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August 01, 2019

Kevin Cooney: It wasn't splashy, but Phillies got it right at the trade deadline

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Matt-Klentak-Phillies_060119_usat Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was smart to stick to smaller deals at the trade deadline.

Just a hunch, but Corey Dickerson probably didn’t send people flocking to the websites ordering Phillies tickets for August and September.

Jason Vargas didn’t make the heart skip a beat like the Phils did back in the cold days of late February. Drew Smyly has been a nice addition in two starts, but his addition hasn’t exactly forced the pundits to declare the Phillies the winners of the trade season.

And guess what? That’s OK. Because this is what Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail should have been doing at this trade deadline.

The moves were not sexy, but this wasn’t a great market to begin with. To just do something for the sugar high of trying to land a big name would have been complete professional malpractice. While it is not something that will have a large round of talk radio support on Thursday morning, it was probably the smartest move they could have made to mitigate the damage that this flawed season has done to their rebuilding plan.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: the Phillies could end up making the playoffs in that one-game roulette wheel known as the National League wild card. They should send flowers to the teams in the NL Central and West for the helpless mediocrity that has enveloped the Senior Circuit. If they do play in October, that would be a good thing. And if it should — by some chance — happen now, it would be a very good thing because they would have reached a goal without mortgaging the future in a fit of stupidity for an immediate satisfaction grab.

There are times when teams should go for it. The Astros going all-in with prospects for Zack Grienke. The Indians getting creative and adding two big power bats (Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes) for a disgruntled Trevor Bauer is a good thing. Even the Mets trying to line up Marcus Stroman for next year and building multiple trade options for a winter rebuild is understandable.

The Phillies are not any of those teams. They are a classic no-man’s land – in the race, but not really competitive for the big prizes. They don’t have a farm system to prop them into the upper echelon with trades. They aren’t awful enough to sell off pieces and retool on the fly. There were too many holes to fill at one time — right-handed hitting outfielder, three starting pitchers, maybe two or three relievers — and money wasn’t really going to help them. And they are too far behind the Braves to make a serious division run.

Ultimately, that last fact is the ultimate decider. Nothing that Klentak could have done on Wednesday or the last few weeks in July would have solved the holes this team had built into its structure. That will take the money and creativity of an off-season to fix .

The two wild cards are – in effect— a bit of a sucker bet for general managers. For as much as people romanticize the notion of getting hot in the playoffs, it remains very difficult to get to a World Series through that method.

Since the gimmick — and that’s what it is — of the one game playoff came into effect in 2012, only two teams have come from the wild card game and advanced to the World Series. Both of them were in 2014 when the Giants and Royals advanced through to the Fall Classic before San Francisco won it thanks to Madison Bumgarner.

That’s 28 tries from the wild card spot (seven years, two teams each year, two leagues) with just two teams advancing to the ultimate dance and winning two rounds. Six teams have won a divisional series beyond the wild card game – three in the NL, three in the AL.

You don’t make an expensive prospect run at the wild card game. You don’t mortgage the future for the wild card game. If it happens, it’s great and it allows you to experience postseason baseball. If it happens generically, it’s wonderful.

If you sell out the farm — like the Athletics did in 2014 for Jon Lester — and see everything end in one game, it really ends up being foolish.

You can have legitimate criticism about how this management has gone about its business. You can really question the tone and tenor that it has gone about its business. (No, Andy, it won’t be the quickest rebuild ever if you make the playoffs because the organization didn’t start the day you walked in the door.) It should view this season as a humbling experience to learn from in a hurry. There’s enough to pick over and criticize over the way things have operated this summer.

But not this time. It may not sell an extra ticket, make a person run to call a sports talk phone line or earn anything of goodwill from a fan base that seems to have rendered their verdict on the club’s upper management.

This time, they actually got it right.


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