The long haul of baseball's regular season has only two months to go, and I still don't know whether to take the Phillies seriously. It's probably just about time to decide.
The standings insist they are contenders, and that's always a pretty good place to start. But it is difficult to believe in a team that has a spotty offense, very poor defense, and a pitching staff that has done well but also might have pitched a little above its capabilities to this point. Baseball does not tend to reward that combination over 162 games.
Still, the Phillies are where they are, which is on a pace to win about 25 more games than they did a year ago. They are doing it with a roster on which the average age of the batters is the lowest in the major leagues, and the average age of the pitchers is second lowest. That's remarkable, and incredibly encouraging for the future of the franchise, but, again, is not necessarily the sort of thing that historically carries a team over the final 40 games of the season and into the playoffs.
So, you look to the organization itself for hints about the team's chances this season. No one should have a more clear-eyed view of the situation than the guys in the front office, the ones who have to balance the lure of going for the big prize right away with the restraint necessary for building a long-term winner. A misstep either way – being too hasty or too cautious – can cost a team one or more of those rare, precious chances for a championship.
How close are the Phillies to being true contenders this season? The moves made by the front office at the trade deadline were a bit of a mixed bag, but they pointed to this organizational conclusion: not close enough.
Not close enough to barter away highly rated prospects in the pursuit of improved starting pitching. Not close enough to use those same prospects to bolster their offense with the kind of real power and consistency it lacks. They are close, but not that close.
The three moves the Phillies made were all reasonable enough, particularly if adding veteran presence for stability means anything. The players they traded for are all 30 years old or more, and all will be free agents after this season. If they are merely rentals, which appears to be the case, at least the rent was cheap.
They added 32-year-old, switch-hitting infielder Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets for the price of Franklyn Kilome, an inconsistent minor-league pitching prospect who can throw the baseball through a wall if he happens to hit it. Cabrera is only a so-so fit because he is mostly a second baseman, but he doesn't figure to take much time from Cesar Hernandez. He's more likely to get his starts at shortstop in place of Scott Kingery, and the best you can say about that is his defense there will blend right in.
The Phils also picked up, from Tampa Bay, catcher Wilson Ramos. He would represent a slugging improvement over Jorge Alfaro, although not a defensive improvement, but he has a bad hamstring that might keep him out until September. That was a player-to-be-named-or-cash deal. Finally, in exchange for triple-A pitcher Jacob Waguespack, an unremarkable prospect, they got lefty reliever Aaron Loup from Toronto to complement Austin Davis and Adam Morgan.
>> READ MORE: The Phillies gambled at the trade deadline
General manager Matt Klentak said he was happy with the trade-deadline moves because they will not "dramatically affect the playing time of our young players," which probably came as a shock to Kingery, and because they didn't get into the expensive market for starting pitchers (as did the Braves, their chief rival in the NL East).
The non-moves were a vote of confidence for the rotation, particularly the back end of Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta. The next month will show if that confidence was warranted, which, judging by recent performances, is a bit of hopeful thinking. When we get to September and the roster expands, manager Gabe Kapler will have additional arms such as Enyel De Los Santos, Drew Anderson, and lefthander Ranger Suarez to add to the mix. It might be that no one will ever pitch more than three innings at a time after that.