The Phillies current west coast swing has been a disaster. A three game sweep against the NL-leading Dodgers—a sobering wake-up call for anyone who thought this current team could win the pennant—and a 9-2 loss in San Diego (with Nola on the mound no less) has left them clinging to a half game lead over the Braves in the NL East. Throw in the torn-ACL for Andrew McCutchen (coming on a rundown he should have never been forced into) and the dismissal of Odubel Herrera indefinitely, and it’s fair to say the Phillies have had a week to forget.
If there’s one silver lining in this recent five game losing streak it’s that any delusions of this roster being capable of contending as currently constructed should be out the window. Rest assured that the Jay Bruce trade will only be the tip of the iceberg for a Phillies front office that should be one of the most active in baseball between now and July’s trade deadline.
The team has plenty of quality arms in the starting rotation and bullpen, but both lack the top end talent that is required to win in October, and for that reason both could use an upgrade.
The Phillies would be wise to add a top-end starting pitcher with postseason experience to bolster their rotation (and by virtue, take pressure off the bullpen). At the same time, the Phillies have a bullpen loaded with solid arms, but not a single one that I would trust to get 3+ big outs come October. Signing or trading for an elite arm to solidify one of, if not both of these areas seems likely.
Zack Greinke, SP (D’backs)
A lot of big names are floating around on the trade market (Bumgarner, Archer) but none of them has aged as well as Greinke, who in his 16th season is still a top-5 pitcher in the NL.
Stats: 6-2, 3.09 ERA, 0.931 WHIP (second-lowest of his career)
The D’backs have overachieved in 2019 and sit one-game under .500 and three games back from the Wild-card (though with a few teams in between them and Atlanta). Despite this they are likely to be sellers at the trade deadline, and Greinke’s contract is one that they’ll look to move off their books to help kickstart their rebuild.
I think the idea of adding Bumgarner is intriguing from the perspective of wanting a lefty to counter the Dodgers’ murderers-row of left-handed sluggers, but this decision shouldn’t be dictated by competing with LA. At the end of the day, Greinke still has the movement and command to dominate on any given night, and he and Aaron Nola would form the 1-2 (1a/1b) punch that’s capable of leading a postseason run.
He owns a pretty bad contract ($62.5 million is in deferred payments from 2022-26), so he’ll be cheaper than most people will anticipate, but I’ll be curious to see how much of that bill any potential trade partners would end up footing—Arizona will likely have to eat some of it.
Marcus Stroman, SP (Blue Jays)
If the team can’t land Greinke then Stroman isn’t a bad consolation (2.84 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). He’s been up-and-down throughout his career—sort of caught in between “ace” and “high quality 2 or 3-starter”—but has largely been able to give his team quality starts even when he’s off his game.
Statistically this has been Stroman’s best season in the majors (though we’re just two months in) and if you remove a three-start run in the beginning of May where he allowed 12 runs in 14 innings, his ERA is an impressive 1.75 in the other 10 starts. Another stat in Stroman’s favor is the fact that he’s allowed just five homeruns over 76 innings. His ability to keep the ball in the ballpark over his career is impressive, and is a trait that has a ton of value in today’s MLB.
Toronto is in full rebuild mode, and Stroman is likely to be moved at some point. He’s cheaper than Greinke, and has postseason pedigree; he’s made it to the sixth inning and beyond in all five of his playoff starts. While this feels like a meaningless stat, it reveals his level of dependency in Toronto’s successive ALCS-runs in 2015 and ’16.
Craig Kimbrel, RP (Free Agent)
This is fairly predictable, so I won’t go into too much detail. Kimbrel is a free agent and wants a long term contract. I don’t think dollar numbers are the real concern here; Kimbrel has been one of, if not the most dominant closer in baseball over the past half decade, but at age 31 nobody appears willing to commit long term.
Therein lays the question: pay market price for the best solution on the market at the expense of your future balance sheet? (Such a move would almost guarantee the team is over the luxury tax threshold) Or should the team seek for a cheaper commitment on the trade market?
There’s an argument to be made that adding an elite starting pitcher (Greinke) would relieve considerable pressure off the bullpen. As I mentioned, quantity of arms isn’t the problem at all, and quality is only a problem in the context of having them stretched out in the postseason. If we can rely on Nola and (hypothetically) Greinke to go 6/7+, and Arrieta/Eflin or Pivetta to go 5 or 6 innings in October then our bullpen won’t be exposed as much.
Still, with a career 333 saves, 1.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 14.7 K/9 rate, and a World Series already under his belt, Kimbrel is the only answer if the Phillies want to eliminate any and all doubt from their bullpen.
Will Smith, RP (Giants)
With the Giants in last place in their division they’re guaranteed to be sellers, and with Smith in the final year of his contract he’s a near lock to be dealt.
The Phillies have been plagued by left-handed hitters this season, and adding another southpaw to Adam Morgan in the bullpen would allow Kapler to truly play the matchups he wants. On top of that, Smith has been one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019 (2.38 ERA, 0.706 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 rate, 13/13 on save opportunities).
There will be a number of top-flight and mid-tier relievers on the market this summer, and if Kimbrel won’t budge on a more team-friendly contract then the team shouldn’t hesitate to trade for a guy like Smith—as a rental he’ll be cheaper than the other high-caliber relievers, and he brings the role-versatility that fits Kapler’s style.