Everybody wants Pat Neshek, but what if things had gone better for the Phillies’ tradeable assets in 2017? What if those hamstrings had hung in there, those splitters had split a little harder, that low risk had indeed converted itself into a high reward?
We'll never know. Heck, we don't even know if the Phillies might be able to pull off a deal with the players listed here. But with only one trade for certain, it's pretty clear there's only one guy considered a slam-dunk at the deadline, and his name is, well, I just said his name up there. So let's set time aside for some wide-eyed wonder about just who on the Phillies might have been headed elsewhere at the trade deadline had things gone another way.
Kendrick opened his Phillies tenure with three hits on opening day, and 11 - including three doubles, a triple, and four walks - in his first week as a member of this disaster. Remember that bases loaded triple in that 144-run first inning against the Nationals? At 33 years old, he was the veteran two-hole hitter who could technically play the outfield and infield while providing an example for young players to follow, as briefly as his time here would be. Always good for a laugh. Always good for a smile. Man, why was this guy available, again?
Of course, following his searing beginnings, he missed a month and a half with a right abdominal strain in mid-April, something that, had it happened to a 22-year-old upstart Howie Kendrick in Los Angeles, probably would have amounted to an ice pack or a shot of goat tranquilizer (I may not understand how baseball medicine works). But, it was happening to 2017, Philadelphia Phillie, mid-thirties Howie Kendrick.
"He told me if he were young and eager, he probably would tell everybody he could play. But he's a little smarter now and he's being cautious. I told him we're going to be cautious with it."
—Pete Mackanin, [Philly.com]
And we were off to the races. Or, not off to them, for at least 10 days.
Kendrick came back in late May for a month before hitting the DL again with a left hamstring issue from which he returned last Friday night, but as far as being a trade chip is concerned... well, he’s still 10th on the team in WAR and he’s played in 33 games. Every time he shows up, he hits. I certainly don't blame a veteran player entering a more team-by-team, deal-by-deal era of his career for being cautious. That's the breaks when you're bringing in veteran talent; the guy's got to look out for a body that's undergone a decade of professional sports wear-and-tear, and that's going to take a few chunks out of the calendar.
When a starting pitcher on a first-place team goes down, all the fourth and fifth place teams scramble to see who in their rotations can fill the void. But something seems not quite right in hoping Hellickson is the answer for a Dodgers squad that just lost Clayton Kershaw for 4-6 weeks. Never mind his numbers. Never mind the shellacking he got from the Brewers over the weekend.
Look, I don’t have to tell you what we were all doing a year ago: Staring out our front windows to see if a taxi carrying Jeremy Hellickson drove past. This year, I forget he’s on the team four out of every five games.
By July 31 in 2016, Hellickson had an ERA of 3.70, was reliable to the point of robotics for a solid six innings (if not more), and maintained his reputation as a guy who wouldn’t turn your head but could at least get a satisfied nod out of you. No one thought the veteran starter wouldn’t be added to a contending rotation for a playoff run. But the Phillies didn’t get the deal they wanted, and here he stayed.
And that was fine. Hellickson returned for 2017 and hasn’t gotten past the fifth inning in almost half of his starts. That ERA is a hair higher this time around - 4.73 looks a lot less attractive to a GM looking for the missing piece - and getting bombed by Milwaukee in his most recent appearance with a week to go before the papers fly and the phones ring off the hook on July 31 (especially that four-run rally in the third that he revived back from two outs for the Brewers with a walk and a wild pitch) didn’t do him any favors.
But boy, there is nobody less rational than the last GM standing when the music stops at the trade deadline, and if there's one universal truth to this time of year, it's that everybody's trying to add pitching. Hellickson could have had a little worse of a first half and still garnered some attention; sadly, it'd be tough to understand interest in him at this point.
Hey, if anybody looks good enough, they’re going to attract a few teams just "doing their due diligence." Especially at the catching position. There’s not exactly a surge of slugging backstops in the league right now, and if Rupp hit like you'd think a 6-2, 260-lbs. catcher could hit, his scouting reports would have changed over the course of the last few months. If they had been able to package Rupp, the Phillies could slot in the more OBP-prone Andrew Knapp and acquire some cheap back-up while waiting for Jorge Alfaro’s numbers to come back up. The future, at the moment, is written for the Phillies at the catching position, and Rupp isn’t it. Which doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been it, for at least a little while, somewhere else.
