Ten days ago, with an urgent — some in the organization even labeled it “desperate” — need to improve the bullpen, the Phillies did what everybody in baseball knew they had to do.
Now, mere hours until the trade deadline, they can focus more on what they want to do.
It’s possible that general manager Matt Klentak will pull off another deal before Monday’s 4 p.m. buzzer. The Phillies could add another reliever. Or they could enter the sweepstakes for a starter. Texas Rangers lefty Mike Minor and San Francisco Giants right-hander Kevin Gausman have piqued their interest in the past and might be available again as short-term rentals before reaching free agency after the season.
But after Klentak acquired relievers David Hale, Brandon Workman, and Heath Hembree in trades with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox on Aug. 21, there isn’t quite as much pressure to jump into a trade market that appears to be slanted heavily in favor of sellers.
The Phillies are determined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Klentak’s job might even depend on it. And having won five consecutive games entering Sunday night’s series finale with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park, it’s well within their capability with a month left in this sprint season to end that October drought.
But the Phillies paid a price to get those relievers. They gave up promising reliever Addison Russ in the deal for Hale and 24-year-old right-hander Connor Seabold (in addition to underachieving Nick Pivetta) for Workman and Hembree. Seabold impressed scouts with his performance last year in the Arizona Fall League and had emerged as one of the more promising arms in the farm system.
Would the Phillies really part with another prospect — someone like outfielder Mickey Moniak, who was added to the satellite camp in Lehigh Valley on Sunday — for short-term pitching help? Would they give up young center fielder Adam Haseley in a deal for a more controllable pitcher, such as Cleveland Indians ace Mike Clevinger?
“Sometimes you can have a guy that you’re interested in, but the asking price is so great that it doesn’t make any sense,” manager Joe Girardi said before Sunday night’s game. “I think we always look to get better, and I think that’s what Matt and his staff is doing.”
There also might be a financial component. If the $208 million luxury-tax threshold was a window, the Phillies would have their noses pushed up against the glass, with only about $1 million to spare. Klentak continues to maintain that the threshold is “a guide, not a barrier,” and managing partner John Middleton said last fall that he would agree to pay the luxury tax if the Phillies had a legitimate chance to win the National League East.
But the trade deadline is less predictable than ever this year. Even if Major League Baseball is able to get through the regular season, there’s no guarantee that the playoffs will be completed. And the playoff field has been expanded to 16 teams, giving more hope to more clubs than ever before.
Klentak couldn’t be certain that quality relievers would move at the deadline, so he jumped out ahead of it and grabbed Hale, Workman, and Hembree. Over the weekend, the San Diego Padres acquired Trevor Rosenthal from the Kansas City Royals for a mid-level prospect, while the Colorado Rockies picked up Mychal Givens from the Baltimore Orioles for two infield prospects.
The Milwaukee Brewers reportedly are willing to listen on stud closer Josh Hader, who has a 1.86 ERA so far this season and three more years of club control. The price tag for Hader figures to be enormous.
The Phillies entered Sunday with the fifth-best rotation ERA in the National League (3.86). But with five doubleheaders already scheduled for September, could they be in the market to add Minor, Gausman, Los Angeles Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy or another available starter?
“We still have Vinny [Velasquez], and I think that we could bullpen maybe one or two of those doubleheaders if we had to because we have some guys in the bullpen that can give us some distance,” Girardi said. “I’m not sure that’s what we would be after. But if something falls in your lap, hey, it falls in your lap.”
Time is ticking.
“I can’t tell you if we’re done [dealing],” Girardi said. “If there’s a way to improve our club and there’s someone out there that can help us, i’m sure Matt will do everything to make it possible.”