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July 13, 2019

What they're saying: Phillies won't be buyers at trade deadline; Harper not one of MLB's top 100 players

The Phillies returned from the All-Star break on Friday with an uninspired 4-0 loss to Washington at Citizen Bank Park. That's not the way the team was hoping to start off the second half — not to mention this all-important seven-game homestand against the Nationals and the Dodgers that will likely determine how busy they'll be at the trade deadline.

After the loss, the Phillies find themselves 7.5 games behind the Braves for the National League East lead and 1.5 games behind Washington, who holds the top NL Wild Card spot. And while the Phillies (47-44) currently hold the second spot, they're holding on for dear life with eight teams within 4.5 games.

On Friday, for the first time since spring training, Phillies president Andy MacPhail decided to make himself available to the media and offer an update on the current state of the team ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. 

That's where we'll start off in today's edition of What They're Saying...

Playing it safe

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

It shouldn't come as a huge surprise to many that MacPhail doesn't foresee the Phillies being aggressive at the deadline, given their current place in the standings. 

As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia points out, that's probably the correct move, even if it won't make the fanbase at large happy. Right now, this team just has too many holes to fix all at once without completely decimating their farm system.

“If you think that you are close to the ultimate prize and you're one piece away then your appetite for giving up something big to acquire that piece is pretty substantial,” MacPhail said. “If you're a team like we are now — we're in the postseason if the season ended today, but what if we're in a one-game playoff?

“It's hard for us to make the judgment now that we're one trade away from the World Series. We don't believe that. I don't believe that. So, as a result, you're going to have to be more judicious with your playing talent.”

MacPhail’s comments certainly won’t excite the fan base, but his read on the club is sound. The Phils, who came back from the All-Star break Friday night in third place in the NL East after a six-week free-fall from first place, have significant holes. Their starting pitching staff features one consistently reliable arm, Aaron Nola. They could use bullpen help and a bat. It will be tough to fix all of that at one trade deadline.  []

Kapler, Klentak safe 

Scott Lauber | Philadelphia Inquirer

While MacPhail didn't seem to thrilled about the prospect of playing in a one-game playoff, and cited the Phillies' place in the standings as a big reason why the team won't be big buyers at the deadline, he quickly flipped that postseason potential into a positive when asked to address the confidence he has in manager Gabe Kapler and GM Matt Klentak, who got the Phillies into this pitching mess in the first place by failing to address it in the offseason.

Here's more from Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

But MacPhail also cited the Phillies' still-reachable goal of making the playoffs in only the fourth year of their rebuilding process as a reason to not entertain suggestions that Kapler or the coaching staff are in danger of being replaced any time soon. The Phillies entered Friday night with a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild-card spot in the National League.

"If the season ended today, we would've had our goal -- we would be in the postseason in our fourth year," MacPhail said. "To suggest for a second that there's something lacking at the leadership level, coaching level, I just don't believe that."  []

But, in baseball, winning a wild-card spot doesn't really equal being "in the postseason," especially when you're the second wild card and have to travel for that dreaded one-game playoff. Do you really feel confident about the Phillies going into a win-or-go-home road game against, say, Max Scherzer? 

That being said, the Phillies haven't been in the playoffs for some time now, so even making it as a wild card would be a step in the right direction, even if it falls short of where fans were hoping this team would wind up prior to the season. It just seems like MacPhail isn't willing to mortgage the future in order to assure the Phillies take that step. But he isn't ruling out the possibility of still making some minor moves. The problem is, there aren't many options out there to help the Phillies will allow the Phillies to keep all their top prospects. 

MacPhail said the Phillies "certainly wouldn't eschew" the opportunity to trade for a starting pitcher. But the cost to acquire a starter who is controllable beyond this season -- Detroit's Matthew Boyd, Toronto's Marcus Stroman and Arizona's Robbie Ray, to name three -- will surely involve trading a top prospect or two.

The Diamondbacks likely would take a lesser return for 35-year-old Zack Greinke from a team that is willing to pick up most of the nearly $93 million left on his contract through 2021. MacPhail said Phillies ownership is open to taking on salary if it helps improve the roster.  []

Doing the right thing?

