Here’s an idea that may look asinine in a few years. Or a few months. Heck, it may even be crazy right now. But given how aggressive and financially flexible the Philadelphia Phillies appear to be, it’s a discussion worth having.
This past weekend, MLB.com‘s Jon Paul Morosi reported that the Phillies have shown interest in Seattle Mariners star closer Edwin Diaz. It shouldn’t be that surprising – Diaz recorded 57 saves in 2018 and the Phillies appear to be in the market for a ninth inning reliever. While the Phillies have an extremely talented young reliever in Seranthony Dominguez, they appear to prefer to use him in an Andrew Miller-type role where he pitches in whatever the highest-leverage situation is between the starting pitcher leaving the game and the closer trotting out of the bullpen. While the Mariners are likely to have a high asking-price on Diaz – who is just 24 and can’t be a free-agent until after the 2022 season – they do appear to be rebuilding. Diaz is more talented than Ken Giles, but it’s not that different of a situation as the Phillies were in during the 2015 offseason, when they ultimately traded a 25-year-old Giles to the Houston Astros as they continued to rebuild their team.
Here’s where things get interesting. Joel Sherman of The New York Post says that the Phillies, along with the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been the most motivated pursuers of Diaz thus far. He also says that the Mariners have an outside-the-box offer that could lower the total asking price for Diaz:
The Mariners are “very motivated” to find a way to rid themselves of Robinson Cano and as much of the five years at $120 million left on his contract, according to an executive involved in trade talks with Seattle. So much so that the Mariners are — at minimum — exploring attaching star closer Edwin Diaz to a deal to further stimulate interest.
The Mets, Yankees, Braves, Phillies and Red Sox were expressing the strongest interest in Diaz — though not all of them were willing to take on Cano to acquire the reliever.
“What are those teams willing to part with in dollars to players” to get Diaz, an official involved in the discussions said.
The biggest reason that the Mariners are “very motivated” to move Cano is that he still is owed $120 million through his age-40 season in 2023. In terms of production, FanGraphs says that Cano has been worth over $120 million in production in his first five seasons in Seattle. After a disappointing first season in Seattle in 2015, Cano hit 62 home runs, drove in 200 runs and was worth a combined 9.4 fWAR between 2016 and 2017. In the 80 games Cano played in 2018, he was very productive, slashing .303/.374/.471 with 10 home runs, 50 RBIs and a 2.9 fWAR. It’s fair to point out that most players don’t perform at a $24 million level (his average annual salary) from age 36 to 40, but any notion that he’s still not a very productive player simply isn’t true.
Of course, Cano wasn’t limited to 80 games because of injuries (although he did break his hand in May). He was limited to 80 games after testing positive for failing a test for Lasix, “which is often used to help mask banned substances in urine tests.” It’s a difficult enough sell for the Phillies to take on the contract of a still very productive former superstar in their mid-30s that’s also owed a hefty sum of money – see: Greinke, Zack. Adding a recent PED suspension in doesn’t help the leverage of the team looking to move said player.
A year ago, Cano was viewed as a lock to eventually be a Hall of Famer. Now, his entire career, even dating back to his first nine seasons in New York, is under suspicion. It doesn’t help that Cano’s former teammate Mark Teixeira – who he threw the final out of the 2009 World Series to – said he “wasn’t surprised” after Cano was suspended.
Cano also plays a position – second base – that the Phillies are deep at. Cesar Hernandez, who remains under team control through 2020, has been the ninth most productive offensive second baseman in baseball since the start of the 2016 season. Cano has been the second most, so this isn’t a debate about whether he would be an upgrade over Hernandez. Even at age-36, Cano still projects as one of the best offensive performers at the position for the next couple of seasons. But the Phillies have a much cheaper, still productive option in Hernandez. And even Hernandez may be traded to pave the way at second base for Scott Kingery. First base wouldn’t be an option for Cano with Carlos Santana under contract through 2020 and the Phillies seemingly motivated to move Santana to allow Rhys Hoskins to return to his natural position of first base. And at least at this juncture, DH isn’t a regular option in the National League.
So it stands to reason that the Phillies may be part of the category of teams “not willing to take on Cano to acquire the reliever.” Cano also possesses a full no-trade clause, further complicating things. However, don’t write off the Phillies willingness to consider the idea so quickly.
Even after elbow inflammation limited No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez to less than 50 total innings in 2018, the Phillies probably would prefer to hold onto a prospect who was compared to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez by a scout that worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers system when Martinez was a prospect. The Phillies are also very high on Nick Pivetta. No. 2 pitching prospect Adonis Medina, 2018 first-round pick Alec Bohm (currently a third baseman) and 24-year-old righty Zach Eflin could all be of interest in a trade. So too could Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, in theory. But with a slew of interested teams and the Mariners not in a position where they need to trade Diaz, the Phillies would have to get creative for their trade offer to stand out.
The Yankees, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, asked the Mariners to take on Jacoby Ellsbury – who will make just shy of $50 million between 2019 and 2020 – and include “significant cash” on top of that to facilitate a deal. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, understandably, wasn’t eager to do that. But would he reduce the asking-price for Diaz if Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who worked under Dipoto with the Los Angeles Angels, said the Phillies were willing to take on $75 of the $120 million that Cano is still owed? Cano would then make $15 million per season with the Phillies, and while his position would become an increasing obstacle as he approaches his 40th birthday, the Phillies probably would get $15 million a year of production annually from Cano in the short-term. Most importantly, it would allow them to acquire Diaz, immediately giving them one of the sport’s best bullpens. $75 million over five years -which is just an estimate that I’m making – isn’t a small sum of money to take on. But it also wouldn’t prevent the Phillies from signing Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado this offseason. It also wouldn’t keep them from taking care of Diaz, Dominguez, Hoskins or Aaron Nola as they become more expensive.
Perhaps this is a bit too fantasy sports of an idea. But in an offseason where credible insiders regularly talk about the idea of the Phillies signing Harper and Machado, or leaving the door open for a future outfield that includes Harper and Mike Trout, nothing appears to be too far-fetched to at least consider.
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