In a normal season, with this bullpen, we'd know exactly what the Phillies' trade deadline goal would be. In a 60-game season, with questions ranging from, "Will MLB actually finish its schedule?" to "What would a 2020 World Series title truly mean?" the approach changes.
Teams are less likely to make win-now trades ahead of the 2020 MLB trade deadline, which is Aug. 31. Selling the farm this summer for an immediate upgrade makes less sense than ever given the uncertainties of the season itself and how much money will be spent in free agency this winter. Plus, with 16 teams making the playoffs, there will be fewer sellers.
You could still see teams bite on players who can help in 2020 and beyond. A team like the Phillies, for example, knows it will need relievers in 2021, so acquiring a rental would be less logical.
Barring a trade for the Phillies, a bullpen "acquisition" could, maybe, be the return of one or both of their sidelined relievers: David Robertson and Ranger Suarez. Both pitchers transitioned this week from rehabbing in Clearwater to rehabbing at the Phillies' satellite site in Lehigh Valley as the organization gets closer to adding them to its 60-player pool.
Robertson, signed prior to 2019 to a two-year contract worth $23 million, has not appeared in a game since last April 14. He made just seven appearances for the 2019 Phillies before being shelved by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery last August.
Suarez spent all of summer camp on the COVID injured list. The 24-year-old lefty was one of the Phillies' best pitchers last season (and one of the only ones who made progress), posting a 3.14 ERA in 37 relief appearances.
When could we see them in Philadelphia, if at all in 2020?
"Ranger has one or two bullpen sessions to go before he starts facing live hitters in Lehigh," GM Matt Klentak said Thursday. "I don't have an exact timetable for when he will return to the active roster. I would guess at this point we'd be looking at some time at the end of the month or as we're transitioning into September, about the halfway point of the season. That's assuming things go according to plan. He's an athletic guy who's durable and bounces back well pretty well. I'm hoping he'll be on the front end of any timeline we might have for him just knowing the type of competitor and athlete he is.
"Robertson — he's coming back from surgery and there's more that goes into it than just developing arm strength. He's been throwing for longer than Ranger has but we're trying to refine his delivery, his command, trying to make sure that when he gets here he's effective. We don't have quite the same roster luxury with him as we do with Ranger. If Ranger has some bumps along the way, in theory you could option him — not that we want to do that, we want him to come and pitch meaningful innings for us — but we could do that. With David because of his experience level, once he's here he's going to be here. We have to make sure he's in the best position to be successful right from the jump. I don't have an exact date, but I think it's likely we see Ranger before we see David."
Klentak was asked about the Phillies' horrific bullpen, which has a 10.13 ERA, by far the worst in the majors and ranging on unprecedented. Phillies relievers allowed seven more runs Thursday night in the 11-4 loss to the Orioles.
"One of the things we need to do is just continue to establish some rhythm in our bullpen," he said. "I'm not going to pin all of the struggles on COVID and the layoffs or the players who themselves may have had COVID and are coming back from that. I don't know that to be the case. That may contribute to this. I don't know that that's the only factor. I know that velocities across the league are down. There are quite a few bullpens that are struggling in the early going.
"It really is a balancing act of trying to make sure that we're running out the best arms in the best situations but also allowing the players to get comfortable.
"I'll use Tommy Hunter as an example. I don't think he'll mind me singling him out. When Tommy Hunter is throwing 91 miles an hour, he's getting hit. When Tommy's coming out and throwing 94 or 95, he's as good a setup man as there is in the game right now. And we've seen both versions of that in the last week. It's hard for him not knowing which he's going to be on a given night. It's hard for Joe (Girardi) to make decisions. But I do think, as we get deeper into the season, these guys have more reps under their belts, some of these things are going to come around. We have to play that out."
The Phillies have not gotten the version of Hunter that Klentak claims is "as good a setup man as there is in the game right now" when healthy. His last high-quality season was 2017, before he was a Phillie. He's made 75 appearances over three seasons as a Phillie and has a decent 3.79 ERA but has been oft-injured. This is not meant to pick on Hunter, who could still be a decent piece of someone's bullpen, just probably not the answer. And if Klentak truly thinks a healthy Hunter is as good as any setup man in baseball, it helps explain how this bullpen was constructed so poorly.