The new collective bargaining agreement drastically reduced the likelihood that teams get much in return for rental players. Since these players no longer net their suitors draft pick compensation upon signing elsewhere after the season, there is far less incentive to pony up prospects, money or both for two months of an otherwise valuable asset.
The Phillies are experiencing this wrath of the rental first-hand, as Shane Victorino isn’t attracting anywhere near the attention he would have under the prior agreement. No, he isn’t hitting the way he did last year, but he’s been on fire since the all-star break, plays a solid center field and remains a terrific baserunner. In this depressed offensive environment, his .325 wOBA is above the National League’s .313 wOBA, and par for the course with the senior circuit centerfielders, who have a .323 wOBA. Shane is still having a solid season, albeit not an MVP-caliber one.
The Phillies have essentially been forced to target team-controlled middle relievers in a Victorino deal, not because they desperately need one, but because that might be all they can get for him at this juncture. And if the reports are true, the Reds even rejected a deal where all they would give up is fungible reliever Logan Ondrusek.
The Phillies are making a concerted effort to sell pieces this week, but working under the constraints of the new labor agreement has added a new set of challenges. If Victorino can barely bring back an Ondrusek or Josh Lindblom, the Phillies are simply better off keeping him and extending the qualifying offer after the season. There truly isn’t a downside to extending Victorino the qualifying offer, as the worst case scenario would still prove better than selling him at the nadir of his value for a reliever the team doesn’t truly need.
The qualifying offer is a one-year deal in the amount of the average of the top 125 salaries from the prior season. Currently, that calculates out to approximately $12.5 million. If a team extends the qualifying offer to one of its impending free agents and the player accepts, it is considered the same as if the player signed a one-year deal. The entire contract value — just the one season — is factored into the luxury tax calculation and the player stays put. If the player rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, his previous employer receives draft pick compensation.
However, the draft pick compensation now consists of one pick, coming in between the first and second rounds. Previously, the team that offered arbitration and lost a top player in free agency could potentially receive two draft picks, depending on the Elias Type A/B rankings. The team that lost a player would receive a compensation pick from his new employer. Now, the team that signs a player loses their pick, but it doesn’t go to that player’s former team. It simply disappears and the round is condensed. But it’s important to remember that draft pick compensation now consists of just one selection.
With that in mind, there are three outcomes on the table:
1) Trade Victorino for a middle reliever or raw and risky prospect
2) Extend him the qualifying offer, pay him $12.5 mil in 2013 if he accepts
3) Extend him the qualifying offer, net a sandwich round draft pick if he rejects
The most common comparison made among the outcomes above is between #1 and #3, where the general consensus seems to be that the draft pick could benefit the Phillies far more than a middle reliever. I tend to agree with that sentiment. The Phillies bullpen has been shaky this season, but the team has numerous relief prospects that deserve a shot next year.
Justin De Fratus has missed most of the season with an injury. The same is true of Michael Stutes. Philippe Aumont has 47 strikeouts in 33.2 innings with the Ironpigs. David Purcey and Raul Valdes each has experience. Given the rather fickle nature of relievers, if the Phillies can’t find a lightning-in-a-bottle Fernando Rodney type on the cheap, it makes far more sense to mix and match these relief prospects than to settle in a trade of Victorino.
Late Monday night, the Blue Jays dealt outfield prospect Travis Snider to the Pirates for reliever Brad Lincoln, who was on the Phillies wish-list. That is more like the type of player you trade for a middle reliever if you’re a contending team. Maybe not Snider himself, as this was a somewhat strange deal, but that type of player. Snider hasn’t progressed as planned for the Jays, as he has pop but no patience, but is just 24 years old with potential. However, right now, he is still considered a work-in-progress. Victorino is a finished product, an all-star, and former MVP candidate.
He is worth more than a middle reliever under normal circumstances, but the rules of the new CBA go against the grain, obfuscating the situation. Retaining him and potentially netting a compensation pick — that can be used to help fill a true area of need for the team — looks like a far better option.
However, Victorino could always accept the qualifying offer. If he does, some may consider this the worst case scenario, but it’s a pretty damn good outcome for something termed the ‘worst’ anything. Even in a ‘down’ year, Victorino is an average-hitting centerfielder, a solid fielder, and a top-notch baserunner. He’s on pace for 3.5 WAR this season because value surfaces in different forms. Assuming he tallies 3.5 WAR by season’s end, he will have averaged 4.3 WAR/year over the last five seasons.
Getting that type of player on a one-year deal for $12.5 million would be fantastic, especially if salary is freed up now or in the offseason by trading Hunter Pence. The whole notion that Victorino wasn’t returning was based on his pursuit of a multi-year deal. If he had come out and said he would sign a one-year deal, the Phillies would have absolutely tried to work out a one-year extension on his current contract, or they would have feverishly attempted to sign him this offseason. By extending him the qualifying offer, the Phillies assure themselves of getting a sandwich draft pick, or getting an all-star centerfielder at a price his production will exceed barring an unlikely severe down season.
Either of those two potential outcomes helps the Phillies more than acquiring a middle reliever, who might perform well this season and falter next year. Victorino has long been expected to get traded this season, especially as the Phillies fell further out of the playoff picture. But given the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement and how they have manifested themselves in trade returns, the Phillies are likely better off keeping Victorino through the season, extending him the qualifying offer, and going from there. Whether he accepts or rejects, the Phils will make out better than if they trade him now, if all they can get is a middle reliever or a very raw and risky low-level farmhand.