The Phillies have had recent trade talks with the Tigers, and general manager Matt Klentak will be travel to Detroit to get an in-person look at the Tigers’ trade candidates, reports Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Of particular interest to the Phils are lefty Matthew Boyd and closer Shane Greene, although Salisbury suggests that the two teams have at least discussed outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and left-handed starter Daniel Norris.
Both the pitching staff and the bullpen are logical areas of focus for the Phillies, who recently demoted Nick Pivetta to the bullpen in favor of a dice roll on Drew Smyly (whose first start as a Phillie was excellent). Aaron Nola scuffled through a sluggish stretch earlier in the season, while Jake Arrieta is pitching through a bone spur that’ll eventually require elbow surgery. Righty Zach Eflin has been a solid mid-rotation piece, but Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and rookie Cole Irvin have all struggled in their starts.
The bullpen has been an entirely different brand of problematic. David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano have all missed significant time due to injury in 2019, which has frequently left the Phillies to rely on questionable arms. Of late, closer Hector Neris has become extraordinarily homer prone after what had been a strong two-month run that saw him yield one homer in 22 1/3 innings.
The Phillies are only a half-game back of the Nationals for the second NL Wild Card spot and, at 7.5 games behind the Braves, are technically still within plausible reach of a push for the division — although unseating Atlanta for the division crown is admittedly a long shot. Because of those long odds, though, it’s perhaps more natural to see the Phils paying particular interest to players who can be controlled beyond 2019. Dealing significant prospects for a rental when the most likely playoff scenario involves a one-game playoff is a tough sell for any front office.
Philadelphia has about $110MM committed to next season’s payroll — about $51MM less than the team is currently carrying. They’ve also seen their opening day payroll climb as high as $177MM back in 2014. With that level of financial breathing room — Nehsek, Hunter and Juan Nicasio will all be free agents; Maikel Franco could be non-tendered — the Phillies will be able to be aggressive in reloading for another run in 2020 regardless of this season’s outcome. Adding some salary right now in proactive moves to bolster this year’s Wild Card push and next year’s division chase is only logical.
Whether that proves to be some combination of Detroit’s controllable arms, at this point, is an unknown even to the Tigers and Phillies themselves. Team president Andy MacPhail recently expressed reluctance to deal from the very top tier of the farm (e.g. Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard), and the asking price on Boyd alone is known to be enormous. Reports have ranged from seeking a young, established “star”-caliber player to a Jose Quintana-esque haul. (The Cubs sent the White Sox a four-player package headlined by Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease.) Salisbury suggests something similar to the latter in referencing a four-player package with two potential stars — and that’s just for Boyd.
If the Phils are to look elsewhere, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale again connects the team to Arizona ace Zack Greinke as well as D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray (Twitter link). It’s not at all clear whether the Diamondbacks will move either player, but the Phils have previously been linked to Greinke, in particular. The aforementioned payroll capacity would surely come into play in any talks involving the righty. Greinke is still owed $75MM+ in base salaries between now and 2021, plus a yearly $3MM payout on his annualized signing bonus. Beyond that, a substantial portion of his yearly salary is deferred. He’ll be paid $12.5MM annually from 2022-26.
The Phillies could certainly help alleviate some of that fiscal burden for the Diamondbacks, but Greinke is also enjoying a strong season and wouldn’t be traded away for pure salary relief. The two sides would, in all likelihood, need to agree on some combination of financial aid and still-appealing prospects. That’s a tall order under any circumstances but is especially cumbersome with a nine-day clock on negotiations at a time when the D-backs, with a 50-50 record, aren’t even decided deadline sellers. As if all of that isn’t a sizable enough roadblock, the Phillies are also on Greinke’s limited no-trade list.