Pat Gillick has said publicly that his eyes are squarely fixed on pitching as he heads to Dallas to find ways to get those "five extra wins" that he talked about the Phillies needing to put them over the top in the NL East. With a pretty thin free agent market that has already left the Phillies priced out of re-signing Billy Wagner, it's likely that Gillick will look to adjust the pitching staff through a trade (or trades).
With the signing of Esteban Loaiza this past week and the emergence of two top pitchers from their minor league pipeline, the Oakland A's find themselves neck deep in starting pitching. When that happened in the past, they shipped out some of their more established pitchers to make room for younger guys. Oakland GM Billy Beane has already jettisoned Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson in the past and Barry Zito could be next.
So, how would Zito fit into the Phillies rotation? Perfect. With left-hander Randy Wolf out until August and a question mark after that because of Tommy John surgery, Zito could fill the gaping hole just waiting to be filled by a quality, veteran left-hander. The 27 year old lefty has averaged just over 223 innings per season for the past five seasons. That's phenomenal and would give the Phillies a stud to plug into the top portion of their rotation. Zito is also relatively cheap - $8.5 million for 2006 - and is eligible for free agency after next season. The upside is that while Zito could potentially leave after one season, he doesn't have an anchor for a contract and the Phillies would have 11 months of exclusive negotiating with him to get a long-term deal done. Even if Zito did leave after one season, hopefully the Phillies would have young Cole Hamels to plug into the rotation - another lefty - and could offer Zito arbitration and reap the benefits of some pretty nice draft picks if he were to leave.
What would Oakland want for Zito?
For starters, the Texas Rangers, who are hot on the trail of Zito, have opened their bidding with young Kevin Mench. If you could design a player that Billy "Moneyball" Beane would be interested in, Mench is the poster child. He has a strong sense of plate discipline and is a young, up and coming talent. Plus, the Rangers have mentioned that Mench could potentially be the start of their offer. The A's are generally one of the more fiscally responsible organizations in baseball - the Loaiza signing notwithstanding - and they'll look for cheaper players like Mench to add to their club. Remember, Beane focuses on balls and strikes. He wants hitters who lay off the balls and hit the strikes and pitchers who throw the strikes and use the balls only when they know other teams bad hitters will chase them.
The Phillies answer to Kevin Mench wouldn't be Pat Burrell. Burrell is more expensive and strikes out too much. It also wouldn't be Bobby Abreu, since Oakland would prefer to add a right-handed bat to their lineup. The best response that the Phillies would be able to muster would actually be Jason Michaels. The problem is that Michaels doesn't measure up to Mench very well. Michaels is almost two years older and in parts of five major league seasons, has accumulated just over 800 at bats. Mench has played parts of four seasons and already has almost 1500 at bats. In other words, the Phillies have an uphill battle in their pursuit of Zito.
Who else could the Phillies include to make the package work?
Cory Lidle is a name that comes to mind. He's the kind of pitcher that Beane may be interested in, but giving up Lidle would defeat at least some of the purpose for bringing in Zito. It wouldn't make the rotation as deep as it would be if the Phillies could hang onto the pitchers in their starting rotation and add Zito to them. The only potential starter that the Phillies should consider adding to the package would be Vicente Padilla. After all, Padilla seems to have grown tired of pitching in Philadelphia and a change of scenery would be a good thing for him. Since he's eligible for arbitration, Padilla would help to even out the financial part of the package, but wouldn't be priced so high that he would hurt Oakland's finances too much.
Beane is all about young players. The Phillies would need to include a prospect or two in the package. Remember, Beane would be looking for guys who are close to being ready to help in the big leagues and are high on-base percentage types. Unfortunately, the Phillies don't have a lot of those type of players. While Chris Roberson, Michael Bourn and Greg Golson are all great prospects and might interest a lot of clubs, one negative to all of them is that they do tend to strike out a lot. One potential player that could be put out there is Jake Blalock. The outfielder, who started his pro career as a third baseman, struck out 100 times last season, but posts decent on-base percentages - .359 in 2005 - and has a lot of potential. Michaels, Padilla and Blalock may get the deal done.
If you're willing to give up young pitching - and it's not likely that Gillick would be eager to go that route - either of the young prospects that were acquired from the White Sox in the Jim Thome trade could fit. Of course, the usual names like Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels would also come up. In a package like that, the Phillies may try to get Oakland to agree to something like Michaels and Giovany Gonzalez, plus a throw-in player for Zito. Again, it may get the deal done.
Even though he's a left-handed hitter, don't rule out the thought that the A's will bring up the name of Bobby Abreu. He's the kind of player that Oakland may like and they could bite the bullet on him. Zito for Abreu even up? It would be an interesting consideration for both sides to ponder.
The truth is that the A's and Phillies don't really measure up too well in the trade market. The Phillies simply don't have the type of players that Oakland covets and other teams that are pursuing Zito have much more depth in their system that they can pull from, especially when it comes to players that the A's like. In all honesty, if I'm Billy Beane, Kevin Mench would interest me a lot. A discussion with Texas would top my agenda if I were truly looking to move Barry Zito out of the Oakland starting rotation. Having said that though, Jason Michaels is no slouch and if you can get past the slight age difference and the fact that he hasn't had the opportunity to play like Mench has, he could be of interest.
Comparison of Jason Michaels and Kevin Mench