As the Phillies came back from the All-Star break Friday, even the team president refused to view their chances of playing deep into October through rose-colored glasses.
Andy MacPhail stopped short of critiquing manager Gabe Kapler and the coaching staff, but in his annual midseason meeting with reporters, he did say that one big deal before the July 31 trade deadline won't fix all the holes on the roster.
"[It's] hard for us to make the judgment now that we're one trade away from the World Series," MacPhail in a 15-minute session in the dugout before the Phillies opened a series with the rival Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. "As a result, you're going to have to be more judicious with your playing talent. It doesn't mean you can't make a different type of deal, doesn't mean you can't make a deal where a component is taking on somebody's salary. But I think you start to be protective of your crown jewels in the system."
In other words, barring a seven- or eight-game winning streak that pulls them closer to the division-leading Atlanta Braves, the Phillies won't be trading double-A third baseman Alec Bohm, the elite prospect in the farm system. They probably won't move pitching hopefuls Spencer Howard or Adonis Medina, either. Not if the most likely reward is one guaranteed wild-card game for a shot at facing the league-leading Los Angeles Dodgers in a division series.
But MacPhail also cited the Phillies' still-reachable goal of making the playoffs in only the fourth year of their rebuilding process as a reason to not entertain suggestions that Kapler or the coaching staff are in danger of being replaced any time soon. The Phillies entered Friday night with a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers for the second wild-card spot in the National League.
"If the season ended today, we would've had our goal -- we would be in the postseason in our fourth year," MacPhail said. "To suggest for a second that there's something lacking at the leadership level, coaching level, I just don't believe that."
But to at least hold on to that wild-card spot, MacPhail acknowledged that the pitching must get better. Specifically, he noted the league-leading 153 home runs that the Phillies allowed through 90 games.
"You can't win that way," MacPhail said. "That obviously has to change."
MacPhail said the Phillies "certainly wouldn't eschew" the opportunity to trade for a starting pitcher. But the cost to acquire a starter who is controllable beyond this season -- Detroit's Matthew Boyd, Toronto's Marcus Stroman and Arizona's Robbie Ray, to name three -- will surely involve trading a top prospect or two.
The Diamondbacks likely would take a lesser return for 35-year-old Zack Greinke from a team that is willing to pick up most of the nearly $93 million left on his contract through 2021. MacPhail said Phillies ownership is open to taking on salary if it helps improve the roster.
"It has to make some sense, but that's not going to be something that's going to hold us back," MacPhail said. "Given our current circumstances -- we win seven in a row on this homestand, I might feel differently -- I think I'm going to be a little judicious and careful about what talent's walking out the door."