After nine years without playoffs, it will take more than 10 wins in 13 games to make believers of Phillies fans, which explains why Citizens Bank Park was less than half full Sunday. There’s time to board the bandwagon, assuming it actually leaves the station this summer.
But now, 11 days until the trade deadline, these are the relevant questions: Does ownership believe in the Phillies? How much? Enough to exceed the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in franchise history?
“We’d like to have played a little better earlier in the season,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said after hitting a walk-off homer to end the suspended game that preceded a regularly scheduled 7-4 victory Sunday. “But now that we’ve got everybody back on the field and playing well, we’re doing all we can to convince them to go out and get what we need and we’re here to compete and get to the postseason. We just have to keep playing well and keep winning series and put the pressure on them to get us some help.”
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Assessing the Phillies’ trade capital
Dave Dombrowski knows the Phillies are more than one player away from winning the World Series. But he’s also aware that they haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 and are two games out of first place in a weak NL East that is being led by the New York Mets, who placed star shortstop Francisco Lindor and all-world ace Jacob deGrom on the injured list over the weekend.
That’s the push-pull facing Dombrowski as the July 30 trade deadline approaches.
It’s clear the Phillies are worth helping. Like most playoff contenders, they could use another late-inning reliever. A back-end starting pitcher (Cole Hamels?) would come in handy. The Marlins are reportedly bracing to trade Starling Marte, who would look good in center field and atop the Phillies’ batting order.
But getting any of those things means giving up something, and the Phillies don’t have much trade capital. Last month, Bryce Harper accurately described the farm system as “kind of depleted,” and the payroll is only about $7 million shy of the $210 million luxury-tax threshold.
Dombrowski earned a reputation in Detroit and Boston for thinning the farm system to get short-term help for the major-league roster. With the Red Sox, in particular, he traded outfielder Manuel Margot, infielders Mauricio Dubon, Travis Shaw, and Yoán Moncada, and pitchers Anderson Espinoza and Michael Kopech in various deals for Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg, and Chris Sale.
But Dombrowski’s allies often note that he held on to Eduardo Rodríguez, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers, notable contributors to Boston’s 2018 World Series-championship roster. As former Atlanta Braves general manager and Dombrowski deputy Frank Wren said a few months ago, his longtime boss’ skill is “knowing who to trade and who not to trade.”
Wren also noted that Dombrowski tends to deal from a surplus. To wit: In acquiring Kimbrel in the 2015-16 offseason, he dealt Margot and infield prospect Javy Guerra, who were blocked in Boston by Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.
Dombrowski isn’t about to move young right-hander Mick Abel or shortstop Bryson Stott. But for a player whom the Phillies could control beyond this season — Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds, for instance — it would fit Dombrowski’s style to move catching prospect Rafael Marchan. The Phillies are high on Marchan’s defense, especially his blocking, but Realmuto is signed through 2025 and backup Andrew Knapp is under control through next year.
Hamels, a Phillies icon, would cost only money. And for a contract that would be prorated over two months, it’s doubtful he’d put the Phillies over the luxury tax. But the 2008 World Series MVP is 37 and has made one start since the end of the 2019 season. The Phillies attended his showcase Friday in Texas. Now they must decide if he would be an upgrade over Vince Velasquez or Matt Moore.
As a two-month rental, Marte wouldn’t likely fetch a prospect haul for the Marlins. But he’s also owed about $5 million for the remainder of the season, which would leave the Phillies with little room under the luxury tax to add a pitcher to the bullpen or the rotation.
Then again, Dombrowski was known in Detroit and Boston for driving owners Mike Ilitch and John Henry, respectively, to be open-minded to moves about which they were previously uncertain. He compelled Phillies ownership to re-sign Realmuto to a five-year, $115.5 million deal last winter.
If anyone has the power to persuade managing partner John Middleton to push past the luxury-tax threshold — a move he has previously said he would make for more than a chance at a wild-card berth — it might be Dombrowski.
Within this story about a renewed center-field competition with a new leader, Bob Brookover has news of Scott Kingery undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
The Phillies signed their first 11 picks in the draft, including first-rounder Andrew Painter.
If you missed it, Aaron Nola discussed his decision to not get a COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s a personal choice,” he said.
As always, the great Yong Kim got some terrific photos from yesterday’s action.
Today: The Phillies are off for the last time until Aug. 9.
Tomorrow: Nola’s first start in two weeks comes at Yankee Stadium, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Phillies and Yankees complete a two-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: The Braves visit Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
When the history of the 2021 season is written, June 3 will stand as a notable demarcation. That day, word spread from the owners’ meetings that MLB would empower umpires to enforce the rules that forbid pitchers from using illegal foreign substances. Two weeks later, the enforcement went into effect.
Since June 3, the Phillies are batting .247 with a .741 OPS, a 3.3% home-run rate, and 21% strikeout rate. Before that, they batted .237 with a .699 OPS, a 2.9% homer rate, and 27.1% strikeout rate.
Offense is up leaguewide, albeit more modestly. Before June 3: .241 average, .719 OPS, 3.2% homer rate, 23.7% strikeout rate. And since: .247 average, .738 OPS, 3.4% homer rate, 23.1% strikeout rate.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: The Phillies definitely need another bullpen piece and another starter. Why would the ownership risk losing prospects and/or a substantial sum of money to upgrade this team when the players continue to put the team at a competitive disadvantage by refusing to get the COVID vaccine? — Bob S., via email
Answer: Hi, Bob. Thanks for the question. I understand your point, but I think you’re conflating two issues.
If you’re asking whether Phillies ownership and management could have done more to encourage players and staff to get vaccinated, I would tell you it all comes down to personal choice. The players are choosing to accept the potential competitive disadvantage of not pushing to reach MLB’s 85% vaccination threshold while also continuing to try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Apparently, they believe the risk of the former won’t stop them from achieving the latter.
My sense is the Phillies won’t make a trade-deadline splash but rather will make a few ripples designed to improve the bullpen and perhaps add rotation depth. If that happens, it won’t be because of their vaccination rate. It will be because that’s what Dombrowski deems to be enough to win a flawed NL East.