Analysis

Phils Dangling Victorino For Bullpen Help

The Phillies have played some solid baseball lately, which has muddied their trade waters as the deadline approaches. They haven’t identified themselves as buyers or sellers just yet, and have the unenviable task of managing for the future without completely throwing in the towel this year. This hasn’t stopped Ruben Amaro from shopping various players, but in most cases this tactic was designed to gauge interest as he would in any other season. There weren’t many serious trade offers on the table, but the Phillies did reportedly propose a deal to the Reds that would send Shane Victorino to Cincinnati for reliever Logan Ondrusek.

The Reds rejected the deal, according to an insider close to the team, but Jim Bowden confirmed that the Phils remained very interested in Ondrusek and Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom. Jayson Stark then reported that the Phillies were interested in relief help in a potential Victorino deal and added the names Brad Lincoln (Pirates) and Wade Davis (Rays) to the mix. Victorino may not get dealt this week, but the Phillies have clearly identified the type of return they are seeking: a young reliever under team control.

While it may seem somewhat light to get a middle reliever back for an all-star and a legitimate 2011 MVP candidate, Victorino has just two months left on his contract and, as odd as it may sound, some interested parties might not even view him as an everyday player in the context of their respective rosters. Further, Victorino is likely a rental player for an acquiring team, and compensatory draft picks are no longer received for rentals.

But the Phils are in the driver’s seat. They have the leverage. They can keep Victorino, let him sign elsewhere after the season and hope to use the draft picks wisely. Or, they could keep him and try to sign him to a lesser-valued deal in the offseason. There is no sense of urgency to move him, and now that they have identified what they want in return, they should settle for nothing less.

The Phils want a reliever for Shane.

There are two key components to a Victorino-for-Reliever trade framework. First, can the Phillies still legitimately get back into the playoff picture without him in center? Second, does a young reliever like the four names tossed around really represent a decent return? The two components go hand-in-hand as well because these are major league ready relief pitchers who would shore up the Phillies bullpen both now and in the future. But, again, they are relievers, who typically provide far less value than more frequently used players. Unless Victorino completely implodes while one of these relievers pitches like Aroldis Chapman, it’s highly unlikely that the value swap will break-even.

However, the Phillies don’t need it to break-even to get back into the race. Victorino was providing value primarily in the field and on the bases, but not so much in terms of actually getting on-base to more effectively utilize his skill-set. Realistically, the Phillies would need solid performance out of the acquired reliever coupled with the emergence of those who stand to take over in his absence. Most likely, John Mayberry and Juan Pierre would split time in center, and both Mayberry and Laynce Nix would platoon in left.

Mayberry and Nix are decent fielders, and the former can at least fake it in center for a couple of months. All three of the outfield options are good baserunners, so the dropoff in those areas doesn’t figure to be all that substantial.

If properly platooned — always a question with Charlie Manuel at the helm — it’s also possible that this trio would outproduce Victorino at the plate down the stretch. While Shane is a switch-hitter who provides his own platoon advantage, he hasn’t come close to doing that recently. As Jack Moore of Fangraphs astutely pointed out, Victorino has been a switch-hitter in name only — what I call a SHINO — who has unfortunately struggled against the righties that tend to throw 70% of the innings in a given season.

From 2010-12, Mayberry has a .390 wOBA against lefties. Even this season, which has been disappointing, he has a .360 wOBA against oppo-handed hurlers. Pierre has a .321 wOBA against lefties over the last three years, as he has a reverse platoon split. Nix has a .342 wOBA against righties since 2010. Compare that to Victorino, who has a .311 wOBA against righties from 2010-12, and a .413 wOBA against lefties.

That’s a wOBA split of over 100 points, which only furthers the idea that the proper platooning of Mayberry, Pierre and Nix could help weather the storm in Victorino’s absence. And if it also means that Domonic Brown gets called up and plays almost everyday, there are benefits to the deal beyond getting to actually use a decent platoon, instead of the one Victorino has tried and struggled to create for himself lately.

Victorino’s large wOBA gap in his platoon splits is the main reason that some teams may not view him as an everyday solution. Some may simply want to play him against lefties, with the occasional start against righties, and in a defensive replacement or pinch-running role when he doesn’t start. It’s hard to argue with that approach, since he is one of the very best hitters against left-handed pitching, below average against righties, but an excellent baserunner and a very good fielder. It’s unclear how he would hit if he strictly batted right-handed, but he hasn’t shown any signs of not switch-hitting, so it’s almost a moot point.

His utility to an acquiring team directly relates to what they would give up in a trade, which may very well be why the Reds rejected the Victorino-for-Ondrusek trade. The Reds might view him as a platoon player for their purposes, not as a direct replacement to a specific outfield position. And while middle relievers are mostly fungible, the ones that the Phillies have their eyes on are a notch above the Michael Schwimer‘s, Justin De Fratus‘s, Jeremy Horst‘s and Jake Diekman‘s of the world, as they are already established as potential setup men, yet remain under team control for several more seasons.

While the Phillies young arms have the potential to break out, they are still very much works-in-progress. Under this lens, it becomes more understandable why the Reds would have rejected a deal that seemingly benefits them a whole hell of a lot.

The Phils are motivated to find relievers with, say, Horst’s contractual status, but a greater level of established and sustainable performance. If Victorino is the best shot at bringing someone like that in, so be it, as that type of return figures to help the team far more than two Low-A prospects who are raw and toolsy but don’t project to be anything more than fourth outfielders.

The bottom line is that, with the new CBA in place, the Phillies simply aren’t going to get all that much for two months of Victorino, so our expectations are in need of an adjustment. In years past, two months of a valuable centerfielder could have netted a very nice package. Now, some teams may not even trade middle relievers for that same player.

Regardless, the Phillies know what they want in a Victorino deal and will act accordingly. They aren’t going to move him for the sake of moving him, but they also aren’t going to get the same perceived value they could have gotten with the prior CBA in place. Getting a young and effective reliever, under team control for several more seasons, is a fine return given the circumstances, but it will be very interesting to see how the Phillies approach the impending deadline if this current win streak is extended and the team inches closer and closer to the second wild card berth.

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