Phillies

In need of 60% of a rotation, is it still worth it for Phillies to buy big at trade deadline?

In need of 60% of a rotation, is it still worth it for Phillies to buy big at trade deadline?

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.

Who's available?

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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Phillies finally add to bullpen by agreeing to deal with Drew Storen

Phillies finally add to bullpen by agreeing to deal with Drew Storen

The Phillies finally added a reliever, agreeing this week to a minor-league deal with former Nationals closer Drew Storen, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Storen had some really good seasons with the Nationals at the beginning of the decade. From 2010-15, he had a 3.02 ERA in 355 appearances, most of which were high-leverage.

He had an unceremonious exit from D.C. after two poor postseason showings. He allowed the game-tying and game-winning runs to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLDS, and allowed a game-tying run in the 2014 NLDS as well.

When the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies for Nick Pivetta in the summer of 2015, it led to the narrative that Storen's confidence was shaken and he was never the same.

Storen was traded to Toronto a calendar year after the Nats got Papelbon, and he's since spent time in the organizations of the Blue Jays, Reds and Royals. He underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2017 and has barely pitched the last two seasons, making just nine appearances in the minors with the Royals, all at Double A.

Storen is a classic buy-low reliever. Maybe things click in spring training and he makes the team and can provide the Phillies another quality right-handed relief option. The odds are probably against it, but the Phillies do have plenty of open roles in their bullpen.

The big wild-card in the Phils' bullpen is Seranthony Dominguez, who missed most of last season with arm injuries but could be a much-needed and useful weapon if he can revert to his 2018 form.

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J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

J.T. Realmuto will fight for future generations in salary arbitration case against Phillies

More than once last summer, J.T. Realmuto expressed his affection for Philadelphia and said he’d one day be up for signing a long-term contract extension with the Phillies.

The specter of his upcoming salary arbitration hearing hasn’t changed his outlook.

“Not at all,” he said before the 116th annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet Monday night. “Anybody who knows about the arbitration process knows it’s business. It’s not necessarily me against the Phillies right now. There’s definitely not going to be any hard feelings there. So I feel like we’re at the same place we were two or three months ago as far as with the contract extension.”

Before the two sides go to work on a long-term contract extension, Realmuto is likely to play the 2020 season on a one-year contract. Barring an unlikely settlement, Realmuto will have his 2020 salary decided by an arbitration panel next month. He is seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies’ arbitration offer is $10 million. The arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides then pick one number or the other.

Realmuto knows the game. He went to arbitration with the Miami Marlins two years ago and lost.

“I have a good understanding of the process,” he said. “I know it’s not the Phillies trying to slight me. It’s more the system. There are no hard feelings there.”

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is coming off a season in which he solidified himself as baseball’s best catcher while making $5.9 million. He was an All-Star. He was the catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team and he won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He threw out 37 runners trying to steal, the most in the majors.

Realmuto’s 2019 season put him in a good position to win his arbitration case.

But he made it clear that this is about more than just himself.

"It’s not me against the Phillies,” he said. “It’s the system that we’re trying to fight right now.  I’m trying to go out and set a precedent for future catchers in the game and I feel like I had a season worthy of doing that so I’m going to fight for that.

"This is not because the Phillies didn’t give us a chance to come to an agreement. We’re fighting for a cause, fighting for the rest of the catchers. Historically, catchers have not been treated well in the arbitration process and we feel like this is an opportunity to advance that for the catchers. Just being able to fight for those guys is something I take pride in. I believe in fighting for future generations and I’m excited to do it."

Once Realmuto’s 2020 salary is established in mid-February, the Phillies are expected to initiate talks on an extension that would begin at the start of the 2021 season. Those talks should commence during spring training. A contract extension is expected to cover up to five seasons with an average annual value of over $20 million.

Realmuto, who was honored as the PSWA’s Athlete of the Year for 2019, was joined by new Phillies manager Joe Girardi at the banquet.

“I’m really excited to play for him,” Realmuto said. “I feel like he’s got a lot of feel. He knows exactly what he wants to do as a manager and has a lot of confidence and he’ll be able to instill that confidence in us.”

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