If Phillies make major trade, perhaps it shouldn’t be for an outfielder

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By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor  

With a strong young core starting to develop at the major league level, a stocked farm system and a ton of financial flexibility, there seems to be a growing sentiment around the sport that the Philadelphia Phillies are likely within the next 15 or so months to make a major acquisition. If that acquisition comes via a trade, it doesn't seem to make sense for it to be for an outfielder. 

For much of this summer, the Phillies were connected – both through speculation and credible reports – to Miami Marlins outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. With the Marlins ownership change likely to be concluded in the near future, the team will put in place their new front-office and presumably be willing to listen to trade offers on Stanton, Yelich and two-time All-Star Marcell Ozuna. 

No one's debating the impact that any of those three would have on the Phillies or any team. Trading for an outfielder may simply not make the most sense for the Phillies. 

Let's start with the fact that the Phillies seem fairly set in the outfield. They may not have a superstar in their outfield, but they appear to have a pretty formidable starting three heading into 2018. Nick Williams, acquired in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade, is slashing .288/.337/.479 with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs in 288 at-bats in 2017. Aaron Altherr has had issues staying healthy, but has been quite effective at the plate when healthy, as he has 19 home runs and 61 RBIs in 344 at-bats in 2017. And Odubel Herrera, save for a horrendous month of May, has hit extremely well in 2017. FanGraphs also says that despite occasional blunders in center field, he's been one of the five best fielders at his position since 2015, the first three years he's played center field. 

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On top of the outfield depth that the Phillies have at the major league level, they aren't thin on outfielding talent in the minor leagues. They've spent three consecutive first-round picks on outfielders – Cornerlius Randolph in 2015, Mickey Moniak in 2016 and Adam Haseley in 2017. Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs outfielders Roman Quinn, Dylan Cozens, Carlos Tocci and Andrew Pullin all have a chance to appear at the major league level in 2018 as well. 

The feeling that you are left with is that outfield really isn't a position of need for the Phillies organizationally. They could probably transition into a contender with the outfielders currently in their organization. That's not to say that an upgrade couldn't be made – of course it would be nice to have Giancarlo Stanton launching home runs at Citizens Bank Park. But trading for Stanton wouldn't be free, not to mention you would be assuming most or all of the $295 million owed to him after this season. Yelich is signed through 2022 on a team-friendly deal, but that means that the Marlins are less motivated to trade him and it would probably take a bounty to acquire him in a trade. 

If the Phillies want to make a major transaction involving an outfielder, Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper can become a free-agent after 2018. Harper will have plenty of suitors – which means he'll likely get a record contract – but acquiring him wouldn't entail trading a bulk of the best players in your farm system. General manager Matt Klentak, should he choose, can make a play for Harper next offseason. If the team signs him, great, they have a superstar player and then can use some of their outfielding talent to trade for pitching. If not, they have enough outfielding talent as it is to win. 

Speaking of pitching, while the Phillies are deep in outfielding talent at the upper levels of their organization, they aren't in pitching. While their bullpen has improved in the second half of the season, Aaron Nola appears to be their only sure-thing in the rotation moving forward, perhaps along with Jerad Eickhoff, who had a rough 2017 season.

The good news is that Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez are among the prospects in the organization that give the Phillies hope that they will have a playoff-caliber rotation at the end of this decade. No prospect is 100 percent untouchable, but Sanchez is probably about as close as you can be, as the Phillies envision him at the top of their rotation with Nola in the 2020s. The rest of the prospects listed may join him, or they could be used to acquire another front-of-the-line starting pitcher to join Nola and Sanchez, such as Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays

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Using those pitching prospects to trade for Stanton or Yelich wouldn't seem to set the Phillies up to be a better team. Sure, it would be fun for the team to have a perennial All-Star-caliber outfielder, but the Marlins have three perennial All-Star caliber outfielders right now and it hasn't translated to them being a championship (or really even playoff) caliber team. The reason? Despite what's been an impressive season from RHP Jose Urena, the team simply doesn't have the pitching to compete. So even with Stanton pushing 60 home runs, Ozuna quietly pushing 40 home runs and Yelich having a very productive year, the Marlins are going to finish below .500. That's not a blueprint that the Phillies want to follow. 

Outfielders truly are the most replaceable players on the field. Think of the 2007-2011 Phillies. During a five year stretch, albeit one that was the most successful one in franchise history, the Phillies had Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez, Aaron Rowand, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence all play for their team. As mentioned earlier in this piece, the Phillies have strong organizational outfield depth as it is. Should they need more in the future, there will be productive, yet replaceable pieces like Ibanez and Burrell around. Heck, J.D. Martinez, who has 43 home runs, was available for a pretty affordable price this past trade deadline. 

The points made in this piece won't stop speculative articles and serious reports from connecting the Phillies to Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna or otherwise this offseason. And to be clear, the Phillies should always be checking in on the price for any star players, that's how building a team works. But barring an unforeseen bargain, if the Phillies do make a major trade this offseason or in the near future, it probably shouldn't be for an outfielder. 

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