As the owners of the worst record in the majors, it came as no surprise to anyone when the Phillies made a series of trades involving an All-Star relief pitcher in Pat Neshek, a serviceable back-of-the-rotation arm/innings eater in Jeremy Hellickson, and a solid utility man in Howie Kendrick. Each of the aforementioned three players was acquired as a potential trade chip, and while all of the returns might not be considered spectacular, the Phillies were able to obtain some intriguing young talent as well as additional international bonus pool money.
The Phillies might not be done wheeling and dealing yet since it’s no secret that almost everyone on their active roster is available. The emergence of Rhys Hoskins has led to trade rumors swirling around Tommy Jospeh, and players such as Daniel Nava and Joaquin Benoit could very well find new homes after the non-waiver trade deadline passes on Monday. In any case, it’s time to play the role of armchair GM and analyze Matt Klentak’s recent moves.
Instant Analysis: Neshek became a fan favorite in Philadelphia due to his unique submarine-to-sidearm throwing motion, his 75-grade beard, and his performance on the mound. In 40.1 innings for the Phillies, Neshek pitched to a 1.12 ERA (1.94 FIP), striking out 30.4 percent of the batters he faced while walking just 3.4 percent. Pat held opponents to a .196 average and had one of the highest LOB percentages of his career: 92.7 percent of all base-runners were stranded. Perhaps most impressive was his 26 ERA-, which was the second lowest in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. It was sometimes easy to forget that the guy will turn 37 in September.
Gomez was the biggest name in this return; in a pretty deep Colorado farm system, the infielder could typically be found somewhere in the organization’s top 20. The 20-year-old is projected to be a bat-first utility player due in part to his lack of power and questionable defensive ability, but Gomez has an intriguing skill set that could make him a bit of a sleeper prospect. Jose led the Pioneer League in hits and contact rate (92 percent) last season, slashing .367/.426/.468 over 66 games. He struck out in 7.9 percent of his plate appearances, and drew a walk in 7.6 percent.
Gomez has proven that his U.S. Debut wasn’t a fluke. In 81 games with the Asheville Tourists (A), the Venezuelan has slashed .324/.374/.437 with a wRC+ of 136. His K% and BB% rose and fell, respectively, but Gomez is still impressing scouts regardless. The infielder can hit the ball to all parts of the park and benefits from a “very disciplined approach at the plate.” He’s obviously not J.P. Crawford level, but it’ll be fun to monitor his progress over the next few seasons.
GOMEZ GRADES (per Eric Longenhagen, FanGraphs): Hit 30/60, Raw Power 40/45, Game Power 20/40, Speed 50/50, Defense 40/50, Throw 50/50
A 24th round pick in last year’s Amateur Draft, Hammer has two things going for him: the relief pitcher has an 80-grade name, and the glasses make him look like Charlie Sheen in Major League. As for why he wears the glasses:
“I didn’t have glasses last year (2016). I really couldn’t see, so it was kind of like the movie. Came in, couldn’t really see. Went to an eye doctor, [they] said I needed glasses or contacts. I decided I might as well go big with it so I went with the Charlie Sheen-looking glasses.”
He struggled a bit with the Lancaster JetHawks (A+) after getting promoted, but he excelled with the Tourists. The righty struck out 41.6 percent of the batters he faced while walking 4.4 percent with Asheville, earning a SAL All-Star bid. Across both levels of class-A ball, J.D. has pitched to a 2.36 ERA to go along with a 65:14 K/BB ratio. Hammer projects to be a middle relief arm, but he could become something more if he can improve his command (which had regressed a bit with Lancaster) and his secondary offerings (the fastball is currently considered to be a plus, but his curveball and slider are both considered works-in-progress).
The final piece in the Neshek trade, Requena has had a solid year with the Tourists. In 19 starts, the 20-year-old Venezuelan has compiled a 2.85 ERA (3.83 FIP), with K% and BB% marks of 20.8 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively. He’s a three-pitch pitcher, possessing a fastball that sits at 89-93 MPH as well as two solid secondary offerings in a curveball and a change-up. Requena currently projects as a depth starter who could become a back-of-the-rotation arm if everything goes right.
FINAL IMPRESSION: This is about as good of a return as you could reasonably expect for a relief pitcher who despite having the best season of his career is on the wrong side of 30.
Instant Analysis: Another offseason acquisition, Kendrick was impressive when he was on the field. That was the issue: he wasn’t able to stay on the field. Appearing in just 39 games, Kendrick OPS’d at an .851 clip, slashing .340/.397/.454 with a 126 wRC+. His strikeout and walk rates were both a bit higher than his career averages, but they weren’t out of the ordinary. Kendrick hit the disabled list twice this season–once from April 18th to May 29th, and again from June 30th to July 21st. He was just pulled from a game several days ago due to a pitch hitting him in the hand. That the Phillies were even able to trade him before August is pretty impressive.
