field is mostly the speed needed to play Center, but the most recent Fans Scouting Report survey in 2018 had his defensive speed rated at 81, which is very high. Given the fact that he is only 27, his foot speed will not push him into a corner anytime soon.
Given his ability to play in a position of need for the Phillies makes him a good fit already. Plus, having control for one year makes him more valuable to the Phillies than most teams. Additionally, many teams will cross Betts off of their shopping list based on the projected $28 million or so that he will make in 2020 from arbitration. Whether or not there is a need in the outfield or a team has the prospect capital to make a deal will also make some teams unlikely destinations. Not many teams will be in talks with the Red Sox for a trade. Jim Bowden recently explored some teams that made sense. He came up with 3, the Dodgers (who may not see any outfield position as an area of need), the Cardinals (who have a self-imposed payroll cap that they are already on the edge of), and the Braves. I would put the Phillies down as well, as they are going to attempt to compete in 2020 and nothing else is stopping them from acquiring Betts.
While on name value alone, I am sure you already know Betts is one of the best options out there for the Phillies, the numbers show he could be an MVP favorite for the National League should he be traded. For one, he had over 10 fWAR in 2018 at 25 years old and is now going into his 27-year-old season. So physically, Betts should only be improving, especially with no serious health concerns that are present. Betts is currently projected to have the 2nd most WAR of any position player in baseball in 2020 by Steamer, at 6.6. Only Mike Trout bests him there. If the team is looking for upside, you need to have MVP candidates, and Betts would be considered the best player in the National League.
As previously mentioned, the defense of Betts is elite. In right field, Betts’ defensive metrics have been consistently plus, which is hard to do given the variability of defensive performance. Just about every metric loves his defense, too. In 2019 alone, Betts had 15 DRS, 12.9 UZR, 13.5 FRAA, and 7 OAA. The prior years all had matching, or better, numbers.
On the offensive side of things, pinpointing Betts’ exact true talent level is a little bit difficult. While a wRC+ of 135 (that he had in 2019) is very good, especially for a good defensive outfielder, it is significantly worse than his 2018 production at 185. Currently, Steamer projects his wRC+ to be 139, but where should it be?
From 2018 to 2019, his plate discipline numbers are nearly identical. He swung and miss at about the same rate, swung at about the same rate, and ultimately his BB% and K% did not move much. So the difference is what Betts did with the balls he did put in play. There does seem to be some luck involved. In 2019, Betts’ wOBA underperformed his xwOBA by .028, despite not having a history of doing better or worse than his expected numbers. With some luck on his side once again, he should be a little bit closer to his MVP-numbers of 2018, but that alone won’t do the trick, as his xwOBA was still .025 worse than 2018s.
Betts did see a dip in power production, despite most of the MLB seeing the opposite. His Barrel% went down by 3.8%, his average exit velocity sunk by 1.2 mph, and his ISO went from .294 to .229. That seems concerning, but in fact, it actually seems like he regained his power. Starting on July 5th, it was reported that Mookie Betts started taking private lessons from an instructor named Lorenzo Garmendia. Since July 5th, Betts has mostly matched the 2018 versions of the numbers that dipped in the new year. He had a .279 ISO since that date, .341 BABIP, and was tied for 3rd in the MLB in fWAR. Given that what Betts adjusted from the workouts can stick, it seems as if Betts is closer to the 2018 MVP Betts than the 2019 version, which is not too bad either.
The changing landscape of the MLB probably does not hurt Betts’ future, either. For one, if the trend of more breaking balls continues, Betts shouldn’t struggle too much. He is actually a very good breaking ball hitter, as he had an 88.2 average exit velocity, .364 xwOBA, and 12.5 PutAway% against those pitches in 2019. Offspeed pitches were not much more effective. In fact, the only other hitters to have a higher than 1 run above average per 100 pitches against cutters, sliders, curveballs, and changeups like Betts did in 2019 were DJ LeMahieu, Mike Trout, and Austin Meadows. Additionally, while shifts went up against Betts in 2019 similar to many hitters, his wOBA against the shift was higher (.418) than without (.353), so it seems as if the right-hander will be able to adjust in the future.
Given all the good news about his bat and glove, it should be hard for the Phillies to turn down a chance at acquiring him. Especially after seeing ticket and jersey sales increase dramatically following the acquisition of Jake Arrieta and Bryce Harper. The Phillies have seen the benefits of signing star players, even ignoring their actual performance. This should only draw the team towards acquiring Betts even more.
A realistic return is not overly difficult to find in a trade scenario between these two teams. Most of the young and cheap options the Phillies have to trade are at or near ready for MLB-play, which is what the Red Sox will likely prefer given that they are not going through a full rebuild by any means. Certain names will be talked about a lot between the two should they talk at all, such as Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta. All of them are expendable for the Phillies if it means acquiring another star, but could all become useful players in 2020 and beyond for the Red Sox.
How much would Boston need to part with Betts? There are not too many similar trades for rental stars as of late, besides notable names in Paul Goldschmidt and Manny Machado. It is notable that neither blew anybody away with the return amount like was originally expected. Machado was only for a half year and neither were ever as good a Betts is now, though, so even those are tough comparisons.
If you dive into “surplus value”, you can see that if Betts is projected to make $28 million and be worth about 7 WAR, based on the typical valuations of past seasons, that would make Betts’ surplus value about $35 million. Fangraphs estimated that a 50 FV position player prospect, which is around the top 45 to 100 prospects in the minors, is worth around $28 million. Given that Bohm is at least in the top half of that group of prospects, and by most accounts even worth more, you could argue that he is worth slightly over $30 million himself.
The Red Sox will likely need to receive more than the $35 million, however, due to the fact that fans and players may be unhappy with a trade and that they are already attempting to compete in 2020. Considering the Phillies would have no more use for Haseley with Betts in town, it would make sense if he is thrown into any deal. Bohm and Haseley could arguably get any deal done, but given the Red Sox need for a backend pitcher, they may take a look at somebody such as Eflin or Pivetta, who may need a change in scenery.
In conclusion, the Phillies should absolutely look to trade for Mookie Betts if the Red Sox end up floating him out there. A trade that sends Alec Bohm, Adam Haseley, and Nick Pivetta to the Red Sox in return for Betts seems to make sense for both parties involved in this case. Even if this does not happen, though, keep an eye out for Philadelphia to make another blockbuster and possibly upgrade Center Field.