Completing a seven-run comeback with a bomb against the NL Central leaders would be a three-run cherry on top for the delight of all onlooking GMs. Even though he’s appeared in five big league seasons for the Phillies, Rupp’s only totaled about a season and a half of appearances, which is why it feels like he has been around forever. Despite this, he got the majority of the starts last year in 105 games, and has still never had things click at the plate.
Rupp has shown an adequate arm for throwing out base runners, nailing 9 of 27 this season, reflective of the 35% rate at which he’s caught runners stealing for the rest of his career. But there’s just nothing in that bat that makes his 183 AB anymore attractive to a team trying to improve. Maybe we'd be having a different conversation if he had been able to ride a hot streak into a hot month - from May 4 to May 14 in six starts he had ten hits, two home runs, two walks, and six RBI - but instead he folded into a stretch from May 16-30 in which he had two hits in ten games. He could have been the sexy new backstop on the trade deadline charts. But alas, we’re here in Philly looking for blips in Andrew Knapp’s OBP while the rest of the league scrambles for bullpen help.
Ah, well. At least he looks good with a puppy in either arm.
We keep trying to make Tommy Joseph happen.
This is the first base trade market, literally just this, the Yankees and A's having a stare down over Yonder Alonso https://t.co/sFPH1YzSN6— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) July 21, 2017
Nobody else really seems to want Tommy Joseph to happen. And to be fair, you don’t have to squint too hard to find a corner infielder hitting .246 on most rosters.
But we all kept forcing Tommy Joseph down people’s throats because it all just made too much sense, because, well; I don’t have to tell you why, I can just make the same sort of excited squeals we’ve been making about Rhys Hoskins since spring training.
Imagine if Joseph’s comeback from repetitive concussion injuries gets completed as he hits a nice, crisp .260-.270 with solid power and 20 home runs; good enough numbers to raise somebody’s eye brows from out of town, but not so good that you start to wonder if maybe he’s worth keeping around. Hoskins blots out the sun with baseballs as an IronPig until the inevitable Joseph trade is completed and Hoskins falls out of the Phillies clubhouse broom closet he’s been hiding in.
But the folly of narratives is that they’re just words on the page. After hitting .300 in May, Joseph lost his footing and watched his OPS drop 200 points in June and July. To make things even more fun, Hoskins is slashing .200/.282/.357 this month for Lehigh Valley, and as cited above, the first base market isn’t exactly on fire. Joseph wouldn’t be the missing piece for anybody, he’d be, at best, the surprise hit of the summer, but there’s a lot of doubt - and a lot of two-strike counts (177 in 329 AB), in which he is hitting .186 - to sift through and not a huge market in which to do it.
If the Phillies had more than one effective reliever, there would have been a lot less talk about their 110-loss pace, let alone potential trades at the deadline. My god, imagine if Jeanmar Gomez had been a thing. Or Hector Neris hadn’t needed to get all of those hittable splitters out of his system. Benoit was supposed to be a stabilizing force behind the gate and something of a stopper on the mound. He’s actually been adept at posting zeroes, but there are certain stand-outs among his game logs in which the crooked numbers crept in: A game-losing three-run meltdown April 16 vs. the Nationals. A disastrous pair of RBI doubles vs. the Mariners on May 10. June was dotted with unpleasantness, including four out of nine appearances in which he gave up multiple hits in relief. That stuff doesn't play well for a team in the playoffs.
And now it’s July. Benoit has only given up five earned runs in ten games, as well as ten strikeouts to one walk through nine innings, but GMs with the twirling pupils of trade deadline madness don’t want a guy who can’t go out there and smother the opposing lineup with a pillow. Pat Neshek has really made it hard for relievers to look good, pitching himself into the Phillies history books and all. Compared to him, Benoit giving up an RBI double to Ryan Braun Sunday just looks wrong.
Look, I don’t even know if Saunders is better than what he was. After glancing at his numbers, I’m not even sure the guy who was supposed to be a slugging presence in the middle of the Phillies’ order had arms while he was here. The point is, what is Michael Saunders doing right now? Hitting .211 for the Blue Jays AAA team? Something tells me that won’t be that acquisition that saves Toronto’s season.
But gosh, allow yourself one last drift into fantasy land and imagine that Saunders stands up in the five-hole: Hits 20 taters. Puts up a .300 BA. Twenty-five doubles. Thirty walks. Under 100 strikeouts. Am I drawing from his famed first half of 2016? Directly, yes. Imagine all of that happening, but in our favor. And not,