Mills is a 21-year-old southpaw who made 18 starts with mid-A Hagerstown this season. Over 104.2 innings, Mills was striking out 10.15 batters per nine innings and walking just under two. The 2014 18th round pick struggled early in his career due to control issues, as evidenced by the following walk percentages:
2014 (R): 15.4%
2015 (R): 17.1%
2015 (A-): 15.3%
2016 (A-): 12.2%
2017 (A): 5.3%
With a below-average slider that doesn’t project to get much better, Mills is essentially a three-pitch pitcher. He utilizes a fastball that is described as lively, a curveball that is considered above-average, and a change-up that, while currently average, could become even better over time. At this point in time, Mills currently projects as a back-of-the-rotation arm, although that could change if he continues to improve as rapidly as he has this season.
MILLS GRADES (per MLB Pipeline): Fastball 55, Curveball 55, Change-up 50, Control 45, Overall 45
FINAL IMPRESSION: As I mentioned earlier, it’s surprising that the Phillies were able to trade Kendrick before the deadline due to his injury issues this season. That they were able to get a prospect like Mills (who becomes a top 25 prospect in this system) for a player that wasn’t going to be here in 2018 makes this a good trade in my eyes. Even if Mills ends up flaming out, acquiring additional international bonus pool money is huge.
Instant Analysis: It’s fun to wonder what the Phillies could have gotten for Hellickson if the righty didn’t completely fall off a cliff after a strong April, but it is what it is. For now, the Phillies get a short-term bench bat, an intriguing southpaw, and more international bonus pool money in exchange for yet another player that wasn’t going to be here next year.
Klentak had the following to say regarding Cleavinger, a former third-round pick out of the University of Oregon and one of the Orioles better prospects at one point (albeit in a weak system):
“Cleavinger has an interesting arm. Our scouts believe in his arm, a power arm. He’s a project, but he’s a pretty interesting project to turn over to our player development group. Two years ago he was a third-round pick. He didn’t come out of nowhere.”
After three solid seasons in the lower levels of the minors, Cleavinger has had a rough go of it at AA in 2017. His strikeout rate is way down and he’s not stranding as many baserunners as he used too which would probably help explain the ugly 6.28 ERA. The 4.51 FIP and 4.34 xFIP would indicate he’s been a bit unlucky, but when you’re walking 12.4 percent of the batters you face (which equates to a 5.35 BB/9 mark), you have to put at least some of the blame on yourself.
There is room for optimism for Garrett. He has two plus pitches in his fastball (that sits between 90-94 with the potential to reach 96) and his curveball, and his deceptive delivery means that his ceiling doesn’t have to be just that of a LOOGY. Cleavinger will always be a reliever due to his two-pitch profile, but if he can improve his control there’s reason to believe he could become more than just another middle relief arm/left-handed specialist. At only 23, he has time to turn things around.
CLEAVINGER GRADES (per Longenhagen): Fastball 55/55, Curveball 60/60, Command 40/45
Kim will essentially replace Kendrick on the bench, and I’d be surprised if he’s still receiving significant playing time come September. He had a nice rookie season after spending the first several years of his career in Korea, slashing .302/.382/.420 with a 119 wRC+. The underlying issue? Kim wasn’t able to hit lefties. The Korean outfielder received 346 plate appearances last season, and only 23 of them were against southpaws. In those 23 PA’s, Kim went hitless, striking out four times and drawing four walks. It became clear that Kim’s ceiling was that of a platoon player, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Well, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Kim didn’t completely forget how to hit against righties this season. His sophomore season has been disappointing, as he slashed .232/.305/.288 in just 142 PA’s. His struggles at the dish coupled with his sub-par defense meant that the O’s had no reason to try and find consistent playing time for him. As previously mentioned, I’d be surprised if he finds even semi-consistent playing time here in Philadelphia. He’s already the fifth outfielder on the depth chart (behind Herrera, Altherr, Williams, and Perkins), and when rosters expand to 40 players on September 1st, he probably won’t even be one of the first pinch-hitters off the bench. If the Phillies choose to keep him after this season, he’ll most likely end up as a depth player.
FINAL IMPRESSION: Cleavinger is the perfect definition of a lottery-ticket prospect. I said it with Mills and I’ll say it again here: if he doesn’t turn into anything more than organizational depth, the additional $1MM in international bonus pool money will be extremely helpful.
To conclude, you’ve seen me talk about the additional international bonus pool money that Klentak and the Phillies acquired in two of these three trades. So, why am I really enthralled with it? Corey Seidman (Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia) explains why in this piece. To quote the relevant section:
“Over are the days when teams could spend a ton on the international market. Under the new CBA, most teams begin each season with $4.75 million to spend during the international signing period. But teams classified as small market or small revenue get either $5.25 million or $5.75 million. The Phillies fit into neither category, so they start with the lower $4.75 million figure.
But by adding international bonus pool money in both trades, the Phillies are now closer to the highest end of the international spending space.”