When it comes to having assets that are able to be traded this early in the season a few things need to happen.
First off, you have to really be playing poorly. The Philadelphia Phillies fit the bill. At 14-23 midway through May, they’re no closer to even being a .500 ball club than they were 1 game into the season. It’s early and literally anything could certainly happen, but when you are one of the 5 worst teams in baseball, you’re better off playing for the future rather than scrapping together a few more wins just to finish in the middle of the pack. See: Philadelphia 76ers and Tanking
Second, you need to have players that are playing well enough that other teams would view as valuable assets, while not having a huge long-term contract dumped in their laps. This is especially the case if other teams lose their own players to injury.
While some American League teams may believe Ryan Howard is valuable enough to play DH, his contract, as has been discussed many times before, makes him virtually unmovable. Even with 7 home runs on the season, Howard would literally need bring his average up to around .280 to spark any interest on the open market
Jonathan Papelbon is a closer that could make any team better given his talent and sub-2.00 ERA on the season, but his issue is partially contract and mostly personality. Any team taking him on certainly runs the risk of damaging clubhouse chemistry.
Cole Hamels, another option that has been talked about at length in many circles, is pitching well enough this year and certainly has the track record of not only being an asset this year, but for multiple seasons. But it’s always been a money and value issue with him. He’s owed $94 million through 2018. Any team trading for Hamels would certainly want the Phillies to cover part of that cost, but how much is too much? And if the Phillies are eating salary, the return should ideally be better, at least in their eyes. Either more in terms of the amount of prospects coming back or better in terms of the caliber of the potential the returnees have. While I think Hamels will eventually get dealt, all of these moving parts make dealing Hamels extremely difficult, which means a trade may not come until closer to the July deadline if not the off-season.
Lastly, those players on your can’t be part of your long-term plans. This certainly eliminates relievers like Ken Giles and Justin De Fratus, who while having great statistical seasons also have the potential to be the future closer/set-up combination for the Phillies. Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera are also out as well as both have the potential to make a difference on future Phillies teams. While neither will likely ever make an all-star team, they are role players that could be a fit at multiple positions around the diamond.
This leads us to Aaron Harang, the most valuable trade asset the Phillies have. Forget the record, even though 4-3 is pretty remarkable given the team around him. Through 8 starts, Harang has a 2.03 ERA. That’s good for top 10 in all of baseball right now. Opponents are batting just .216 against him and his 53 1/3 innings pitched are the third most in all of baseball behind Sonny Gray of the Athletics and Johnny Cueto of the Reds. That’s pretty good company.
While the A’s are almost equally as bad as the Phillies at 13-23, trading Gray isn’t an option given his long-term value to their organization.
Harang on the other hand, has no long-term value to the Phillies. He was signed this year as filler. For $5 million, which seems like a lot of money to the common man, but in baseball is mere pennies on the dollar, the Phillies added what could turn into at least one or two good prospects that do help the team years from now.
There is no time like the present. Aaron Harang may not always be pitching this well this season. Given the amount of injuries we’ve already seen from contenders such as the Dodgers and Cardinals, now is the time to create the market for Harang and make a move rather than risk a lesser return down the road.