In most cases, mid-April is too soon to be thinking trade.
Yeah … it’s not too early in this case.
It took all of two weeks for the Phillies to bottom out in center field. It’s mid-April and Roman Quinn is 1 for 20 with 10 strikeouts, Adam Haseley is away from the team indefinitely for personal reasons, Odubel Herrera is still at the alternate site and Mickey Moniak is up for his largest big-league opportunity yet.
The Phillies are sure hoping that Moniak, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, can settle in both offensively and defensively and provide a bit of a spark.
They can’t count on that, though. Realistically, none of these guys could be the answer, even short-term. Moniak’s best offensive season was 2019 at Double A Reading, when he hit .252/.303/.439 in a hitter-friendly ballpark. It would be a great development for the Phillies if things click for Moniak in his second taste of the bigs but the Phillies surely have their eyes on centerfielders around the league, even this early, given their expectations and weakness in that spot.
Center field is a pretty deep position around MLB. It’s not as if the Phillies’ need is at a scarce spot like catcher, where 20 teams could use an upgrade. Dave Dombrowski should be able to add a centerfielder better than what the Phillies have. The next internal options would be Herrera or veteran Travis Jankowski.
Let’s take a look at some potential candidates:
Mitch Haniger, Mariners
The Mariners are going nowhere fast, and at 30 years old, Haniger does not align with their next window to contend.
Haniger missed most of 2019 and all of 2020 after suffering one of the worst baseball injuries imaginable, a ruptured testicle from fouling a pitch off his groin in June 2019. He underwent multiple surgeries and is finally back this season, at the top of Seattle’s order.
Haniger is 14 for 45 (.311) in the early going with four doubles and two homers. He’s a solid offensive player who hit .285/.366/.493 with 26 homers and 93 RBI in an All-Star 2018 season.
Haniger, owed just over $3 million this season, is the Mariners’ fifth-highest paid player in 2021. Next season is his final year of arbitration eligibility and then he’s a free agent after 2022.
He’s the exact sort of trade candidate the Phillies should be eying because of his inexpensive salary and his team’s situation. He’s not a star but he’d likely be a meaningful offensive upgrade in center.
Randal Grichuk, Blue Jays
Grichuk could become something of a luxury for the Blue Jays whenever George Springer debuts. Springer has missed the first two weeks with oblique and quad issues and is not expected to return until at least late April.
The Blue Jays are also without starting outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who tested positive for COVID-19 but is on the brink of returning.
Right now, Toronto needs Grichuk and won’t be moving him. But come mid-May or June? The idea could make more sense if all of Springer, Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are on the field every day and producing.
Grichuk wouldn’t be free. The Blue Jays have designs of contending in 2021 and would want a helpful piece if they move a productive bat. Grichuk has slugged .477 since 2018 and averaged 33 homers with 36 doubles per 162 games.
Contractually, Grichuk is owed $9.333 million in 2021, 2022 and 2023. The Phillies are already over $200 million in payroll and Grichuk probably isn’t the caliber of player for which you exceed the luxury tax for the first time.
There were rumblings over the winter that Toronto was interested in Jean Segura. Grichuk could have made sense in that sort of deal given the teams’ needs and finances. Segura is not really a fit there anymore, but Vince Velasquez would make sense to send out in any trade, given his $4 million salary and the ever-present idea in other organizations that “we can sort this guy out.”
The thing with Velasquez, though, is that he’s a rental at this point. It’s not two or three years ago when he was inexpensive and cost-controlled.
Anthony Santander, Orioles
The Orioles aren’t contending any time soon either, and Santander will be closer to his early-30s by the next time they have a semblance of a competitive AL East team.
The switch-hitting Santander does not get on base much but has shown 20-to-25 home run power. He hit 20 in 93 games in 2019. His main position has been right field but he did start 20 games in center two seasons ago.
The Orioles would need a solid return. Santander will be cost-controlled through 2025 and is one of their best players.
Any trade for a centerfielder might have to include Moniak, who should still be attractive to some teams because of his draft status.
Raimel Tapia, Rockies
When I watch Tapia, I think a lot of Herrera at the plate. Left-handed leadoff type who swings at everything but has .290-ish potential.
Over his last 700 plate appearances, Tapia has hit .288/.328/.408 with 31 doubles, seven triples, 11 homers and 18 steals. It is difficult to know exactly how that would translate without the Coors Field factor. He’s a career .329 hitter at home with an .846 OPS compared to .244 and .625 on the road.
Tapia, 27, is due $1.95 million this season and is under team control for 2022 and 2023 so he makes financial sense. The Rockies stink so they’re a fit.
Expensive but available
Guys like A.J. Pollock and Jason Heyward could probably be had pretty easily but don’t make financial sense for the Phillies unless the Dodgers or Cubs eat a lot of money.
Pollock is due $15 million this season, $10 million next season and has a $10 million player option in 2023 that can be bought out for $5 million. It was a quickly regrettable contract for the Dodgers, who probably don’t care too much with how well things have gone for them lately.
Heyward is still owed $65 million between now and the end of the 2023 season. What a ridiculously bad deal that was.