The Phillies have won five of their last seven games, but it doesn’t feel like it. They suffered a brutal loss Saturday night in Atlanta and followed it up with a dud a night later on national TV. Monday’s off-day couldn’t have come at a better time. They will open a three-game series Tuesday night in D.C. against a Nationals team that has lost five of its last six. The Phils have been terrible this season away from home. Perhaps that changes this week in Washington.
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If the Cubs trade Kris Bryant, the Phillies should be in the mix
Bryce Harper grew up in Las Vegas with Kris Bryant and spent a summer as his teammate when they were teenagers, but even Harper wasn’t pressuring the Phillies last year to trade for his old buddy when the Cubs were shopping Bryant.
The Phillies didn’t need a third baseman in February 2020 because they had Alec Bohm waiting in the minors. And Harper knew the farm system wasn’t deep enough to absorb the loss of too many prospects, even if it meant landing Bryant.
But that was 15 months ago. And much has changed.
Bryant has played the outfield more this season than third base and even started three times last week in center, the position the Phillies just so happen to be desperate to upgrade. They would no longer be adding a third baseman. And Bryant’s contract expires after the season, meaning the cost should be less this summer for a team to rent Bryant than it was last year when the acquiring team would have Bryant for two full seasons.
The Phillies were never serious last year about acquiring Bryant, but their outlook — and Harper’s, too — should be different this summer if the Cubs decide to part ways with the player who helped bring a World Series championship to Chicago’s North Side.
Perhaps most important is that the Phillies now have Dave Dombrowski, who has never been shy to swing a big trade to turn his team into a playoff contender. And acquiring Bryant — who leads the National League with a 1.047 OPS — could push the Phillies to the front of a division that does not look as strong as expected.
The Cubs enter Tuesday with a .500 record, but they’re still expected to move Bryant before the July 30 trade deadline as they continue to rebuild their roster. Bryant, 29, is making $19.5 million this season, the remainder of which will be paid by the team that acquires him. That would put the Phillies close to the threshold of the competitive-balance tax.
Adding Bryant would give the Phillies one of baseball’s premier lineups. The right-handed hitter is batting .308 this season in 117 at-bats with a .397 on-base percentage, a .650 slugging percentage, and nine homers. If he’s not playing center, Bryant can play his traditional third base or bounce to left field and give Andrew McCutchen a rest. The Phillies wouldn’t have trouble finding a place for Bryant.
The Phillies’ farm system is ranked in the bottom third of baseball by most publications, but they still have enough to make an appealing offer for Bryant. For a barometer of what Bryant might cost, the Dodgers traded five prospects in 2018 to Baltimore for Manny Machado, whose contract was expiring like Bryant’s. And the headliner of that deal, outfielder Yusniel Díaz, entered the season as Baseball Prospectus’ 73rd-best prospect.
If that’s the price, the Phillies have what it takes. And Dombrowski has never been afraid to part with prospects, failing to become gun shy even after he traded Randy Johnson after just 10 career starts with Montreal.
“We didn’t regret it at the time because Randy wasn’t quite there, we had an owner who wanted to win, and we got Mark Langston, who was the best pitcher in the National League that particular year, led the league in earned run average [2.39, actually third]. He pitched great for us,” Dombrowski said after joining the Phillies as president of baseball operations.
“We ended up not re-signing him. We got a couple of draft choices. One of them was Rondell White; Gabe White was the other. It was a situation where if you look back, jeez, how could you trade Randy Johnson? But he was actually the third guy in our order because Gene Harris and Brian Holman [also dealt to Seattle in that trade] were ranked ahead of him at that particular time. You look back at it and say you traded Randy Johnson — that’s usually not a good way to start a conversation.”
It’s that mindset that allowed Dombrowski before the 2008 season to trade a group of Tigers prospects to land Miguel Cabrera. Five years later, Cabrera won his second consecutive MVP award and Detroit won the American League pennant. In Boston — Dombrowski’s next stop — he sent a package of prospects to land Chris Sale, who was one of baseball’s premier pitchers when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2018.
Dombrowski, who started working in baseball in 1978, knows how to tell when it’s time to make a move. He brought his last three franchises — the Marlins, Tigers, and Red Sox — to the World Series by knowing when to pull the trigger.
The Phillies have not reached the postseason since 2011, and they own baseball’s longest playoff drought. They have a payroll of $183 million and a superstar in right field who came to Philadelphia with expectations to reach October. Just like in Montreal, Dombrowski is working for an owner who wants to win.
The season is not yet 25% complete, but the National League East is winnable. And there doesn’t seem to be a trade this season that would move the needle more for the Phillies than landing Bryant.
“So the question becomes which young players do you trade? I would trade 10 young players, if we didn’t think any of them could play, for a guy we really liked,” Dombrowski said in December about his philosophy for trading.
“Sometimes it’s not quantity as much as quality. And for example, when you trade for Chris Sale, we knew we were giving up quality. We knew Yoán Moncada and Michael Kopech had great futures ahead of them. We knew in Moncada we were trading someone who was going to be a good major league player. ... But philosophically, I think it’s more important not only who you get, which is the most important, but who you give up as far as the quality is concerned.”
Marcus Hayes writes in his latest column that Aaron Nola is not an ace. “He’s very good, and sometimes great, but hardly ever dominant. He’s a No. 1 starter on this team, but he’s not pitching royalty,” Hayes writes.
Rhys Hoskins is batting just .233 with a .763 OPS, which caused him to be dropped all the way to No. 7 in the batting order. It’ll be interesting to see where he’s hitting Tuesday night in D.C.
Héctor Neris is still the closer despite his blown save Saturday night when the Phillies suffered a gut-wrenching loss in Atlanta.
Scott Lauber writes that the Phillies have had few organizational triumphs in developing homegrown players.
Tonight: Chase Anderson opens three-game set in D.C. vs. right-hander Erick Fedde, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zack Wheeler faces left-hander Jon Lester, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Zach Eflin faces left-hander Patrick Corbin in series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies head to Dunedin, Fla., to play the Toronto Blue Jays, 7:37 p.m.
Stat of the day
Lester, who will start Wednesday for the Nationals, has a 1.92 ERA in 11 career starts against the Phillies. The 37-year-old has faced all 30 teams over his 16-year career, and his ERA against the Phillies is the lowest among all National League teams. Lester is 8-1 in those 11 starts against the Phillies.
Lester earned the win in his first start against the Phillies on June 17, 2008 with Boston in South Philly. The Phillies lineup that night was Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Pedro Feliz, Carlos Ruiz, and Jamie Moyer. Lester pitched seven shutout innings, struck out five, and walked one. Less than five months later, the Phillies were world champions.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: I’ve had enough of Neris. Can’t they try someone else in the ninth? — Stan O. via email.
Answer: Thanks, Stan. If I was Joe Girardi, I would try to use a closer-by-committee. I know this wasn’t popular here when Gabe Kapler used it, but it could work with this bullpen. The Phillies pieced together the ninth inning last week when Neris wasn’t available, and they made it work. They have a few candidates to handle the ninth right now, and I don’t think they need to have a defined closer. But Girardi disagrees.