The Philadelphia Phillies are 51-39, in sole possession of first place in the National League East 20 days prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Manager Gabe Kapler thinks the Phillies will make an upgrade before the trade deadline, but don’t necessarily have to.
The Phillies rookie manager joined Angelo Cataldi on the SportsRadio 94 WIP morning show Wednesday, and said that while he has confidence in Matt Klentak and the Phillies front-office, he also has confidence in the Phillies roster as it currently is constructed:
My impression is the answer is yes [we will make a move before the non-waiver trade deadline]. But again, we can work with the players we have in our clubhouse right now. I said in Spring Training – I believed it wholeheartedly then, I believe it now – that that team, in that room then, could win a lot of baseball games. I believe this team in this room right now can go into the postseason and deep into the postseason. That being said, I have a tremendous amount of trust in Matt Klentak, the work that he’s doing every single day. We have a phenomenal front-office looking under every single stone for upgrades. I believe that they will look for ways to put us in our best position to succeed as an organization and I feel strong that we’re gonna be good going forward.”
While the Phillies could stand to upgrade the left side of their infield, right field and their bullpen, they have gotten increased production from all three positions in recent weeks.
With J.P. Crawford on the disabled list with a broken hand, Maikel Franco’s gotten a chance to see extended time at third base this month. The 25-year-old, amidst trade rumors of his own, has slashed .423/.500/.692 in his first 26 at-bats of July. Crawford will return at some point after the All-Star Break, with the ability to play at both third base and shortstop.
Aaron Altherr has yet to break out of what’s been a season-long funk in right field, but Nick Williams entered Wednesday’s matchup against the New York Mets hitting .387 in July. Williams entered the month having thrived as a pinch-hitter, but hitting just over .200 as a starter. The first-half of July has seen his average as a starter creep over .230, perhaps a sign that he’s going to have a big second-half.
The much-maligned bullpen recently got back Pat Neshek, the Phillies lone 2017 All-Star. Edubray Ramos, who has a 1.14 ERA in 2018, recently returned from a shoulder injury that cost him to miss just under two weeks. Luis Garcia, who has missed nearly a month with a strained right wrist, will likely return before the end of July. Tommy Hunter’s 2.96 FIP suggests that he’s been unlucky in 2018, perhaps meaning he’s due for some positive regression in the second-half of the season. And then there’s Seranthony Dominguez, whose 1.71 ERA suggests that he’s been one of the National League’s most dominant relievers in his rookie year.
With all this said, Matt Gelb of The Athletic made a noteworthy point earlier this week: making upgrades to the starting lineup not only improves the starting lineup, but it improves the bench. For example, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported this past weekend that the Phillies have interest in Kansas City Royals super-utility star Whit Merrifield. Merrifield is a natural second baseman, but could give the Phillies another option at third base or in right field. He could also be a valuable weapon off of the bench because of his flexibility. For the right price, it would be hard to argue that adding Merrifield wouldn’t make the Phillies 25-man roster deeper.
As far as the bullpen goes, even if the Phillies don’t add a star reliever like Brad Hand of the San Diego Padres, adding either Kirby Yates or Craig Stammen, two of his teammates, would give the Phillies another stable arm in the bullpen. That’s on top of the fact that the bullpen appears to be improving on its own.
So Kapler’s point is well taken: while the Phillies have had their best first-half in seven years with their best roster in seven years, it wouldn’t hurt to sure up that roster before the end of the month.