June 10, 2019
If there was one thing the Phillies were pretty doggone sure of going into the 1994 season, it was that they had plenty of left-handed pitching.
They were so confident, in fact, that they agreed to let 26-year-old Kyle Abbott pitch for the Kintetsu Buffaloes in the Japan Pacific League that year. It was a win-win situation. He’d make a little more money. And when he came back the following year the Phillies would have a player who’d gotten experience against a better level of competition than he might have at Triple-A.
Didn’t work out that way. By the middle of the season general manager Lee Thomas was scrambling for left-handed help out of the bullpen.
Things can change quickly in baseball. Which is exactly why it’s so hard to pinpoint what the Phillies should be concentrating on leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
It’s starting pitching. No, wait. Nick Pivetta has had two terrific starts in a row.
It’s certainly not outfield depth. Or maybe it is, now that Aaron Altherr has been waived and Andrew McCutchen and Dylan Cozens are both out for the season with injuries. And Nick Williams needs a hot streak to reach the Mendoza Line and Odubel Herrera remains in limbo following domestic abuse allegations. And former No. 1 draft pick Adam Haseley made his debut, got a game-winning RBI and then joined Roman Quinn on the injured list.
Eighteen different pitchers have been used out of the bullpen, which kind of speaks for itself.
While it’s still more than six weeks to the deadline, it’s not too early to start thinking about this stuff. Remember, the ability to make deals with waivers has been legislated out of existence. So the door to acquiring outside help slams shut once the calendar flips to August.
Plus, teams are already making moves. The Phillies got Jay Bruce from Seattle. The Braves, who figure to go down to the wire with the Phils in the National League East, signed free agent starter Dallas Keuchel and the Cubs grabbed closer Craig Kimbrel shortly after they no longer required draft pick compensation.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the factors that go into where they Phillies should focus.
Aaron Nola hasn’t been terrible, but he hasn’t been the Cy Young candidate he was in 2018, either. And, after a year-and-a-half, it’s pretty obvious that Jake Arrieta can’t be expected to consistently resemble the guy who went 22-6, 1.77 in 2015.
That’s all right as long as they keep their team in the game. It’s the other three guys who will determine how far the Phillies go. . .and whether they need to consider an upgrade.
In this case, it makes sense to watch and wait for at least a few weeks. As good as Pivetta has been – and he’s been terrific – it’s still just two starts. He still needs to string a few more dominant performances together. And, if he does, nobody will be surprised. Remember, he opened the season as the No. 2 starter amid predictions this would be his breakout season.
Zach Eflin is a similar case. He’s allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his 12 starts this season. Heck, he’s been the most dependable starter this season. Jared Eickhoff, coming off two years of physical problems, got off to an encouraging start but has a 7.40 ERA in his last five starts.
Concern level: Moderate.
I still think having a lefthander in the rotation would be helpful and would be monitoring Madison Bumgarner’s availability. I wouldn’t give up top prospects, though, for a guy who hasn’t put up elite numbers since 2016 and can be a free agent at the end of the season. Given how many teams are expected to be looking for pitching, the bidding for Bumgarner and Marcus Stroman could get a little frenzied.
The Phillies had seven outfielders on the 40-man roster when spring training opened. Only two, Bryce Harper and Williams, are available now.
The decision to get Bruce has worked better than could be expected and having Scott Kingery available to play the outfield eases the pressure somewhat. But there are a lot of moving pieces here. For example, Maikel Franco has slumped after a hot start. There may come a time when Kingery is needed more at the hot corner.
Plus, McCutchen and Cozens are gone for the year and Herrera might be. Pitching still sets the tone but this team was built to score runs and will still have to be able to outslug opponents from time to time.
Concern level: High.
The good news is that, with more and more teams defaulting to a rebuilding mode, there should be plenty of bats out there. And in a buyer’s market, with the Phillies willingness to take on salary, they should be able to add help without having to raid the farm system.
Any time a reliever gives it up, it creates a sense of crisis. And any contender would be happy to add bullpen depth.
Having said that, the Phillies pen hasn’t been as bad as the perception suggests. Going into Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Reds at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were tied for fifth in save percentage (79.17). And, remember, that’s without Tommy Hunter for the whole season, David Robertson for most of the season and Pat Neshek since late May. Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano are also on the IL while Seranthony Dominguez could be facing reconstructive elbow surgery.
Concern level: Low.
I don’t know who, deep in their hearts, the Phillies believe can come back and contribute this year or when any might be activated. But the sheer numbers suggest that some help should come out of that group. Besides, Vince Velasquez looks like he might end up being a pretty good reliever.
So there you have it, a map to the deadline. With one caveat. As we learned from the Kyle Abbott snafu, teams have to remain open to everything because situations can change in a hurry.