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Are the Phillies Tanking the Rest of 2016?

A season headed nowhere. 40 man roster rules. Protected draft picks. Free agency. Smoke. Fire? Enter here for paranoid fever dreams.

Dat bat, yo...
Dat bat, yo...
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies haven't explicitly been shutting down starting pitchers, but they are suddenly not pitching left and right. Aaron NolaZach EflinJeremy Hellickson. In addition, we hear J.P. Crawford may not get a call-up in September. Nick Williams might not, either.

When players are injured, they are injured. When they hit innings ceilings or cross thresholds that they may not have crossed earlier in the careers, maybe you don't want to push them. The Phillies also have a numbers crunch in the 40 man roster and they may not want to move players like Crawford or Williams around just yet.  All legitimate. But...all at once, man?

The conspiracy theorist in me looks at the standings. The teams with the 10 worst records in the regular season get a protected first round draft pick that can't be forfeited if the team signs a free agent in the offseason whose prior team made a qualifying offer. The team loses a high-level second round pick (which falls after the first round and sandwich picks), which is not nothing, but it isn't nearly the penalty that losing a top 10 pick in the first round is.

The Phillies also have Ryan Howard coming off the payroll and they already have one of the lowest payrolls in all of Major League Baseball. They may make a qualifying offer to Hellickson (or not), but if they do and he leaves, they'd get a sandwich pick as compensation which would offset the loss of their second round pick for signing someone else's QO player.

That said, the free agent class this offseason is not particularly good. On-base percentage and slugging are things I'd look for. While the Phillies might be closer than we think to winning and adding a free agent over the winter might be easier if they stay "bottom 10 bad", a bad deal is still a bad deal.  With lots of financial margin for error, a badly done deal will not bind them up next year or the next or the next, but a roster full of bad deals starts with the first one. There's no reason to sign someone just to spend money stupidly.

Here's my theory: the organization is gathering positive momentum. They probably will not remain a bottom 10 team next year, and hopefully not for a long time afterward. This may be their last shot to pick up a free agent without sacrificing their top draft pick. It might be worth grinding the edge off the team a bit to at least try to place it in the position to pull it off.

Of course, the Phillies could never come out and say that they would tank, but these are smart people who cannot help but be aware of the circumstances. That's their job, after all. If you just aren't sure about Zach Eflin's knee, and he's had a few bad outings, the want to make sure that the team doesn't suddenly put on a late spurt at the end, maybe you justify DL-ing him...and then maybe later just shutting him down for the last month or so, just to be safe. Maybe Hellickson misses an extra start because of the back stiffness...just to be careful.

Crazy? Probably. But crazy like a fox...