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The Phillies Don't Need a Righthanded Bat

A lot of the nonsensical trade rumors you've probably been hearing from your neighbors and over the airwaves have been inspired by people's internalization of the talking point that the Phillies "need a righthanded bat." This is groupthink garbage.

If you're one of those who believes that the Phillies do "need a righthanded bat," please complete this sentence - they "need" a righthanded bat to do what?

Do they need it to get into the playoffs? Obviously, the answer to that is no.

Do they need it to get to the World Series? No. Worse teams than the current Phillies make it to the World Series nearly every single year, including the two that made it last year.

Do they need it to win the World Series? No. Worse teams than the current Phillies win the World Series nearly every single year, including the team that won it last year.

The Phillies don't "need" a righthanded bat to do anything. They're going to make the playoffs with or without it, and they'll have more than a fair chance of winning the World Series with or without it. When people say that they "need" a righthanded bat, what they really mean is this: "There's one area on the Phillies' roster that is subpar, and acquiring a righthanded bat will fix it."

That's all well and good, and clearly, fixing that weakness would increase the Phillies' probability of winning the World Series, but too many people are overestimating the size of that increase. I think this is happening because people have a vague intuition that a baseball team is like a suit or armor, which is only as strong as its weakest point, or a video game boss, where all you have to do is attack its weak point for massive damage. That intuition might feel right in your gut, but it's wrong - baseball doesn't work that way. Weaknesses in baseball can be exploited to a degree, but there are some pretty sharp limits. Staying with their current lineup might make the Phillies more vulnerable to LHPs, and that will have some effect on the Phillies' odds of winning in the postseason, but opposing teams can only increase their LHP IPs by so much. No team is capable of throwing good LOOGYs out there for all nine innings.

This isn't football, where a quarterback can pick on one or two weak defenders for an entire game and shred a defense that's otherwise full of good players. What really matters in baseball is a team's overall talent level. Let's say you have two 100-win teams -  Team 1 has an A- player at every position on the field, while Team 2 has A+ players at most positions but D- players at a few positions. Team 1 might have a slight edge in the playoffs, but only a slight one. They're both still 100-win teams.

This might sound like a semantic point, but I don't think it is. A "need" is a "necessity," and a "necessity" is something you have to have. If Ruben thinks a righthanded bat is a necessity, then he will still negotiate the price down as far as he can, but when the deadline comes, he'll feel compelled to take the best offer available, whatever it is, because that price will, by definition, be worth it. But a righthanded bat isn't a necessity for winning a World Series. Nor is it sufficient. Nor would it even have any more than a slightly disproportionate impact on the Phils' odds. It would essentially just be a standard upgrade, no different from any other upgrade.

This doesn't mean it's without value. Upgrades are wonderful things. Every additional percentage point that you can add to your postseason odds is valuable. But if they aren't necessities, then Ruben doesn't have to take the best offer still on the table when the clock strikes midnight on the 31st. Instead, he can hold out for one where the costs are actually outweighed by the benefits, and if he doesn't get one, he can walk away altogether.

And I think it's unlikely that he'll get an offer like that, because the benefits are modest (see Hunter Pence) and the costs are real. Contrary to what you might have heard, this is not the Phillies' "window" to win a World Series. The Phillies are a relatively wealthy team with a good minor league system. They can continue to win for years to come - if they try. People only insist that the Phillies are in a temporary window because that's what they want to believe, so as to rationalize their base desire to indulge in profligacy. Those future teams may very well have opportunities to win the World Series. It might be worth it to hurt those future odds a little to help our present-day odds a lot, but it isn't worth it to hurt our future odds a lot to help our present-day odds a little - which is exactly what you'll find yourself doing if you falsely tell yourself that the future is hopeless no matter what when it isn't.