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April 29, 2019

Paul Hagen: Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel may be tempting, but Phillies must fight urge to sign them

The Phillies were beaten by the Marlins, in extra innings, at home, last Thursday night and that wasn’t the worst of it. A team that had sparked such great expectations the first week of the season had lost four of five to fall to 13-12.

Which in turn sent one of the local sports talk radio guys into a bit of a rant the next day. The Phillies had to do something, he demanded. He wasn’t quite sure what, but something had to change and it needed to change right now. He’s a smart guy. And his reaction was thoroughly understandable.

Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that, for a lot of different reasons, there’s not much they can do at the moment, even if they wanted to.

The good news is that they shouldn’t do much. And there are several reasons for that, too. (Hint: One of them is not that they’ve since taken three straight from Miami after Sunday’s 5-1 win at Citizens Bank Park. While it’s clearly better than to losing to a team with one of baseball’s worst records, if you consider yourself a contender – which the Phillies obviously do – getting fat on the bottom feeders is always high on the To Do list.)

Baseball is different from other sports. There are so many games that rough patches of the road are inevitable. And no team has enough bullets to fire off several rounds every time they go into a little slump. Not the Yankees. Not the Dodgers. Not the Red Sox. And not the Phillies.

Look, we all love to spend John Middleton’s money. Let’s remind ourselves, though, that the famous quote was that might be willing to be “a little bit stupid” when it came to increasing the 2019 payroll. He didn’t say he was going to be an idiot about it.

So when Hector Neris gave up the homer in the 10th inning that decided Thursday night’s game, it was predicatable that some immediately began hollering that signing free agent closer Craig Kimbrel should be the No. 1 priority.

Wrong. Adding depth to the bullpen is always a good idea. And he’s been one of the best for almost a decade. But common sense has to come into play, too. I don’t know exactly what sort of deal Kimbrel is looking for. You don’t, either. But the rumors have consistently indicated that it’s a lot of dollars for multiple years. And while the fact that he had only two 1-2-3 innings in nine postseason appearances for the Red Sox last year isn’t disqualifying, it can’t be ignored, either.

Dallas Keuchel? Sure, it would be great to have a lefthander in the rotation. But who would he replace? Besides, at this point, it would probably take a starting pitcher until the middle of June to be ready to contribute. Not to mention that the Phillies have to believe that, if needed, Nick Pivetta will be ready to come back from Triple-A Lehigh Valley at some point. I mean, he was the No. 2 starter when the season opened.

Also, to repeat, no team has an unlimited budget. Money spent now might be money that’s not available later when the needs are clearer and the options are greater. Willing to take on a big contract? Most teams aren’t even thinking about dealing until the deadline gets closer when they’ll have to decide if they’re buyers or sellers.

In baseball, there’s a fine line between panicking and waiting too long to address issues. And panicking can send a message to the clubhouse that creates even more problems.

Charlie Manuel is the winningest manager in Phillies history. Invariably his teams, here or with the Indians and even in the minors, had far better winning percentages after the All-Star break than before.

In 2007, when the Phils went on to win their first of five straight division titles, they were 11-14 at the same point of the season as they were after losing Thursday night. In 2008, when they ultimately won the World Series for the second time in franchise history, they were a so-so 14-11. According to my pocket calculator, that’s just one game better than this season.

Sure, there were some less dramatic changes that could have been made. Manager Gabe Kapler could have benched somebody. But, um, who? Other than to get a breather, or if they’re injured, most of the starters are going to be in the lineup most days.

Earlier this season, Cesar Hernandez could have been viewed as being on the hot seat. Through April 13 he was hitting .178. Since then, he’s batting .333 with a .403 on base percentage. And while he’s had a few notable mental lapses recently, Scott Kingery is sidelined with a strained hamstring.

Beyond that, I guess Kapler could have shuffled the lineup. Which would have been cosmetic at best. Especially since injuries to Odubel Herrerra and Jean Segura had already forced some alterations.

There will almost certainly come a time this season when the Phillies will be challenged make the kinds of smart moves that can slingshot a team not only into the playoffs but deep into the postseason.

It’s just that that time isn’t now.