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August 02, 2023

Why the Phillies didn't make a deadline deal for an outfield bat

Options were limited to begin with, but even then, potential upgrades were either pulled off the market, "redundant," or just too expensive for club president Dave Dombrowski's liking.

The Phillies' needs approaching Tuesday's trade deadline were in starting pitching and one more right-handed hitter for the outfield. 

They took care of the former, acquiring All-Star Michael Lorenzen from the Tigers to move to a six-man rotation (at least for the time being), but the latter? Nothing doing. 

Options were limited to begin with, but even then, potential targets like Cody Bellinger, Tyler O'Neill, and Adam Duvall were either pulled off the market, "redundant," or just too expensive for club president Dave Dombrowski's liking. 

So the Phillies are running through the last 55 games with what they got out there – a mix of Brandon Marsh, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Jake Cave, the upstart Johan Rojas, and, when he gets back, Cristian Pache.

And in all reality, given the big names up and down the lineup, that already should be enough. 

"First and foremost, the pitching was the priority for us," Dombrowski said after the 6 p.m. deadline passed Tuesday night. "We really wanted to get pitching depth because we're concerned about the depth of our organization in that regard if something would happen over the next couple of months."

That same concern just didn't extend to the outfield.

The desire for a right-handed bat with some pop was born from an extended stretch where a number of Phillies stars were struggling at the plate. Trea Turner just hasn't been the $300 million shortstop anyone was expecting in year 1, J.T. Realmuto's production dipped, Castellanos went into a slump coming back from the All-Star Game, and Schwarber – even though he can change an entire game with one swing – will never hit for average and is much better suited as a designated hitter than an outfielder. 

There was, in theory, room for an upgrade, and one of the corner outfield spots was the position to go get it with, but Rojas coming up last month and holding his own since changed things. 

"From the right-handed hitting perspective, we talked long and hard," Dombrowski said. "We really like the job that Rojas has done for us. He's a young kid coming up that's given us energy. We like him, so it's a situation where his defense, of course, is outstanding, his speed is outstanding too, he's felt comfortable at the big league level and we often asked ourselves 'Do we feel like he's overwhelmed?' And the answer kept coming back [no]. 

"So, not that we didn't inquire, but there were very few guys that were available, and some of them, the prices we just didn't want to pay based upon how we had felt about him."

So the Phillies are OK running with what they got, and in all reality, that should be enough.

That said, this is all banking on their struggling hitters turning a corner in the regular season's home stretch. 

Rojas has been a boon for the outfield in terms of speed and defense, and at the plate, it's been so far, so good with a .310/.333/.345 slash line through 12 games and 32 plate appearances. Pache returning from injury soon will help out there as well and against left-handed pitching, Dombrowski said, along with the also acquired Rodolfo Castro, though as a utility man for the infield. 

But as for the main problems on offense – like a recent lack of power and ongoing struggles with runners in scoring position – the bet has been placed on those being solved internally. 

"That's really what it came down to," Dombrowski said. "Really, from a run-scoring perspective, which we've struggled, when we looked at Rojas, we think we have a very talented offensive club and we have a lot of stars on our club. Sometimes you just need complementary players to help them, so you can be careful because if you acquire guys that are very similar to what you have from an ability perspective, it can be redundant. 

"We just thought in this situation here, to play great defense and have great speed, that that was something that we were not afraid to turn to."

Now the responsibility in pushing the Phillies back to the postseason falls to those who should be their best bats, and there's work to do. 

"I think a lot has to be done," Dombrowski said. "I think our guys know that too. 

"We have some good offensive names, and we like their ability. It's just now we just have to go out and do it, and we have the confidence in them that they're going to do it."

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