The worst Philadelphia Phillies trade you never heard of
On November 20th, 2019 former Phillies General Manager Matt Klentak agreed with the Tampa Rays to swap two mid-tier international prospects.
The trade didn’t produce many headlines at the time, as neither Curtis Mead nor Cristopher Sanchez was a top-30 prospect within their respective farm systems. Fast forward two and a half years, and the trade that seemed inconsequential has become the worst Phillies trade you have never heard of.
Cristopher Sanchez was initially signed by the Rays in 2013 out of La Romana in the Dominican Republic for $65,000. At just 6’3” 165 pounds, scouts were enticed by the wiry left-hander’s fastball that sat in the low 90’s. If Sanchez was able to fill out and increase his velocity, he was seen as having tremendous upside, as do most hard-throwing left-handers in today’s game.
Within six years, Sanchez had grown three inches and added upwards of 30 pounds to his lean frame. Beyond his physical gains, he had also developed an above-average slider to go with his fastball that now registered in the mid-90s and had been clocked as high as triple digits.
In 2019, he pitched at three different levels in the Rays system, making the rare rise from A to AAA in just one season. Altogether that year, Sanchez tossed 75.2 innings, recording a terrific 2.26 ERA and allowing only 0.4 HR/9. It was during his 34 innings pitching in front of Phillies scouts and coaches in the Florida State League, that the team really began to take notice of the 23-year-old’s growing potential.
For a team like the Phillies, who had struggled to develop pitching prospects within their own system, it’s easy to see why they had their eye on Sanchez after he was unable to crack the 40-man roster for Tampa.
Even though the Rays’ front office reportedly loved Sanchez, they were forced to make the difficult decision of either adding him to their full 40-man roster or risk losing him in the upcoming Rule-5 draft.
“Our scouts identified this guy early last season and stayed on him and really pounded the table for us to acquire him,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said.
Instead of giving Sanchez up for nothing, the shrewd Rays front office swung a deal with Philadelphia for a 19-year-old prospect from Australia playing rookie ball among other teenagers in the Gulf Coast League.
Curtis Mead was signed by the Phillies in 2018 as a 17-year-old amateur free agent for $200,000. Mead then spent his first two professional seasons going back and forth between rookie ball in Florida and the Adelaide Giants of the Australian Baseball League.
In 2019 Mead was seen as an unfinished product with a lanky frame that had a compact, simple, and repeatable swing. At 6’2” the right-hander was seen as having the ability to man multiple spots in the infield as well as either of the corner outfield positions. Adding to the mystery surrounding Mead, the son of a former Australian professional baseball player, was the fact that no Australian position player had ever made a major league roster.
“We don’t always trade for the most famous prospects, the ones who are juiced up with a big signing bonus or in rankings,” – Rays GM Dan Ibach
It was not as if Mead failed to impress the Phillies brass during his time with the team, as he slashed .285/.351/.462 with 4 HR and 19 RBI over 175 plate appearances in 2019. This was especially impressive considering Mead had only faced the talented players of the western hemisphere for two years. This made projecting his path to the show more difficult than the average American born prospect.
In fact at the time of the trade the scout who had discovered Mead with the Adelaide Giants was working as a coach within the Phillies system. The Phillies should have known what they had in Mead. Instead the Rays used their superior scouting department to identify his untapped potential.
As soon as Mead took the field for Tampa beginning in the 2021 season, he was among their best hitters in the system, slashing 321/.378/.533 in 104 games across three levels.
This offseason he participated in the Arizona Fall League among the games other top-prospects, including the Phillies own Bryson Stott. Mead shined against the stiff competition, slashing .313/.360/.530 and registering a hit in all 19 games he played in. That performance earned him an AFL All-Star selection and landed Mead on a number of top-100 prospect lists.
Mead has also shined defensively, reinforcing the belief that he will at least begin his career at third base. Mead committed only six errors across 633 2/3 innings and 170 chances at third base in 2021. At first base, he committed only one error in 131 innings and 119 chances.
While Mead has improved and found success, Cristopher Sanchez has bounced back and forth between South Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley the past two seasons. Most recently he took the loss after starting the second game of a doubleheader against the Mets on Mother’s Day.
Although the Phillies have used him as a spot starter, they would clearly prefer to use him as a left-handed specialist and long reliever. Altogether Sanchez has posted a 5.86 ERA in 25 big league innings and hasn’t shown the same propensity for inducing ground balls, allowing 1.1 HR/9.
My eyes tell me that Cristopher Sanchez has value as a middle-inning relief arm, yet he lacks an elite pitch that would allow him to play in higher leverage situations later in the game. Despite his low ceiling he still undeniably provides flexibility to the Phillies, who have a major hole behind fellow left handers, Brad Hand and Jose Alvarado.
Even if Sanchez continues to mature and pitches a few seasons for the Phillies in relief while making the occasional start, his value will never be able to touch that of a starting everyday player. The trade looks bad now, but just wait until Mead starts performing at the highest level.
Phillies Organizational Failure – Matt Klentak
My real gripe with the trade revolves around Klentak’s evaluation of Sanchez as a potential starting pitcher, his failure to realize Mead’s potential, and making trades with the Rays in general.
On the surface, I have to admit the trade made some sense for the Phillies. Klentak clearly projected Mead as a corner infielder, who’s above average offensive ability could possibly cover up his defensive inefficiencies. Philadelphia already had a similar prospect in #1 prospect Alec Bohm, as well as another top infield prospect, 1st round pick Bryson Stott.
Unsurprisingly, Klentak made as many mistakes as a general manager can make in one trade. He overvalued an opposing player based on his performance against Phillies’ prospects in Clearwater and reached to fill what at the time was a perceived weakness within the system.
Klentak’s scouting department, which has long since been relieved of their duties, undervalued a prospect they had the ability to work with and see play every day.
The Phillies either completely missed Mead’s projection or made the deal because they were far too confident in the depth of their own system. Either way, it looks bad and it’s just one of a laundry list of reasons why Klentak was a complete failure during his five years running the organization.
Look Twice at Any Prospect the Rays Call About
The Rays are like the Boston Celtics of baseball. Despite all their financial limitations they scout, draft and develop prospects as well as any franchise in the league. It’s the only way they can compete in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox who spend 4x on their payroll. In the last ten years they have made a handful of deals that ended up biting the opposing team in the ass.
If the Rays are targeting someone on your roster, I would advise a front office to throughly examine their own scouting and think twice about making the deal.
Klentak’s terrible decision at best may have cost the Phillies a cost-controlled starter for six seasons and at worst, dealt a future all-star for a below-average left-handed reliever. Almost three years later, there is nobody that is still with the Phillies to place blame. Everyone involved has already been fired for their incompetence at putting a competitive team on the field.
Hopefully the current Phillies front office will take note of past organizational mistakes in an attempt to avoid committing them again in the future. All Phillies fans can do now is hope that what we are seeing from Curtis Mead