Questions and answers after an underwhelming Phillies trade deadline

Questions and answers after an underwhelming Phillies trade deadline

The trade deadline shaped up just about as expected for the Phillies. They improved their roster — not dramatically, but by a small measure. They held on to the young players and prospects that they believe will make an impact soon.

In short, the Phils acted just as club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak said they would in recent weeks.

Now, they take their chances on breaking a seven-year playoff drought with what they have.

The Phils’ only move in the hours leading up to the deadline was to acquire outfielder Corey Dickerson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for international signing bonus money and a player to be named later.

In the days before the deadline, the Phils picked up left-handed starting pitchers Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas. All of these acquisitions — and several others that the club made earlier this month — were low-risk. Vargas was a salary dump, Smyly a reclamation project who had opted out of his minor-league contract with Milwaukee after being let go by Texas.

As the dust settles on the deadline, let’s try to answer a few questions.

What will Dickerson’s role be?

He’s a good bat who could fortify the bench, but the hunch here is that he sees a bunch of playing time in left field. That would allow Adam Haseley to play more center field and Scott Kingery more third base. Maikel Franco could ultimately lose the most playing time.

What about Jay Bruce?

He could return from the injured list during the road trip that starts Monday in Arizona. He could end up back in the role he was envisioned to fill when the Phils traded for him — a lefty power bat off the bench and part-time starter.

Can Dickerson hit leadoff?

The Phils have had problems at the leadoff spot ever since Andrew McCutchen went down with a knee injury in early June. Kingery has struggled in the role. In fact, he was dropped to sixth on Wednesday night.

Dickerson is a left-handed hitter who has some experience and modest success batting leadoff. He does not walk a lot and has racked up three 100-strikeout seasons. But he will give manager Gabe Kapler an option out of the leadoff hole and it would not be a surprise to see him give it a shot.

Who is the player to be named later in the deal?

Maybe nobody. Sometimes these things work out that way. If there ends up being a player going to Pittsburgh, it’s not expected to be a significant one. The Phillies are assuming the remainder of Dickerson's $8.5 million salary.

What else were the Phillies trying to do?

They pursued some back-end relievers like White Sox closer Alex Colome. The Sox ended up hanging on to him.

The Phils did not want to stop at Smyly and Vargas in the rotation. They were on Cincinnati’s Tanner Roark and others up until the end, but would not give up top young minor-league talent for rental players. Roark, who can be a free agent at season’s end, went to the A’s. Oakland gave up outfielder Jameson Hannah, a second-round pick in 2018, for Roark.

Did the Phils make the right call in protecting their young prospects?

Their very top ones, yes. The National League pennant goes through Dodger Stadium in October and the Phils aren’t one or even two moves away from getting by the Dodgers. Hanging on to Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard and others for a more opportune run at the World Series makes sense. That said, could Klentak have been more aggressive on some deals that would have cost second-tier prospects? Possibly. But he would not reveal who he was seeking and who he would have had to give up, so it’s hard to say for sure.

Did they do enough?

Time will tell. The division title is the longest of long shots, especially after the Braves got aggressive and acquired All-Star closer Shane Greene and others to augment their bullpen. The Phillies are relying a pair of journeyman pickups, Mike Morin and Blake Parker, as bullpen upgrades. Ultimately, the Phils could regret not being more aggressive in getting relief help. 

If Smyly (13 innings, one run in two starts) continues to shine and Vargas provides a lift to a struggling rotation then maybe the Phils can sneak into the wild-card game.

But those remain big ifs.

Six and seven months ago, Phillies fans were pumped because the team added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto to a core that included Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola. Those guys are still here and they need to deliver if the Phils are going to make a run.

“For this team to accomplish what it wants to accomplish we're going to need the stars in that room to carry us,” Klentak said Wednesday. “We have the talent. We had a very splashy offseason. We brought in a lot of talent and those guys are going to have to do what they do to push us into October.”

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A year ago at this time, the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado saga was still plodding along as full-squad workouts began.

Phillies players, the fans, those covering it — everyone felt the fatigue.

The rest of the division?

• The Nationals were preparing for their first year without Harper, though their first with Patrick Corbin, who signed a $140 million contract that took all of 10 months to pay off permanently.

• The Braves were gearing up to defend a division title after taking a big risk on Josh Donaldson, who had missed 49.1 percent of games the previous two seasons to injury. Donaldson was the only free-agent addition the Braves made in 2019 until bringing in Dallas Keuchel in June.

• The main intrigue with the Mets at this time last year was what they'd do with their starting pitchers. Would they capitalize on Noah Syndergaard's value and deal him? What about free-agent-to-be Zack Wheeler? The Mets had a streaky season, a terrible first-year experience with Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano, a weird trade deadline, and ended up three games out of the playoffs, with Marcus Stroman in the rotation and Wheeler likely to leave.

