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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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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