The MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline is just over a month away. For the first time since 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies may be in a position to be buyers at the deadline, rather than sellers. But the word “may” is crucial, because general manager Matt Klentak and Phillies brass are apparently still feeling things out.
The Athletic’s Jayson Stark joined Anthony Gargano and Bob Cooney on 97.5 The Fanatic Monday morning, and he says teams around the league think that while the Phillies have poked their toes in the water, they aren’t quite ready to commit to jumping into the trading pool:
“Just talking to other teams, the Phillies have made a lot of conversations but they’re still waiting to see what they are. And they might not decide for a month. It’s June 25, the trading deadline is July 31, so it’s close to six weeks away, five-and-a-half weeks away. And realistically – we’ve talked about this – is this their year? Is this their time? I can’t see them doing anything that they feel would compromise their ability to win long-term. But in a month…if they’re in the same position they’re in today…if the Nationals are still scuffling and aren’t healthy…if they’re still in reach of the Braves…if the division is in reach, I think that presents a set of circumstances where they at least chase bullpen arms and preferably long-term arms.”
Given the close proximity of the National League East race, this strategy probably makes sense. The Phillies are currently two-and-a-half games back of the National League East leading Atlanta Braves. They are a half game up on the Washington Nationals, both in the division and the National League Wild Card race. The Nationals are still widely viewed as the most talented team in the division – their addition of Kelvin Herrera didn’t hurt that – and last night’s comeback win over the Phillies, which was sparked by Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, could be what propels them into a hot-streak.
So it makes sense for the Phillies to see where they are at in a few weeks or even a month. It’s unlikely they’ll altogether be out of the National League East race, but their strategy may change depending on whether they are two games back or eight. Perhaps the most interesting thing in Stark’s quote is that he seemed adamant that the Phillies would be more likely to be more aggressive if they are seriously in the division race. It’s hard to imagine the Phillies playing themselves out of the Wild Card race in the next few weeks, but given that Wild Card teams face a significantly tougher road to the World Series than division winners, the Phillies may not make a major acquisition to assure they win a Wild Card spot.
The San Diego Padres would be an interesting trade partner if the Phillies do choose to pursue relief upgrades. Brad Hand will be one of the most sought after relievers over the course of the next month, both because he’s a proven closer and because he has a team-friendly contract that can run through 2021 if his club option is picked up. Of course, the Padres don’t have to trade him, so it would likely take a rather large package of prospects to acquire his services.
Craig Stammen is in the midst of a career-year as a set-up man for the Padres. The 34-year-old currently has a 1.96 ERA and 1.80 FIP and is under contract for 2019 at a very affordable $2.25 million. 31-year-old Kirby Yates has a 0.84 ERA in 32 games for the Padres this season, so he’s another interesting name. Yates is under team control through 2020. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported over the weekend that the Padres have interest in third baseman Maikel Franco, so he could presumably be used as a piece to acquire either Stammen or Yates. (It would be tough to imagine him being any more than a throw-in in a trade for Hand.)
As Rosenthal acknowledged, the Phillies would likely have to acquire another third baseman if they traded Franco. J.P. Crawford is currently out four to six weeks with a broken hand. The Phillies have been connected to two veteran third baseman, Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals and Adrian Beltre of the Texas Rangers. Klentak did say last week that there is a “chance” that the Phillies will trade for a rental, which both Moustakas and Beltre would be. Again though, that would likely only come if the club felt they had a serious chance to win the division.
The next week will likely go a long way in deciding how the Phillies choose to act at the trade deadline. Prior to their schedule softening up in early July, the Phillies will host the New York Yankees for three games and the aforementioned Nationals for four games. If they are able to come out of that stretch still in contention, it bodes well for their chances of remaining in the division race, and therefore, making a relatively major upgrade in the next month.