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July 09, 2019

What they're saying: How aggressive will the Phillies be at the trade deadline?

As we check in on the Phils at the All-Star break, much of the attention seems to be focused on what Matt Klentak will do between now and July 31

The Phillies, like the rest of the baseball world, have the week off as MLB enjoys its annual All-Star Game, which will take place on Wednesday night in Cleveland. But unlike some of the other teams this week, the Phillies will not be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the time off. They're about to embark on the biggest three weeks of their season.

Coming out of the break, the Phillies will first face the division rival Washington Nationals, who have recently overtaken them in the standings, followed by a four-game set against the National League-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. And that's just on the field. 

Beyond those two toughs series, the Phillies also face an important trade deadline on July 31, one that's unlike recent deadlines, as there will be no more waiver trades allowed in August or September like there have been in the past. That means that what happens in those seven difficult games will go a long way to determining just how aggressive general manager Matt Klentak will be this month. 

Currently, the Phillies, who entered the season with World Series aspirations, are in third place in their own division and clinging to the the second and final NL wild card spot. Another losing streak, and Klentak could decide to pack it in for the season and try again next year, rather than selling the farm for a chance to make a run with a team that has hardly lived up to expectations. 

So, what should the Phillies do? That's the topic of today's edition of What They're Saying... 

See you at the crossroads

Ethan White | The Good Phight

As Ethan White of The Good Phight points out, several of the pitchers the Phillies had hoped would be available might not be. That could ultimately cause the market price for starting pitching to go through the roof. At that point, is it worth it for Klentak to add?

This Phillies team is officially at a crossroads in their season. There has to be improvements made to this roster if it wants to even make the postseason, let alone have any success in it. At what cost though? Think about the starting pitching market. We can probably list several names that the team has its eyes on, with our own Alex Carr doing a masterful job of keeping us up to date on what these players are doing. Now think about what the cost would be for each of these players. Madison Bumgarner has that “playoff grizzled veteran” aroma that stills surrounds him that will no doubt add to his expected cost. Mike Minor is suddenly on a playoff contender in Texas who might not want to deal him after all. The same could be said for Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke. Marcus Stroman, he of the moribund Toronto Blue Jays, has that extra year of team control that extends beyond this season which affects his trade value in a different way. Couple that all of this with the fact that the team will be contending with other teams that will want to boost their own rotation and have better pieces to do it with and you have an interesting question that Matt Klentak have to deal with. Should the team sell of parts of their future in order to maximize their run this year or continue to roll with what they have?  []

60% of the time...

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

One of the impressive things about the Phillies this season is that they've managed to stay competitive with one of the worst starting rotations out there. And, as Corey Seidman wrote for NBC Sports Philadelphia, lately it's been like the Phillies are operating without 60% of their rotation. 

Because acquiring one starting pitcher at the deadline won't be enough —something Paul Hagen alluded to in his Monday column — Klentak might be better served by being conservative at the deadline. Landing two quality starters would greatly damage the Phillies' already-fragile farm system, and there's still no guarantee that would be enough to make it to the playoffs, let alone make a deep run:

The Phillies are in a tricky position. They will not sell. Selling makes no sense given their position and they don't even have realistically sellable pieces. Could they move someone like Maikel Franco, Velasquez or Pivetta for the right price? Sure. But it wouldn't be in a selling move, it would be for something else that helps right now.

GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler have both said over the last two weeks that it's more about current Phillies improving than it is about outside additions. And that's true. The guys they've already acquired, from Bryce Harper to J.T. Realmuto to Jean Segura to the trio of expensive relievers who've spent most of the season on the shelf (David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek), must make more of an impact.

The worst-case scenario for the 2019 Phillies is not missing the playoffs. It's selling off some of the farm because of a disappointing first half and then still missing the playoffs.  []

Wait and see

Ken Rosenthal | The Athletic

Over at The Athletic, national baseball writer Ken Rosenthal agrees that the first week of games coming out of the break will be the difference between the Phillies being aggressive or not at the deadline. 

Additionally, Rosenthal didn't list Phillies as one of teams currently in on Madison Bumgarner... but he does list the Braves:

While every team in the NL Central is within 4 1/2 games of first place, teams in the East and Central will spend the next several weeks evaluating whether a push for a wild card is warranted when a division title might be out of reach.

Consider the Phillies, for example. They figure to be aggressive at the deadline after spending $572.25 million on free agents the past two offseasons (they subsequently traded Carlos Santana, whom they signed for $60 million). But if by July 31 the Braves expand their six-game lead to, say, eight or nine games, it’s unlikely the Phils would go all-in for a chance to play in the wild card game and face the powerful Dodgers in the best-of-five Division Series.

