DETROIT — Big trade? Little trade? No trade?
Eight days before the trade deadline, what will the Phillies do?
Well, if you’re the wagering type, don’t bet on the team making no deals.
But don’t bet on a big trade, either.
Though he did not definitively spell out a strategy for the final week before the deadline, general manager Matt Klentak on Tuesday indicated that the team’s place in the standings could result in a conservative approach to the deadline.
“We’re legitimately looking for opportunities,” Klentak said before the Phillies-Tigers game at Comerica Park.
“I think the big reality that we need to recognize is that we’re 7½ games out of the division race. We’re a half-game out of the wild-card race, which puts us squarely in the mix for the playoffs. But I think when you’re 7½ games behind in your division, that’s going to lend itself to a slightly different approach than when you’re 7½ games up in your division.”
Klentak pointed to the 2007 and 2008 Phillies. In 2007, the Phils were still riding a 14-year playoff drought at the trade deadline. Though the Phils won the World Series in 2008, they were not seen as a World Series contender at the trade deadline.
Both of those teams made modest acquisitions at the deadline. It wasn’t until the Phils were slam-dunk World Series contenders in 2009 and beyond that they made headline-grabbing deadline deals for Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt, all potential finishing pieces in a championship drive.
In 2008, pitcher Joe Blanton, the classic marginal upgrade, was the team’s big acquisition.
Sounds like the Phils will have a similar approach leading up to this deadline.
“I think in a lot of respects, your record at the deadline and your proximity to the playoffs will dictate what you do,” Klentak said.
A decade ago, the wild-card team played in a division series. Now, wild-card teams play in a one-game playoff. That affects a team’s thinking when deciding whether or not to part with top young talent in a deal.
“We have to recognize where we are and we have to make moves that are appropriate,” Klentak said. “We’re going to continue to push. We’re going to continue to try. We wouldn’t have made the moves that we’ve made in recent days if we weren’t doing that. But as I have said to you before and I know (manager) Gabe Kapler has said this before, for this team to get where we want to go, the core players on this roster need to perform well. And that’s true of any team. Teams that do well have their core players perform well. We have the talent on the field to do that. Whether we get hot and pull that off in the next two months remains to be seen.”
The Phillies have many holes. They could use a bat. They could really use a back-end reliever and a quality starting pitcher or two.
Many teams are in similar situations.
The prices for pitching upgrades are exorbitant.
The Phillies do not have a deep farm system, but they have a handful of quality prospects, led by pitchers Spencer Howard, Adonis Medina and Francisco Morales. They also have a few quality position prospects, led by third baseman Alec Bohm.
Selling teams want players like this.
The Phillies will be protective of these guys. If they were in first place and on a fast track to the World Series, they’d probably part with one or two of these players to have a parade. But in their current state …
“I feel like our organization has enough talent that we can bid on the top names on the market,” Klentak said. “Whether we choose to go down that road or not remains to be seen. It's really about building an organization that can sustain its competitiveness for a long period of time. In order to do that, we have to preserve young talent. There are times when it makes sense to cash in young talent for veteran players. But you can't do that too often or your well will run dry and you'll be forced to tackle another rebuild at some point, and that's not something that our owners or our front office have an appetite for.”
Phillies fans saw the club add J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in the offseason. Many would like a similar big score at the trade deadline.
Klentak was asked how he believed a conservative approach would sit with fans.
“I think our fans are very knowledgeable and will understand the reasons behind what we do or what we don't do,” he said. “On opening day, the Phillies were projected to win, in terms of number of games, something in the 80s. As we sit here today, we are projected to win something in the 80s. And that is without Andrew McCutchen for four months of this season. That's with the better part of a major-league bullpen on the disabled list and with some players that have not performed to their historical standards.
“There have certainly been ups and downs for the first four months of the season, and we've all seen that. Some of the downs have been very frustrating, some of the ups have been very exciting. But the notion that this team has performed wildly below expectations, I don't think is true. I wish we were better. Certainly we've left some wins on the table that we've felt like we could've had. But it's the end of July, we're a half-game out of the wild card, and we're in a position to explore the trade market. We're competitive. You're not going to run away with it every single year. The Boston Red Sox that went pole to pole last year and cruised through the playoffs. That rarely happens in sports. Right now, we are where we are. We have 62 games remaining, and we're going to have to play as well as we possibly can for the next 62 to put you in the October mix.”
Klentak said he has been on the phone pretty much nonstop talking to teams about every available player there is. He said the team’s approach to the deadline could change with one phone call, meaning a significant deal could become more likely if prices come down. Sometimes that happens closer to the deadline.
“As a general rule people respond to deadlines and there’s typically more activity as we get closer to the 31st,” he said. “That doesn’t mean a trade can’t happen now or in the next few days. But we have deadlines for a reason and they typically work.”
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