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July 10, 2019

Kevin Cooney: Despite all-in approach to season, Phillies must resist urge to be impulse buyers at deadline

Heading into the second half of the season, Matt Klentak should be careful not to mortgage the future for nothing

Back when there was such a thing as malls and department stores – Google them, kids, as you kill time until Amazon Prime Day — there would be these big displays in the front of stores that would paint a certain product as a must-get to make your life better.

The thing about the “impulse buy” was, while it would make you feel better at the point you went to the register to go get it, it would ultimately make you feel worse when the credit card bill came a few weeks down the road and that product hadn’t been broken out of the box yet.

The Phillies have arrived at the impulse-buy portion of the season. In baseball terms, impulse-buy season is when the trade deadline arrives, and you are tantalizingly close to a playoff spot even though you haven’t really been that great for a really long time.

But as this All-Star Break ends and the Phillies slowly return to the region on Thursday to begin their most important homestand of the season — seven games against the red-hot Nationals and Dodgers, with the trade deadline looming — there is also this fact: Matt Klentak should wait and really take a look at what reality could have in store for them.

It isn’t because there will be a miracle that makes Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez serviceable starting pitchers for a team in a pennant race. It isn’t because there’s a radical upgrade needed in the rotation. In fact, it is just the opposite: there are so many glaring and gaping holes that you can’t possibly fill all of them in three weeks without gutting your franchise’s future.

Yes, Philadelphia begins the second half as the second wild card — a half game behind Washington who holds the top spot and a half game up on Milwaukee, who leads the chase pack that sees eight of the 10 other teams in the NL within 5.5 games of a post-season spot.

But sit down and write a list out of the holes that the Phillies have, and it would probably go like this:

- The aforementioned starting pitching situation that could be made worse with Jake Arrieta’s bone spur diagnosis. At least three and maybe four spots could be upgraded.

- Either a third baseman or a center fielder that could allow Scott Kingery to play one spot and bring lineup stability.

- Two relievers that could be more consistent than anything that currently resides out there. (Yes, David Robertson could be back, but there is a need for reinforcements.)

- An entire major league-level bench.

That’s too much to realistically fill in 20 days.

MORE: Kapler says Arrieta will continue to pitch through shoulder injury | What they're saying: How aggressive will Phillies be at the deadline?

While the Phillies will undoubtedly still claim — even in a worst case scenario of 2-5 or 1-6 in this week stretch — that they could get hot and make a move for a playoff spot, it would be wise for Klentak and the upper management of this franchise to see if that faith is justified by the players who are actually on this roster.

This week is an opportunity for the players around here to make one last case to their general manager and front office that it would be worth risking a ton for right now. Play well against the Nats and Dodgers and it suddenly becomes more plausible to become a buyer with an eye for October.

The pitching staff in the last 28 days has pitched to a 1.44 WHIP, a 5.66 ERA and have allowed a whopping 44 homers in that stretch. They still rank in the bottom half of the league in most offensive categories, even with a recent upswing caused by the two series against the Mets.

That 6-1 mark against the Mets was a great deodorant for the 4-15 stretch since June 8 against teams not from Flushing Meadows. Nothing about the Phillies has remotely looked like a playoff contender since they boarded the plane for Los Angeles in the last week of May.

That’s six weeks ago and in baseball, that’s not exactly a small sample size anymore. Six bad weeks sent the 2018 Phillies home. The only difference is the fact that team had it when it was coming in for landing in September. This has been a typical June/July swoon that marked the Ryne Sandberg/Pete Mackanin era.

The one saving grace for the Phillies has been — as one scout so eloquently put it last week in a conversation — “There’s three good teams (Dodgers, Yankees, Astros), and the rest of the teams really suck to different degrees.” (Now there’s a tagline you won’t hear on an MLB commercial in the second half.)

There’s also the fact that the Phillies farm system is going dry again. Oh sure, there’s Alec Bohn and Adonis Medina still there along with Adam Haseley. But the days of proclaiming such a deep farm system that anything would be on the table — the strut that has marked the Phillies for the last few seasons — may be ending.

MORE: Hagen: Some random Phillies thoughts at the break

Philadelphia’s biggest asset would be cash and the ability to buy out bad contracts. Zack Greinke would fit that mold — except Arizona is still just 1.5 back of the Phillies for the wild card and could easily be in a better spot by next week. Madison Bumgarner would be a rental for the final two months of the season, but the prospects that the Yankees, Astros and Twins would be able to give San Francisco would better get the job done.

So, this again ultimately paints the bigger picture here: Is it all worth it? There is no move here that would appear capable of closing the 6.5 game gap with Atlanta for the NL East.

In reality, the worst-case scenario for the Phillies may be making a ton of moves and getting nothing out of it. You can define nothing as you wish — falling short again of the playoffs or making them as a second wild-card and losing that gimmicky one-game playoff — but mortgaging everything for that moment could end up being a complete disaster long-term for the franchise.

And that runs counter to the all-in mentality that has defined this season. The Phillies have played 2019 with the idea that anything less than a postseason berth would be a failure. Going small at the deadline would run against that and undoubtedly alienate a ton of the ticket-buying public who just jumped back on the bandwagon.

There are problems that need to be corrected on multiple levels of the organization that can’t be done right now. Only the freedom of an offseason — when a deeper dive on the big picture can be done — can truly rectify what has gone wrong here to send this season off the tracks.

And that’s why the Phillies must fight the impulse buy. Because, in the end, nothing they can get right now will fix everything that ails them. And they could be wondering at the end why they ever bought the damn thing in the first place.

MORE: Could Hamels be the answer to the Phillies' starting pitching woes?

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