The next few weeks obviously will be critical; the Phillies are home against the Nationals and Dodgers coming out of the break, and also host the Braves from July 26 to 28. The Nats, 28-11 since their 19-31 start, would seem more inclined to buy, but they are quite close to exceeding the luxury tax threshold for the third straight season, and would pay the maximum 50 percent for every dollar they go over. Their farm system, like the Phillies’, also is thinner than in recent year — the Nats’ system entering the season ranked 17th in the majors, the Phillies’ 23rd, according to Baseball America.  []

A path to the postseason

Matt Breen | The Philadelphia Inquirer

So, transactions aside, what do the Phillies have to do to make the playoffs? Well, there are a couple paths they could take, although the wild card route seems a lot more likely given the current standings. Here's Matt Breen of the Inquirer to break down where the Phillies are at, and what's ahead of them if they hope to play beyond the regular season:

In order to win the National League East, the Phillies will have to pass both the Braves and the Nationals. They play the Braves 10 more times and have seven games left with the Nationals. They are 6.5 games back of Atlanta with 72 games to play. It’s not an impossible margin to overcome, but it could be difficult. The Braves are on pace for 96 wins. The Phillies would have to play .680 baseball the rest of the way to catch that.

And then there’s the Nationals, who are the hottest team in the division and have three elite starting pitchers. They’ve won 15 of their last 19 games with Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg all pitching at high levels. The Phillies, struggling to complete a starting rotation, have to be a bit envious of what Washington has. If Atlanta stumbles, the Phillies won’t be the only team trying to pass by.

The Phillies may not be playing for a wild card, but there is no shame in it. It could also be their best route to October. The wild card is still a playoff berth despite being guaranteed just one game with the winner likely moving on to face the Dodgers. The Phillies and Nationals claim the two wild cards at the All-Star break with six teams within 2.5 games. The Rockies and Padres won’t catch the Dodgers, but they could catch the wild card. The Cubs are in first place in the National League Central, but they could fall to the wild-card race. If not, the Brewers and Cardinals will be in the wild-card mix.  []

Confidence, man

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, "The front office is currently weighing the possibility of adding starting pitching help, bullpen help and a hitter. Phillies officials have checked in with every team that might be a seller."

But, as we mentioned, the outcome of those first seven games — three against the Nats, four against the Dodgers — will go a long toward deciding whether they actually wind up as deadline buyers. That being said, the Phillies' lone All-Star, catcher J.T. Realmuto, is confident the powers that be will go out and do what needs to be done.

If the Phils play well in those seven games, the front office could roll up its sleeves and get the team some help before the trade deadline.

If the Phils continue their nearly six-week flop, the front office could decide it’s not worth giving up young talent for a long-shot playoff run this season.

J.T. Realmuto believes the front office will be busy.

“I would be shocked if our front office didn’t believe we could make a run,” he said at All-Star Game festivities Monday. “I feel like with the team we have, if our front office doesn’t believe in us – I feel like the team they put together is pretty good with what we have right now even with the injuries and not performing as well as we should. I’m pretty sure they have confidence in us to go out and make a move and make us better.”  []

One last look back

Tom Housenick | Allentown Morning Call

There was a lot that happened in the first half for the Phillies — and not all of it was great. Over at The Morning Call, Tom Housenick took a look at five things that went right for the Phillies and five things that went wrong during the first three-plus months of the baseball season. Here's one of each... 

What went right

1. The evolution of Scott Kingery: He started the season on the bench. He played his way into everyday at-bats with a hot start that coincided with injuries to and ineffectiveness of others. Kingery batted .406 with a 1.176 OPS in his first 14 games before missing a month with a hamstring injury. He’s cooled lately but has proven a worthy defender in center and at third base. The 25-year-old will play a crucial role in the team’s success down the stretch.

What went wrong

2. Ignorance of arms: GM Matt Klentak should have been applauded for bringing in McCutchen, Realmuto, Jean Segura and Bryce Harper. He also should be criticized for ignoring a glaring need — the starting rotation. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez have been given long leashes as starting pitchers. Pivetta teased with six shutout innings June 2 against the host Dodgers (the majors’ best team) and a complete-game six-hitter six days later against the Reds. In the nine combined starts before and after that: 7.52 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 16 homers allowed. Velasquez already was shifted to the bullpen only to be reinserted in the rotation because the organization deemed it has no one better to displace him. Now Jake Arrieta has a bone spur in his pitching elbow and may not be able to put off season-ending surgery. That leaves Klentak in desperation hunt mode the rest of this month. They almost certainly will have to overpay for starting pitching because a lot of clubs remain in playoff races with several, most notably the Red Sox, having similar needs.  []

Will the desire to fix one of his offseason mistakes (the failure to address the rotation) cause Klentak to over-compensate at the deadline? We'll have to wait and see.

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