The Phillies are coming off a dreadful weekend, dealt a three-game sweep at the hands of the non-competitive Cubs. That dropped Philadelphia to 49-46, a game behind the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot in the National League. Having outscored opponents by 44 runs and with a firm win-now mentality, there’s no question the Phillies are nonetheless going to be motivated to upgrade the roster over the coming eight days in an effort to snap their decade-long playoff drought.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski addressed the team’s deadline outlook this evening, implying the club will look to add to the starting rotation (link via Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer). That seems directly tied to the health (or lack thereof) of right-hander Zach Eflin, who has spent the past month on the injured list due to another right knee issue. The 28-year-old hurler remains without a clear recovery timeline, and the Phils front office head intimated that uncertainty could lead them to look for back-end help. “I’d love for him to come back, but I don’t know when,” Dombrowski said of Eflin. “So I don’t think, from my perspective, that I can just say we’re going to wait for that to happen. I don’t think we can just sit here and wait to see what takes place.”
The Phillies landed one of the trade market’s top starters last summer, sending a prospect package centering on spencer howard to the Rangers for Kyle Gibson (and reliever Ian Kennedy). This year’s market features a trio of high-profile arms who, like Gibson at the time, come with a season and a half of remaining club control: Luis Castillo, Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle. Given the organization’s urgency to compete after a series of underwhelming seasons and Dombrowski’s reputation for bold action, one could imagine the Phillies being in the market for that top trio. Dombrowski, however, suggested the Phils were reluctant to deal from the top of their farm system this summer.
“Every position there’s premium guys out there, and then there’s other guys that could be helpful,” he said (via Lauber). “Well, the premium guys are probably going to cost you your top prospects. I don’t think, as an organization, we’re in that position right now. I just don’t think we’re there.” The Phils had four players — right-handers Andrew Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry and catcher Logan O’Hoppe — on Baseball America’s most recent Top 100 prospects update. Painter was the only member of that group to check in among the top 50.
For any team to land Castillo, Montas or Mahle, they’ll certainly have to deal at least one player from the upper tier of their system. Dombrowski’s comments would seem to suggest the Phils could look towards the market for back-end starters and/or pitchers who are impending free agents, but as MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald explored last week, a good chunk of that group has either slumped lately or comes with some questions about their availability in trade. Dombrowski suggests the asking price even for role players has remained high in discussions with teams thus far, although he opined that selling clubs will reduce their demands as the August 2 trade deadline draws nearer.
Beyond the rotation, the Phils have had longstanding issues in center field and in the bullpen. As Matt Gelb of the Athletic explores in greater detail, the roster spots of Odubel Herrera and/or Jeurys Familia could be in jeopardy if the Phils can find upgrades at those positions. Herrera, re-signed to a $1.75MM guarantee during Spring Training after the club declined a costlier team option, has hit only .240/.280/.389 through 186 plate appearances. Herrera, Matt Vierling and Mickey Moniac have all struggled again, and the Phils carried a league-worst .202/.254/.296 showing out of center field into play Monday night.
Gelb writes that the Phillies would like to add a left-handed hitter capable of playing center field, but the number of attainable players who fit that profile is limited. 26 left-handed or switch-hitters have taken at least 50 plate appearances as a center fielder this season. The vast majority all either come with extended windows of remaining club control, play for teams that are currently in the thick of the playoff race and/or are enduring dismal seasons of their own. Speculatively speaking, the Cubs’ Rafael Ortega (owner of a .232/.327/.348 line through 265 plate appearances) might offer the best blend of decent 2022 production and attainability for a minimal prospect cost.
The bullpen, meanwhile, has been a middle-of-the-pack group on the year. They’ve been excellent of late after a disappointing start, posting a 2.69 ERA through the past 30 days. Given the Phils’ longstanding relief issues, however, Dombrowski and his staff figure to explore ways to add another arm to the mix. Familia, signed to a $6MM deal over the offseason, has continued to struggle of late and owns just a 4.83 ERA/3.81 SIERA across 31 2/3 frames on the season.
Two areas the Phillies don’t seem they’ll need to address via trade are second base and the corner outfield/designated hitter. They’ve been without John Segura and Bryce Harper due to respective finger fractures, but both players are progressing well in their recoveries. Segura is set to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Lehigh Valley tomorrow, and Todd Zolecki of MLB.com writes that the second baseman is hopeful of returning to the big league roster by the time the club kicks off a homestead August 4 against the Nationals. That’d be an ahead-of-schedule return for Segura, who was projected to miss 10-12 weeks after undergoing surgery in early June.
Harper is further behind, having suffered his injury in late June, but he tells reporters he’s hopeful of getting the pins removed from his surgically-repaired thumb next week. The reigning NL MVP reiterated that he fully expects to play again this season, and Dombrowski noted (via Lauber) that Harper’s injury “is not one of those where it’s [going to be] long enough that you go out and trade for someone that’s going to take that position.” Harper had been limited to DH duty before his thumb fracture because of a partial UCL tear in his elbow that rendered him unable to throw. He acknowledged he’ll have to go through a throwing program and expressed some hope he could get back into the outfield before the end of the year. Even if Harper were to wind up limited to bat-only duties, the Phils would happily plug Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber into the corner outfield if it meant getting Harper back in the lineup for the season’s final month-plus.
Virtually every win-now executive will face some questions about the game’s highest-profile trade candidate over the next week. Yet between their glut of corner outfielders and stated reluctance to deal top-tier young talent, the Phillies would’ve made for a tough fit in the Juan Soto bidding even if the Nationals make him available to intra-division rivals. Dombrowski didn’t address Soto directly, but he more or less shot down any speculation about that possibility. Asked whether they’ll look into adding a “generational talent,” Dombrowski replied “I don’t know that we’re swimming in that market. I love star players. I always have. I have acquired a lot of them. I know [owner] John Middleton likes that. But we do have some star players. I think the problem we’ve had is the depth of talent in our organization. To strip the depth of our talent to add a generational talent, I don’t know that is where we sit at this point.“