It’s late June and the Phillies sit in the final National League wild card spot with a record of 41-34. While this season’s success wasn’t completely unforeseen, it certainly wasn’t expected, and has been a welcome sight for fans longing for relevancy.
If you viewed the Phillies with cautious optimism early in the season, that’s understandable, but with roughly half the regular season in the bag it’s time to start treating this team like they belong. Over the weekend, Gabe Kapler echoed that sentiment when asked to reflect on the season:
“At this point, in a lot of ways, we’ve proven ourselves. We’re a pretty good ball club… We have gone toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we’re trying to prove ourselves and we’re just competing with really good teams.”
75 games is enough of a sample size to start viewing this team for what they are—a legitimate playoff contender.
And with that revelation becoming more clear as July approaches, it’s time to start asking the question few would have predicted in April: should the Phillies be buyers at the trade deadline?
Yes, with two caveats.
1. Our marquee prospects are “off-limits”
First and foremost, I would describe the Phillies as “limited buyers,” meaning they should do whatever they can to add pieces without wagering their most valuable prospects. In my opinion, these are the following prospects who should be off-limits:
Sanchez and Medina are the most exciting young arms the Phillies have had in years, and Ortiz stock has been on the rise for a while. At 19 years his potential is too tantalizing to move at this moment.
Bohm was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft, and has been off to a hot start in his minor league career. For that reason I think Klentak takes a wait-and-see approach before including the third baseman in any deal. (If you ask me, Bohm and Ortiz have the most potential out of all the bats in the Phillies farm system.)
The Phillies are ahead of schedule in their rebuild. It would be nothing short of reckless and impulsive to trade one of these assets in the name of chasing a World Series in 2018. I want to win as much as the next guy, but let’s pump the brakes on selling off a farm system that took so long to replenish.
The other caveat?
2. That player must be a willing long term option
This one is obviously a little harder to control, but should be a key factor in any decision the front office makes.
The Phillies are simply in no position to trade off their future for a player who isn’t guaranteed to contribute beyond September 2018. Yes, the team is capable of competing right now, but that shouldn’t blur our long term plans to contend well into the next decade.
Matt Klentak should be targeting players who are either under contract, or who are open about wanting to re-sign here in the offseason; a three-month rental is unacceptable.
I understand the desire to contend in 2018, but no trades should be made unless the front office believes such a move is also in the best interest of their long term plans.
Here’s my list.
This would be a sure-fire fan pleaser. The return of Cole Hamels would be on-par with the return of Allen Iverson to the Sixers in 2009. As the man who delivered Philadelphia a championship after a 25-year drought, I can’t think of reunion better than this.
Hamels was dealt to Texas in 2015 after his swan song no-hitter against the Cubs. That move marked the end of an era in Philadelphia, but also helped usher in the next one by netting Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Jared Eickhoff, and Jake Thompson.
Hamels has been stellar since joining the Rangers, posting a 3.64 ERA with 8.1 K/9—not far off his averages in Philly (3.30 ERA, 8.6 K/9).
While the starting rotation is the strength of this team, it never hurts to add another arm for the postseason. Adding Hamels to Nola and Arietta will give the team one of the best 1-2-3 punches in baseball, and the best in Philadelphia since Hamels, Halladay, and Lee (although admittedly not quite that good).
At 34-45, Texas is out of playoff contention, which makes Hamels a prime suspect to be moved. He’s 4-6 on the year with a 3.41 ERA and 92 strikeouts over 92.1 innings (9.0 K/9). Adding a power lefty like Hamels would firmly put the Phillies in the World Series conversation.
If he wants to stick around long term he has an option for 2019 that would allow him to do so; although I don’t think I’m going too far with the assumption that he’d be willing to re-sign in Philadelphia even without the option. And, despite being 34-years of age, I don’t see him slowing down within the next 2-3 seasons.
I’m all in for a deal to bring Hamels home.
Hamels isn’t the only Texas Ranger with rumored interest from the Phillies. Third baseman Adrian Beltre has been linked to the team, and would fill their most glaring need—a power bat in the middle of the order.
Over 48 games, Beltre is hitting .314/.367/.453 with 4 HRs and 25 RBIs. While his power is down, his .453 slugging percentage would be good for third highest on the Phillies. Not to mention, it’s not totally unreasonable to see his numbers (HRs, in particular) uptick in the smaller confines of Citizens Bank Park.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the wheels come off on this season then it’ll likely be a result of the bats going cold. Beltre would take considerable pressure off of guys like Carlos Santana, Rhys Hoskins, and Odubel Herrera.
