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July 31, 2017

Transaction Analysis

The Purge: Philadelphia

by Ben Diamond, Lukas Vlahos, Greg Goldstein and Craig Goldstein


American League
National League

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Acquired RHP Jeremy Hellickson from Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for OF-L Hyun-Soo Kim and LHP Garrett Cleavinger. [7/29]

Some players were meant to play on certain teams. Ben Zobrist, jack of all trades, is the quintessential Ray. Electrifying media magnet Yasiel Puig was born to don Dodgers blue. And, of course, Alex Rodriguez was always going to leap into sports' biggest spotlight: New York. I’d like to nominate Hellickson as being another player who came out of the womb wearing a specific team’s colors.

Hellickson was a former top prospect with Tampa Bay, showing boatloads of talent and cruising through the minors en route to a Rookie of the Year performance in 2011. Sure, he struck out fewer than six batters per nine innings that year, but his raw stuff suggested more whiffs were coming. His strikeout rate did, in fact, climb (slightly) over the next couple of years, but so did his ERA, ballooning up to 5.17 in 2013 and 4.52 the following year. Tampa Bay sent Hellickson packing to Arizona, and unsurprisingly the Diamondbacks’ desert bandbox didn’t sooth the righty’s home run problem, so he departed for Philadelphia the following season.

Finally, in 2016, Hellickson put together the best season of his career by WARP, throwing 189 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 3.91 DRA, along with a palatable 20 percent strikeout rate. In summary, Hellickson was an elite pitching prospect and showed immense promise early in his career, but never lived up to the expectations set by his talent, underperforming by vast margins until a change of scenery allowed him to turn in one solid season. If this failed pitching prospect belonged to any team at heart, it has to be the Orioles, proud producers of a bevy of busted arms. Hellickson went full Oriole this season, too, turning in a 4.73 ERA with an abysmal 5.21 K/9 while being paid $17.2 million.

It’s only natural that Hellickson was shipped off to Baltimore. I mean, technically, the fit is terrifically unnatural, as the Orioles are so far back in the AL East and Wild Card races that BP's playoff odds put them at 2.8 percent. The team is supposed to be sellers, and even if they were buying, Hellickson is an ill-advised choice to improve a league-worst pitching staff. I still do insist that Hellickson is a perfect fit in the Orioles’ mess of a rotation. Hell, if his career arc and 2017 performance belongs on any team, it’s Baltimore. Alas, this certainly isn’t the good kind of fit. Yes, Hellickson walks (flies?) like an Oriole, talks like an Oriole, and pitches like an Oriole, but that should be every reason for Baltimore to steer clear, rather than add him and his salary during what should be a deadline of selling. —Ben Diamond

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Acquired OF-L Hyun-Soo Kim, LHP Garrett Cleavinger, and international signing bonus pool money from Baltimore Orioles in exchange for RHP Jeremy Hellickson. [7/29]

Acquired LHP McKenzie Mills and international signing bonus pool money from Washington Nationals in exchange for IF/OF-R Howie Kendrick. [7/29]

Cleavinger has taken a step back this season after a promising 2016 campaign. He owns an ERA over 6.00 after pitching to a solid 3.07 in the lower minors a year ago. A former third-round pick, the left-handed reliever has had a knack for missing bats during his three years as a professional, collecting 176 strikeouts in 140 innings. The main reason for the high strikeout rate is the deception present in his delivery, as he bends and tilts his body before release, which helps his low-to-mid-90s heater play up a bit. The effort and funky mechanics have caused some control issues, however, especially this season as Cleavinger has walked 23 batters in just 39 innings.

Cleavinger also throws a potential average curveball and will sprinkle in a “show me” changeup, but he’s pretty much a two-pitch reliever. The Phillies certainly could have done worse in their return for a rental starter like Hellickson, as Cleavinger has the talent to become a capable piece in a major-league bullpen if he can improve his consistency and correct some of the mechanical issues that have plagued him so far this season. —Greg Goldstein

Mills brings solid velocity from the left side, throwing his fastball 90-92 mph and topping out at 93, with a funky delivery that helps it play up. He can spot the heater where he wants it, and that was enough to generate whiffs in my viewing of him in Low-A. His breaking ball is a rolling looper in the low-to-mid-70s that will need serious refinement if it is going to play in the upper levels, much less the majors. Mills is a talented arm, but the stat line overstates his case, as he'll have trouble missing bats at the same rate as he moves up the chain. Still, given his control, funky delivery, left arm, and fastball, there's a LOOGY future if he can develop that breaking ball a bit more. —Craig Goldstein

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Acquired IF/OF-R Howie Kendrick from Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for LHP McKenzie Mills and international signing bonus pool money. [7/29]

For much of the season, the Nationals’ offense has been a fever dream. Among batters with at least 200 plate appearances, Washington hitters ranks fourth (Bryce Harper), eighth (Anthony Rendon), 20th (Daniel Murphy), and 25th (Ryan Zimmerman) by TAv. That’s a truly stupendous core, and it’s carried the Nationals to the third-highest TAv in baseball despite losing Jayson Werth, Michael Taylor, Adam Eaton, and Trea Turner to injuries. Unsurprisingly, they have a huge lead in the NL East and are a virtual lock for the postseason. However, those injuries leave Wilmer Difo, Stephen Drew (currently out with an abdominal injury), and Adam Lind as the Nationals’ infield depth, while the outfield depth consists of Andrew Stevenson and Brian Goodwin. That’s a pretty bleak list, making an injury to any of the Nationals’ core bats potentially disastrous.

Enter Kendrick. After a down year in 2016 he was traded to the Phillies, where he bounced back to hit .340/.397/.454 for a .304 TAv, though that line is buoyed by a .418 BABIP. He’s missed time with a hamstring injury and is currently nursing a bruised hand, but offers a long track record of slightly-above-average production. Defensive versatility has also become one of Kendrick’s calling cards, as he’s spent time at first base, second base, third base, and left field over the past three seasons. That versatility makes Kendrick particularly appealing to the Nationals, as they look to bolster their bench for a postseason run. With Taylor and Werth on the disabled list, Kendrick should slot in as a starter immediately, reinforcing a group of left fielders that have been well below average.

This was something of a desperate need, as the Nationals only had three outfielders on the active roster before acquiring Kendrick. Once Taylor and Werth return, Kendrick likely heads to the bench, where he’ll continue to serve as the Nationals’ primary backup corner outfielder while also offering insurance should any of the big hitters go down. With most of the two-year, $20 million deal Kendrick signed after 2015 already paid off, Washington gets some depth they badly needed with limited financial cost and no long-term commitment. —Lukas Vlahos

Editor's note: The section about the Orioles has been changed to better reflect their outfield situation.

Ben Diamond is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

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