Let’s face it. The bullpen needed to be upgraded at some point this year. The way Matt Klentak has approached it, however, shows a desperation that will probably lead to the eventual loss of his job.
In the early afternoon on Friday, it was reported the Phillies struck what ended up being the first trade of day. Acquiring the recently DFA’d RHP David Hale from the Yankees for the young RHP Addison Russ, the Phillies acquired an established arm for one of the young MLB ready arms that they had stashed in satellite camp.
Don’t get me wrong. The only reason that Hale was even designated for assignment was the fact that the Yankees bullpen is absolutely filthy. Owner of a career ERA of 4.23, Hale has pitched well for the Bronx Bombers. In 54 1/3 frames with New York, Hale has a 2.98 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and averages of 6.0 strikeouts, 1.8 walks and 0.7 home runs allowed per nine. The righty is a ground ball machine and has proven capable of pitching multi-inning stints, possibly making him quite a valuable piece in the ‘pen.
While there was probably competition for Hale, the trade of Addison Russ for him seems like a massive overpay. Russ, who does not have overpowering stuff by any means, has put up impressive swing and miss numbers every year, culminating in a dominant 2019 season in a hitter friendly ballpark at Double-A Reading. The 6’1 pitcher had been working out in the satellite camp in Lehigh Valley and would have been able to contribute to the big team right now. I am trying to understand the logic of trading a 25 year old pitcher for a 32 year old pitcher, but the Phillies have shown a penchant for employing 30 something year old average relief pitchers.
Why not add to the collection?
In a move that was reported by multiple sources around the same time as the Hale trade, the Phillies also made a trade with New York’s rival, the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold, the Phillies acquired Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Both Workman and Hembree have been solid contributors for Boston, as Workman has served as the closer for them for the previous two years. Hembree has a career ERA of 3.60 and comes with an extra year of control, making him not only an investment for 2020, but also 2021. However, like the prior trade, it seems like they paid a hefty price.
While Pivetta definitely needed a change of scenery, dealing Seabold is another blow to a system that doesn’t have much upper minors depth. Seabold, who now ranks No. 21 in the Red Sox Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline could have stepped in the Phillies bullpen today, and with more seasoning, could have become a decent back of the rotation starter. Like Russ, Seabold doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff, but he has shown an ability to control the strike zone and has swing and miss stuff. To give up a pitcher of that profile for two relievers is definitely a tough pill to swallow.
Especially when the moves were forced because of an inability by the general manager to address the position this offseason.
Klentak showed not only a desperation in these trades, but a means to ‘fix’ the impending 40 man crunch this offseason. Russ and Seabold would have needed to be added to the roster this offseason or have been subject to the Rule 5 Draft. There are quite a few players who need to be protected this offseason, especially pitchers. Instead of seeing what these pitchers could do this year, Klentak thought the easiest way to gain flexibility would be to trade these guys. His job is definitely on the line this year, especially with the incredibly slow start this season for the team. But being the one responsible for the building of said team, the underperforming has to stop somewhere.
While, in a vacuum, these moves would be good for contenders, the Phillies are no ordinary contender. While boasting one of the deepest lineups in the league, the pitching staff outside of Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler has been a train wreck. The bullpen, especially, has been historically bad. However, due to both a lack of urgency from the GM to address the bullpen in the offseason and John Middleton not ready to pay the luxury tax, the Phillies were handcuffed after their moves for the aforementioned Wheeler and Didi Gregorius.
The bandaids were brought in mostly via waiver claim and the statistics they have put up shows as much. Everyone could see this bullpen was hot garbage and didn’t give us an opportunity to even keep games close. Instead of allocating financial resources in the offseason for guys to help, Klentak put himself in a position where he had to allocate the prospect resources he had to solve it. And not in the way that I and other Phillies fans had begged for from the beginning. The Phillies upper minors depth was weak prior to Friday. To be trading from the one stockpile (young relievers) you have, you are just further depleting an already below average farm system.
I hope to god that all three of the bullpen pieces acquired come in and bring a sense of calm that this bullpen desperately needs. Unfortunately, the way we got it should not sit well with anyone.
Hopefully, this is the start of the end of the Matt Klentak reign and it ends at the close of this season.
I have been saying all along that this year’s disaster can be traced to one thing: a consistently weak minor league and scouting system. Look at the strong starting lineup; it’s heavily populated with top players from other teams: Harper, Realmuto, Didi, McCutcheon, Segura (and Wheeler on the pitching staff). Spending scads of money to acquire other teams’ assets comes at the expense of bringing up good young players whose contracts you can at least temporarily control (see 2008 and 1980). Until this historically shabby franchise cleans up its organizational act, Phillies fans’ hearts will continually be broken.