The one player that deserves mentioning here is Maikel Franco. If Franco becomes a steadier source of power in the lineup then there won’t be much reason to replace him in the hot corner. But if he continues his hot & cold play then third base becomes an obvious position to upgrade at the deadline.
At 39 years old, Beltre wouldn’t satisfy my second caveat—being able to stick around long term—but that’s what would ultimately make him the cheapest addition on this list. If all other deals fail, and the Phillies are 10 games above .500 come the end of July, then I have no problem dealing a middling prospect or two for the chance to add a veteran bat like Beltre. Why not?
Machado figures to be the marquee free agent in this winter’s class, but that isn’t about to keep his top suitors—New York, Boston, and the Phillies—from inquiring about his services over the next month.
No doubt, the chance to give Machado a three-month trial run in your city is viewed as a key opportunity to jockey for position in the winter sweepstakes. However, it isn’t clear how much that perceived advantage is worth. While his value will be a tad lower than you might imagine because of Baltimore’s lack of leverage, a competitive market could potentially force the winning club to part ways with some of its top prospects.
If Klentak believes it’s worth it, then Machado is the one player who he should waive the “off-limits” list for.
Personally, I think the opportunity to give him a three-month taste test, so to speak, is invaluable. Machado has been the prime target throughout this rebuild—whether the team has admitted that publicly or not—and adding him as a free agent has always been the assumed path.
Obviously that’s the ideal scenario—adding him without giving up assets—but that shouldn’t deter the team from trying to lock him down now, no matter how high the cost may be.
As far as fit goes, he would satisfy the team’s need for a true shortstop, and he would immediately upgrade them defensively—as he’s arguably the top infielder in the game (2x Gold Glover). Such a move would then give Kapler optionality with Franco, Hernandez, and Kingery at third and second base.
In terms of his contribution at the plate, his .301/.371/.558/, 19 HRs, & 55 RBIs should more than compensate for their need to add a reliable bat in the middle of the order. If he keeps up his pace, he’ll hit 40 HRs and 100 RBIs for the first time in his career, all while maintaining the highest average of his career.
Make no mistake about it, Machado is a 5-tool MVP candidate who is just entering his prime. His presence alone will catapult the Phillies into World Series contention for years to come.
Whether you want to chalk it up to Gabe Kapler’s much-maligned use of the bullpen, or the fact that they just don’t have legitimate major league arms is up to you. Either way, the Phillies bullpen ranks 23rd in baseball with a 4.22 ERA.
It’s pretty evident that they lack a truly reliable arm on the back end—something that has become somewhat of a necessity for a playoff run in recent seasons.
While it’s unclear if adding such an arm would result in Kapler naming that player the official closer as most fans would seem to prefer, the Phillies clearly need someone more established than Seranthony Dominguez and Eudabry Ramos as their “backend arms” come October.
While there are plenty of relievers who are dealt at the deadline every year, the one name that catches my eye is Brad Hand. Hand has quietly become one of the best closers in baseball over the past few seasons in San Diego, and is reportedly on the trade market this summer.
His numbers on the season are as follows: 2.82 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 13.1 K/9, with 21 saves. Even better, Hand is under contract through 2020, meaning he would have a guaranteed place in the Phillies long term plans.
Hand is your prototypical big lefty arm with a solid repertoire of pitches. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball that clock out in the mid-90’s with above average movement. Those two pitches complement a devastating slider that draws an impressive swing-and-miss rate around 25%—it’s truly one of the best pitches in baseball.
Because he’s still under team-control, and is just 28-years old, Hand will undoubtedly have a high asking price. Early reports show that the Padres are looking for at least one every day position player.
The Phillies have a number of players who may fit that description that they may also be willing to move. I’m not sure if Knapp, Altherr, or Crawford fit that mold but they are all young players who have shown promise in careers. A package of two of those guys plus a prospect or two might be enough to get the deal done.
If San Diego is looking for more proven production then a Cesar Hernandez would make sense. He’s an established big league hitter, and the team is already angling for Kingery to be the second baseman of the future. The question here would be if the Phillies are able to endure losing his steady bat atop their lineup for the rest of 2018. In my opinion, stabilizing the bullpen while destabilizing the top of an already inconsistent batting order isn’t worth the trade-off.
But if the team is able to find a more palatable price, then adding an arm like his to their bullpen would solidify their status atop the National League and would give them a legitimate option to rely on in the playoffs.
*A lot of relievers will draw interest from the Phillies, but at 28-years old and still under contract he’ll probably be the most coveted of the bunch.