One of these years, the most exciting thing about a Phillies season won't be seeing whom they can trade away. Alas, that year is not this year. Tommy Joseph, come on down. It's time to geek out on one of the more interesting pieces of trade bait the Phillies will dangle since they launched Ken Giles to Houston a couple of seasons ago.
In fact, the Joseph situation might be even more titillating. Trades are never easy, but everybody can use another late-innings reliever. Not so for a player who can play only first base, even one who has hit 36 home runs in under 700 career plate appearances. But, then, that limitation is one of the biggest reasons the Phillies would even be considering such a move. As manager Pete Mackanin indicated recently, both Joseph and Triple A prospect Rhys Hoskins can play only at first, and it says here in the rule book that a manager can start only one.
In that sense, the Phillies almost have to do something. That's never an ideal chair to occupy at the bargaining table, but the cards are the cards, and these ones show a logjam that won't fix itself.
At 24 years old, Hoskins has already torn up every possible level of the minors, with a .374 on-base percentage, .902 OPS and 84 home runs in four seasons since the Phillies drafted him in the fifth round out of Cal State. He already has 20 home runs this season, and nearly as many walks (47) as strikeouts (53). And did we mention he is 24 years old? Yes, I see that we did.
So. . .
For all the leverage that the the Phillies lack, Joseph remains a viable piece for the market to mull. One name to consider: Evan Gattis.
When the Braves traded him away before his 28-year-old season, their situation was more or less the same as the Phillies' current one.
Gattis through age 27: 783 PAs, 43 HR, 178 SO, 43 BB, .304 OBP, .791 OPS.
Joseph through age 25: 670 PA, 36 HR, 151 SO, 47 BB, .310 OBP, .796 OPS.
In return for their righthanded-hitting slugger without a position, the Braves landed a package anchored by Mike Foltyewicz, then a 22-year-old righthander who had entered the previous season rated as a Top 60 prospect by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com. Foltynewicz struggled in his first couple of seasons in the majors, but over the last two years has emerged as a promising young piece of the Braves rotation. In 17 appearances this season (including 16 starts), he has a 3.77 ERA and averages of 7.8 K/9 3.0 BB/9 and 1.5 HR/9 in 93 innings (he is 25). They also landed third baseman Rio Ruiz, whom Baseball America had rated as the Astros' No. 8 prospect (their top four that season were Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, Folynewicz and Vince Velasquez, so, you win some you lose some).
Joseph still has a little bit of that special sauce that general managers love to taste in their transactions: upside. Maybe not a ton, given his stout body type and his lack of versatility, but keep in mind that Joseph has yet to play his first full major league season. And though he looks like a guy who makes his phone calls via land line, he is still just 25. Forget free agency: He isn't even eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 season.
If you want to play create-a-deal, here's the system to start trawling: the Yankees. No contender in baseball has as much of a need at first base. Things are so bad that they've already cut their starter twice. Not two starters. The same starter, twice. Even at his worst, Joseph would be an upgrade over the .653 OPS and five home runs that Chris Carter gave the Yankees in 208 plate appearances. At his best, he'd add another bat with 30-plus home run power to a lineup that already features Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In a perfect world, the Yankees would find such a bat on the left side of the plate, as Judge, Sanchez and shortstop Starlin Castro are all righthanded hitters in the top half of the order. Still, Joseph has held his own against righthanded pitching, with 22 home runs and a .759 OPS in 480 plate appearances over the last two seasons. He would also make economic sense for a team that is poised to load up on big-ticket free agents over the next few offseasons. The Yankees have $100 million on the books for 2018 and $75 million for 2019, the latter for only four players, only one of whom is a starting pitcher. Pencil Bryce Harper in for $40-plus million, add a couple of arms, and there aren't a lot of millions left for a non-premium position such as first base.
In a recent interview with the in-house YES Network, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman labeled his team's first base production as "horrific," but did his best to maintain a strong position at the bargaining table, extolling the virtues of 24-year-old first baseman Greg Bird, saying he hoped the oft-injured slugger was "still the future first baseman." Maybe he really believes it, but with a .754 OPS and 12 home runs in 250 career plate appearances, the future is still very much unwritten.
On paper, there are an intriguing number of avenues toward a trade that makes sense for both sides. The Yankees system is brimming with talent, more so than most other systems across the sport. They placed seven prospects on Baseball America's recently released midseason Top 100, four of whom play the outfield, two at Triple A. While Judge is the only member of the big-league outfield 33, Brett Gardner is signed through next season and Jacoby Ellsbury through 2020 (!). Neither is playing at a level that would block a blue-chipper, but both are in the midst of relatively solid campaigns. Plus, 27-year-old Aaron Hicks had a .398 OBP, .913 OPS and 10 home runs before landing on the DL, raising hopes that the onetime top prospect might have figured something out.
None of this means the Yankees have a ton of incentive to promise an outfielder for every pot. Cashman has seen too much baseball to pencil any of his prospects in for the next decade, and the Phillies won't be the only team calling. But both teams have enough inventory in their systems to get creative.
The Phillies lack the kind of high-end talent that fronts the Yankees' system, but the aforementioned Baseball America list has outfielder Mickey Moniak at No. 46, righthander Sixto Sanchez at No. 47, second baseman Scott Kingery at No. 52, Hoskins at No. 69, and catcher Jorge Alfaro at No. 81, even before arriving at J.P. Crawford (No. 91, down from No. 12 at the start of the season), and 2017 first-round pick Adam Heasley.