Dave Dombrowski has pulled off more than 220 trades since 1988, his rookie year as general manager of the Montreal Expos. Want to bet that he’d have had a deal or two up his sleeve to reshape the Phillies’ roster these last six weeks?
But the owner-initiated lockout has sidelined Dombrowski and his front-office rivals. They aren’t allowed to sign free agents, make trades, speak with players, or even talk to the media until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
That won’t stop us fantasy GMs from proposing some trades for the Phillies with help from the highly addictive website baseballtradevalues.com. A few caveats, based on things we’ve learned over the years about Dombrowski’s roster-building philosophy and what we know about his pre-lockout intentions to fill holes in left field, center field, the bullpen, and the back of the starting rotation:
Although Dombrowski’s reputation for swapping prospects is well-earned, he rarely does so recklessly. Rather, he often deals from what he perceives as positional surpluses. The Phillies have two catching prospects (Rafael Marchan and Logan O’Hoppe) who are blocked by J.T. Realmuto along with center-field depth in the low minors.
Rival evaluators regard the Phillies’ farm system as mostly lacking in elite-level talent. So, Dombrowski figures to be protective of the last three first-round picks: shortstop Bryson Stott and pitchers Mick Abel and Andrew Painter. But even if they were on the table, it probably wouldn’t be enough to pry center fielders Bryan Reynolds, Cedric Mullins, Ramón Laureano, or Trent Grisham out of Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Oakland, and San Diego, respectively, just as the Phillies lacked the uber prospect needed to get Byron Buxton from Minnesota last summer.
While the free-agent market still contains several left fielders who could hit behind Bryce Harper, there aren’t nearly as many options in center. Brett Gardner played for manager Joe Girardi with the Yankees and has vast experience as a leadoff hitter. But at 38, he would fit more in a platoon role.
Before the lockout, the Phillies talked to the Tampa Bay Rays about Kevin Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glove winner who may still be the most likely center-field solution. Given his slightly below league-average offense (career OPS+: 98) and $12.2 million salary, the acquisition cost figures to be a midlevel prospect. Ditto for defense-first center fielders Steven Duggar of the San Francisco Giants and Adam Engel of the Chicago White Sox.
That said, here are some creative trade proposals. Dombrowski can thank us later.
Phillies get 3B Matt Chapman from Oakland for 3B Alec Bohm, Marchan, and OF Mickey Moniak.
With several key players due for big raises in arbitration and an ongoing fight for a new stadium, the A’s are poised to reset their roster once again. If not for the lockout, they would be listening on Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson, Laureano, catcher Sean Murphy, and pitchers Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and Sean Manaea.
As committed as the Phillies are to giving Bohm another chance to lock down third base, they probably have checked in on Chapman. His strikeout rate soared and on-base percentage plummeted the last two years. But the 28-year-old would bring power from the right side, and most importantly, elite defense to the most porous infield in baseball.
The A’s would get what they desire: Three inexpensive, controllable players who could learn on the job for a rebuilding team.
Phillies get 2B/OF Whit Merrifield from Kansas City for OF prospects Símon Muzziotti and Ethan Wilson and single-A RHP Cristian Hernandez.
The Royals’ middle infield is overcrowded with Merrifield, Nicky Lopez, Adalberto Mondesi, and the impending debut of prized shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr. Merrifield prefers second base but plays all over the field and likely will get pushed to right field in Kansas City. He has logged more than 500 innings in center and is viable there.
Merrifield, who turns 33 this month, also could slide easily into the leadoff spot for the Phillies, last in the National League in on-base percentage from the top of the order the last two seasons. He’s due to make $2.75 million this year with a $6.5 million team option for 2023, a bargain for the major-league leader in hits since 2017. But after a slight dip in his numbers last season, the Royals may see a chance to get younger.
The Phillies remain high on Muzziotti even though he missed most of last season because of delays with his work visa. But they have center-field prospects Johan Rojas and Yhoswar Garcia in single A, in addition to former first-round picks Moniak and Adam Haseley in triple A. Wilson, a left-handed hitter, was drafted in the second round last year.
Phillies get INF/OF Ketel Marte and SS Nick Ahmed from the Diamondbacks for Marchan, Rojas, INF Nick Maton, and LHP Bailey Falter.
One way to acquire talent without trading a coveted prospect is to take on money, such as the $17.5 million that Arizona owes Ahmed through 2023. Ahmed, 31, isn’t much of a hitter but has two Gold Gloves at shortstop, which would help shore up the infield and perhaps free the Phillies to explore a deal for Didi Gregorius if they’re willing to eat salary.
Marte, 28, would be the prize. He’s a better second baseman than center fielder, and the Phillies may be able to move him back to the infield after this year. Regardless, the benefits of having the switch-hitting on-base machine at the top of the order would outweigh his deficiencies in center field. Best of all, he’s owed a maximum of $30 million over the next three years, including club options for 2023 and 2024.
Phillies get OF Max Kepler from the Twins and RHP Amir Garrett from the Reds; Twins get RHP Tyler Mahle from the Reds and RHP Hans Crouse, SS Gregorius, and $14 million from the Phillies; Reds get INF/OF prospect Austin Martin from the Twins and Marchan and Rojas from the Phillies.
Who’s up for a three-team, eight-player blockbuster? Usually Dombrowski, who pulled off a few such whoppers in Detroit, most notably to land David Price in 2014 and Max Scherzer in 2009.
Kepler, 28, is primarily a right fielder in Minnesota but possesses the athleticism to play center and has filled in there often for Buxton. He’s coming off a down season but is two years removed from a 36-homer, .855-OPS breakout. At $6.75 million this year and $8.5 million next, with a $10 million team option for 2024, there’s value in exploring his upside.
A three-team deal may give the Phillies access to Kepler while enabling the Twins to acquire a frontline starter (Mahle) from the rebuilding Reds without giving up more than one A-list prospect (Martin). The Phillies would buy low on hard-throwing Garrett and hope that a reunion with pitching coach Caleb Cotham could turn him back into a late-inning option.
Minnesota also needs a shortstop and is unlikely to splurge for free agents Carlos Correa or Trevor Story. Paying the bulk of Gregorius’ $14 million salary is the only way the Phillies can unload him after a dismal 2021. But it would also leave Stott in line to be the opening-day shortstop, which after 41 triple-A plate appearances feels like a leap of faith even though his growing fan club within the organization includes Harper.