• And of course, the Marlins — the 2019 Marlins who won 17.5% of their games against the Phillies. They were 57-105 overall, 10-9 against the Phils.

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Additions: Zack Wheeler, Didi Gregorius, manager Joe Girardi

Subtractions: Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Brad Miller, Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas

Returning from injury: Andrew McCutchen, Jake Arrieta, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez(?)

Two huge, necessary additions but still so much uncertainty because the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation and almost every role in the bullpen is a question mark.


Additions: Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, manager Carlos Beltran Luis Rojas

Subtractions: Zack Wheeler, Todd Frazier

Returning from injury: Yoenis Cespedes

The Mets are entering 2020 feeling good about the back end of their bullpen. If Diaz rebounds, this really could be a lights-out unit with the underrated Seth Lugo pitching the seventh, Betances the eighth and Diaz the ninth. 

The Mets badly need at least one good bullpen year to maximize Jacob deGrom's value. Somehow, someway, they went 14-18 in each of the last two seasons in deGrom's starts despite his league-best 2.05 ERA.

They also have to feel like anything they get in 2020 from Cespedes or Cano is a plus. Cano was a disaster last season and Cespedes is finally in camp after missing most of the last three seasons because of injury.

A big question is whether Pete Alonso is actually a 50-home run hitter. Poll Mets fans or those around the team and they'll say yes. I'm skeptical. What if he hits 32 this season? How much different do the Mets look if he's just a pretty good power hitter and not a perennial high-30s/low-40s guy like Carlos Delgado?

Why couldn't Matt Klentak find a J.D. Davis in any of the last several offseasons?


Additions: Marcell Ozuna, Cole Hamels, Will Smith, Travis d'Arnaud

Subtractions: Josh Donaldson, Julio Teheran, Brian McCann, Matt Joyce

Returning from injury: Darren O'Day, A.J. Minter

Hamels is injured and probably won't be able to contribute until at least a month or so into the season. That hurts the Braves, who lost Keuchel to the White Sox and will again be reliant on young starting pitchers Mike Soroka, Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. They need to hope that 2019 was a blip and not a trend for Mike Foltynewicz.

The Braves have the two best position players in the division in Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Ozuna helps mitigate the loss of Donaldson but Ozuna is not the hitter that 2019 Donaldson was for the Braves.

Don't let the generic name fool ya, Will Smith is a nasty lefty who struck out 167 in 118 innings the last two seasons and has been one of the most reliable closers over that time.


Additions: Will Harris, Starlin Castro, Eric Thames

Subtractions: Anthony Rendon, Gerardo Parra, Brian Dozier, Matt Adams

When you lose Anthony Rendon you cannot possibly be as good as you were a year ago. Especially when Rendon had a near-perfect year for a baseball player, hitting .319/.412/.598 with the most doubles in the league, the most RBI in the majors despite missing 16 games, a career-high in home runs and only six more strikeouts than walks.

Washington's biggest move was retaining Stephen Strasburg, but this new seven-year, $245 million contract for Strasburg seems destined to play out poorly. He had a storybook contract year, staying the healthiest he'd been in five years, leading the league in innings and wins and then totally dominating in the postseason. This contract runs through his age-38 season.

The Nats could still match last season's 93 wins, particularly because they're unlikely to experience two straight months of bullpen meltdowns as they did last April and May.

You have to wonder about the World Series hangovers for Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin. Not only did they combine for 583 regular-season innings, they also appeared in a combined 20 playoff games. The Nats rode their horses harder in October than any team in years. It worked out magnificently for them, but this wouldn't be the first set of rotation-mates to experience lingering soreness from all that October stress.


Additions: Corey Dickerson, Matt Kemp, Matt Joyce, Francisco Cervelli, Brandon Kintzler

Subtractions: Starlin Castro, Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Martin Prado, Sergio Romo

The Marlins made two trades in 2019 that you just have to snicker at. Midway through then-28-year-old reliever Nick Anderson's breakout year, they traded him to Tampa, because he was apparently too good. Anderson now looks like one of the five best relievers in baseball. He struck out 110 batters in 65 innings and had a 2.11 ERA after the deadline with Tampa. 

As a player with just one year of big-league experience but immense arm talent, Anderson might have the most appealing contractual situation of any reliever in the majors.

Miami also, midway through Zac Gallen's promising rookie year, traded the 24-year-old right-handed starting pitcher to Arizona for 21-year-old shortstop Jazz Chisholm, who spent the year at Double A. Some really like Chisholm's upside and think the Marlins made a shrewd move trading for a player who might better fit their next window to contend. Maybe that is true.

In the meantime, those two moves made things easier on the rest of the NL East.

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