Blue Jays trade David Phelps to the Cubs

David Phelps didn't spend a long time in Toronto. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
David Phelps didn't spend a long time in Toronto. (Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

When the Blue Jays acquired reliever David Phelps, the idea was always to flip him, and now they have in exchange for pitching prospect Thomas Hatch.

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As a 33-year-old under team control through just 2020, Phelps never fit the window of contention Toronto is shooting for. Now he’s on a club more appropriate to his age and stage.

The Cubs were likely drawn to Phelps due to the solid work he’s done since his season debut in June after recovering from a Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2018 season. The right-hander is currently sporting a 3.63 ERA, though his peripherals aren’t quite as good as his FIP sits at 4.79. It’s hard to make too much of his stats as he’s pitched just 17.1 innings so far. From a scouting perspective, it was probably slightly alarming for the Cubs to see his velocity sitting around 92 mph - two full ticks lower than his pre-surgery form.

That drop-off likely helps account for the modest return of Hatch, a 24-year-old starter toiling away at Double-A. The right-hander was ranked as the 18th-best prospect in Chicago’s system prior to the season by FanGraphs and currently slots in at number 29 on MLB Pipeline’s list.

Hatch throws a fastball that sits between 93-94 mph but touches 96. His changeup is probably his best secondary pitch and his breaking ball is a slider. While his stuff is good, command has been a problem throughout his pro career. This season he’s thrown 100 innings at Double-A with a 4.59 ERA and 4.40 FIP - numbers that aren’t particularly impressive considering his age and the fact he’s repeating the level.

Phelps is not a pure rental for the Cubs as he signed a creative contract with Toronto in the offseason that allowed him to recover from his surgery while giving himself the opportunity to severely escalate his salary in 2020. His paycheque for 2019 comes in at $2.5 million, but he’s got a team option for next season that starts at $1 million and can get as high as $8 million.

It won’t get that high though because the escalators are as follows:

Less than 30 games played: $1M
30-39: $3M
40-49: $5M
50, with less than 40 finished: $7M
50, with more than 40 finished: $8M

Nothing above $5 million is attainable, and for Phelps to get to 40 games played, Chicago would have to run him into the ground. More realistically, they’ve just got themselves a guy with a $3 million option, which seems like a good deal for Phelps, and a worthy gamble that he can get some of his stuff back the farther in his rearview he puts his Tommy John.

From a Blue Jays perspective, it’s worth wondering if now was the right time to move Phelps. By picking up his 2020 option they could have given themselves other opportunities to move him in the offseason or at next year’s trade deadline.

This trade only works for Toronto if the Blue Jays believe Phelps’ stock is going down from here.

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