NEW YORK — The Phillies added over $430 million in contracts this past offseason. Their opening day payroll was an estimated $45 million more than it was a year ago.
They’re 47-43 at the All-Star break and on pace for 85 wins, a total that would not get them to the playoffs.
They have gotten little out of their starting rotation, especially lately. Since June 20, Aaron Nola has allowed two earned runs total in four starts for a 0.61 ERA.
In the Phillies' other 13 games over that span, the rest of the starting staff has allowed 55 earned runs in 65⅓ innings. That's a 7.58 ERA.
Now, Jake Arrieta could miss time. The Phillies will evaluate him during the All-Star break to figure out the best course of action in dealing with the bone spur in his elbow.
If Arrieta is forced to the injured list ... is it even worth it for the Phillies to make a series of win-now trades to (perhaps only incrementally) boost their chances of contending in 2019? As the injuries mount and underperformance of key hitters continues, the front office has to ask itself the hard question of whether winning the division or making noise in the playoffs is even realistic this season.
It's a surprising question to be asking given all of the Phillies’ offseason additions but things just have not gone as planned.
Trade season will be different
Keep in mind, there are no more August trades. There is a hard trade deadline of July 31, after which only minor-league deals can be made. So a team cannot act in a more measured way ahead of July 31 while continuing to evaluate its chances before making more moves in August if necessary.
Last August, you'll recall, the Phillies made trades for Justin Bour, Jose Bautista and Luis Avilan. In the preceding decade, they acquired Jamie Moyer in August 2006, Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre in August 2008, Mike Sweeney in August 2010 and dealt away Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz in August 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Now the process speeds up for every team, buyer or seller.
NL all bunched up
If we're being realistic, the Phillies need three-fifths of a rotation. Outside of Nola and Zach Eflin, the rest of their starting pitchers have been unreliable. Nick Pivetta's ERA is 5.84 overall and 4.78 since he returned from the minors. Arrieta has a 6.63 ERA in his last seven starts. Vince Velasquez is rarely able to exceed five innings. On a start-by-start basis, none of them can truly be trusted to go out there and keep you in a game.
The National League is weird this season. As poorly as the Phillies have played since Memorial Day, the only two NL teams who are even one game better than the Phillies are the Dodgers and Braves. The Phillies, Cubs, Nationals, Brewers, Cardinals, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Padres are all separated by two games or fewer.
There are many obtainable starting pitchers. There's the top tier of Zack Greinke (maybe), Robbie Ray, Madison Bumgarner and Matthew Boyd.
There's the low-cost, low-reward stabilizing group of Danny Duffy, Tanner Roark and Mike Leake.
Marcus Stroman, who fits somewhere in between those two categories, could probably be had.
If the Phillies needed only one of them, the situation would be more cut-and-dried: Go get a starting pitcher. But they need at least two or maybe three of them. At that point, even if you go the cheaper route, you are potentially trading away an intriguing prospect or two and several lottery tickets. You're adding payroll and potentially boxing yourself into a pitcher who may not be a substantial long-term upgrade.
From a team-building standpoint, Boyd makes the most sense because he can help this season and into the future. He's a lefty with "stuff," the kind of major-league piece the Phillies do not have right now. He's under team control for three full seasons after 2019.
He'd also cost the most because of those reasons.
So, what makes sense?
The Phillies are in a tricky position. They will not sell. Selling makes no sense given their position and they don't even have realistically sellable pieces. Could they move someone like Maikel Franco, Velasquez or Pivetta for the right price? Sure. But it wouldn't be in a selling move, it would be for something else that helps right now.
GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler have both said over the last two weeks that it's more about current Phillies improving than it is about outside additions. And that's true. The guys they've already acquired, from Bryce Harper to J.T. Realmuto to Jean Segura to the trio of expensive relievers who've spent most of the season on the shelf (David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek), must make more of an impact.
The worst-case scenario for the 2019 Phillies is not missing the playoffs. It's selling off some of the farm because of a disappointing first half and then still missing the playoffs.
This month will test Klentak's mettle.
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