Just two weeks remain until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, and the Philadelphia Phillies have a clear need.
At 8-9, the Phillies sit two games out of first place in the NL East. They are also two games out of the second Wild Card spot in the NL, and with expanded playoffs in 2020, they certainly expect to advance beyond the regular season for the first time since 2011.
The Phillies have seen solid production from their lineup and have the best OPS in the National League. The rotation had some question marks heading into the season, but newcomer Zack Wheeler has been very good, and Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin have pitched well to this point. Aaron Nola is in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career.
But it’s no secret that the bullpen has been a complete disaster so far this season. It ranks last in the majors with an ERA just under 9, and is a big reason that the Phillies sit with a record below .500 despite the success in the lineup and rotation.
In a normal season, the Phillies would have time to shape out the bullpen. They have several near-MLB ready reliever prospects, and given a few months, they could figure out who is ready to contribute to a playoff team this season. But the Phillies do not have this luxury, and their best bet may be at the upcoming trade deadline.
Something to keep in mind heading into this year’s trade deadline is all of the circumstances that could impact it. In a media availability on Zoom last week, general manager Matt Klentak made note of how he does not know what to expect during the trade deadline.
“I’m not exactly sure what the trade market is gonna look like,” Klentak said to the collective media, including Phillies Nation‘s Tim Kelly. “It’s just a very unique season. So, there’s a lot of different variables that could make it different than what we’ve experienced in the past.”
The fallout from COVID-19 may leave teams less inclined to spend than in prior years. That could be advantageous for any team willing to spend, but the Phillies have been hesitant to enter the luxury tax and have very little room to operate under the threshold this season.
The lack of any minor league games this season means that teams are unable to scout prospects. This will likely leave some teams even more hesitant to sell, because they lack the up-to-date information they would have been able to gain by scouting opposing team’s prospects in previous seasons.
Additionally, expanded playoffs could entice some teams that would normally sell to stand pat, leaving a surplus of buyers and a shortage of sellers for high-impact players.
Just seven teams sit four or more games back of a playoff spot as things stand. It’s hard to envision that teams like the Texas Rangers, who would probably be sellers in a normal season, are looking to sell players when they still have a very good shot to make the playoffs.
So, based on who is out of it, which relievers might be available for the Phillies before the deadline?
The Boston Red Sox have been the worst team in the American League thus far, and have some players on expiring contracts who could intrigue the Phillies.
Brandon Workman has not been great so far in 2020, but is coming off a very good in which had a 1.88 ERA in 70 appearances. He is a free agent following the 2020 season, and will be sure to make an impact wherever he goes if he is traded at the deadline.
Additionally, Matt Barnes, who has one more year of arbitration in 2021 before becoming a free agent, presents as a serviceable option. He has a career ERA near 4, but at this point, the Phillies just need guys who can stay healthy and eat innings. If available, Barnes is someone who could do that.
Elsewhere in the American League, the Seattle Mariners were expected to be bad, and they have been. But they don’t have any relief pitchers who are set to be free agents until 2023 at the earliest, which could make trades difficult.
The Los Angeles Angels are quickly fading, and closer Hansel Robles is set to be a free agent after the season. Robles has struggled so far in 2020, but had a 2.48 ERA in 71 games in 2019.
The Kansas City Royals have a trio of veteran relievers in Greg Holland, Ian Kennedy and Trevor Rosenthal who all stand to be free agents after this season. Rosenthal specifically has bounced back well in 2020 following a disastrous 2019 season, while Kennedy has struggled and comes with a heftier price tag.
In the National League, the Pittsburgh Pirates sit already well out of the playoff race, and have some arms that could intrigue the Phillies. Keone Kela is set to be a free agent following the season, and had a 2.12 ERA in 32 games last season. He has only pitched in one game so far this season after coming back late following a positive COVID-19 test in late June, but is healthy now.
Aforementioned unique circumstances, though, could force the Phillies to look beyond the obvious moves to acquire relievers. The past two trade deadlines have featured the Phillies making more under-the-radar moves to bolster the bullpen, and 2020 could be the same.
Last season, the Phillies picked up Mike Morin, Jared Hughes, Blake Parker and Nick Vincent either via waiver claims or free-agent signings. These are not exciting moves by any means but helped to improve an injured bullpen in 2019. Similar moves could help to save one of the worst bullpens in history this season.
If they fail to make a trade at the deadline, though, the Phillies could still get some reinforcements soon. David Robertson and Ranger Suarez are both in Lehigh Valley preparing to get back in action. While neither should be counted on to save the bullpen, getting either guy back will certainly help, perhaps more than any realistic external addition.
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