Justin Klugh | The Good Phight

So, is MacPhail making the right call here? Justin Klugh of The Good Phight weighs in... 

You probably expected this. I did. It’s not the worst thing, it just doesn’t feel like the right thing. Yet. And it feels a little more like the right thing when you consider the circumstances.

Like I said, there’s good players on this team. There just are. Their 2019 numbers may not indicate that yet, but they were acquired because they [points at everyone’s statistics] have been good, and are young enough that they will be again. The Phillies not making a “big” trade doesn’t mean they won’t make the “right” trade, either. I could cite Joe Blanton here, but I won’t. I could, though. Because they’d wanted C.C. Sabathia in 2008, but had to settle for Blanton. Instead, Pat Gillick made a smaller move that wound up working out. Looks I’m citing him. Sorry.

Of course, it’s not the offense that people point to as the most tender part of this team. That would be the starting pitching, though on that side of things, the “wait-and-see” approach looks to have paid off in the form of Aaron Nola. The presumed Phillies ace struggled for almost the entirety of the season’s first half, but his last four starts have permitted us to trumpet that he has returned: 34 SO and 2 ER in his last 29.2 IP (vs. the 4.89 ERA he’d carried into that stretch and only four visits to the seventh inning in 15 starts).

As we’ve repeated leading up to the trade deadline, the Phillies are shopping without a full wallet, prospect-wise, and their top options—the Madison Bumgarner’s and Mike Minor’s out there—are on the bottom shelf. Or to put it more fairly, nobody out there is going to turn this team around.  []

That last point, about the Phillies "shopping without a full wallet" is also key to remember here. The Phillies don't have the greatest pool of prospects at the moment, making it harder to part with the ones they like (which are presumably the ones that other teams would want back in a trade). 

As you can see, the decision for the Phillies to play it cool at the trade deadline is about more than just the next 70-plus games. 

Harper not among MLB's top 100

Dayn Perry | CBS Sports

Over at CBS Sports, Dayn Perry ranked the top 100 players in baseball for the first half of the 2019 season. This likely seemed unfathomable heading into the season — although it's not so surprising in mid-July — but the Phillies didn't have a single player in the Top 50. Furthermore, Bryce Harper did not make the cut ... at all. This season, he's slashing .256/.371/.470 with 62 RBI and 53 runs scored. Those numbers aren't terrible, but they're not quite what fans were hoping when the Phillies inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal this offseason. 

That being said, a trio of Phillies did make the list, including one of the team's prized offseason acquisitions... 

97. J.T. Realmuto

Realmuto is in the discussion for best defensive catcher in baseball, and while his offensive numbers are down from last year they're still strong as catchers go.

93. Aaron Nola

Nola endured a rough start to 2019, but of late he's been flashing the skills and results that landed him third in the NL Cy Young balloting last season. Overall, he's got a 120 ERA+ in 110 2/3 innings.

54. Rhys Hoskins

Hoskins has been Philly's big bat this season. He's slashing .263/.401/.530 with 20 homers, 20 doubles, and an NL-leading 68 walks.  []

Who to blame?

Jacob Shafer | Bleacher Report

Over at Bleacher Report, Jacob Shafer wrote about how, despite a less-than-stellar start to his Phillies career, Harper isn't the guy who should be drawing the most ire from the fans. That should be Jake Arrieta, who hasn't come close to living up to expectations in his first year and a half with the Phillies, and doesn't seem to likely to get there during the rest of this season, as he'll either be pitching through a bone spur in his elbow or will be forced to have surgery. 

Instead, Citizens Bank Park's infamous boo birds should aim their ire at a different target: Jake Arrieta.

The right-hander signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies in March 2018. That season, he posted a 3.96 ERA in 172.2 innings. Not disastrous, but far from excellent.

So far in 2019, Arrieta owns a 4.67 ERA and even worse 5.07 FIP with 0.6 WAR. And that's merely the tip of the troubling iceberg.  []

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