The loss on Independence Day by the Phillies to the Atlanta Braves felt like a kick in patriotic shorts. Staked to a four run lead, the pitching proceeded to let in nine unanswered runs, leading to another loss that could be blamed directly on the pitching staff.
Also on Independence Day, the team placed Juan Nicasio on the injured list, their eighth reliever that has seen time on the injured list this season.
This past Saturday, Jake Arrieta took the loss in a game against the lowly Mets, a game in which he allowed six runs in 4 1⁄3 innings. It was the end of a seven start stretch in which he has posted a 6.63 ERA in 38 innings, something the team wasn’t on board with when they bestowed a $75 million contract on him last season.
All of this adds up to a team that came into the season with playoff aspirations and enters the All-Star break a 1⁄2 game in front of Milwaukee for the final wild card position in the National League. It is quite clear that for them to continue on their pace of being able to make the playoff game, they’ll need reinforcements. We as fans can all see the area that needs the most improvement too. Watching lead after lead being given up by this pitching staff has been difficult to watch as the season has gone on. The rotation has been the object of the most scorn. It’s been noted that if Aaron Nola were to pitch that play-in game and win, the pitcher starting the next round probably isn’t on the roster yet. So, we all know what needs to be done. The question is: should they do it?
This Phillies team is officially at a crossroads in their season. There has to be improvements made to this roster if it wants to even make the postseason, let alone have any success in it. At what cost though? Think about the starting pitching market. We can probably list several names that the team has its eyes on, with our own Alex Carr doing a masterful job of keeping us up to date on what these players are doing. Now think about what the cost would be for each of these players. Madison Bumgarner has that “playoff grizzled veteran” aroma that stills surrounds him that will no doubt add to his expected cost. Mike Minor is suddenly on a playoff contender in Texas who might not want to deal him after all. The same could be said for Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke. Marcus Stroman, he of the moribund Toronto Blue Jays, has that extra year of team control that extends beyond this season which affects his trade value in a different way. Couple that all of this with the fact that the team will be contending with other teams that will want to boost their own rotation and have better pieces to do it with and you have an interesting question that Matt Klentak have to deal with. Should the team sell of parts of their future in order to maximize their run this year or continue to roll with what they have?
For example, let’s focus on Stroman for a moment. He’s probably the most attractive starter out there at the moment among those with team control. He’s controllable, having a good year after an injury-plagued 2018, and playoff tested as well. He’ll be a free agent after the 2020 season, which means the team can deploy him next season behind Nola as a good 1-2 punch atop the rotation. What does that cost? At the minimum, the discussions would probably have to start with two of their top four prospects (Alec Bohm, Adonis Medina, Luis Garcia, and Spencer Howard) and would probably require at least another prospect in the #8-10 range, plus a little something more at the backend of the deal. Is Marcus Stroman worth that to this team, which would essentially gut their farm system after years of trying to avoid that? Flags fly forever, but are they willing to dole out the price tag?
Let’s now shift the focus to Bumgarner, where the circumstances change. They’d only be guaranteeing themselves a few months of his services before he looks for greener
money pastures elsewhere. Knowing his current success this year, his left-handedness that could neutralize hitters they’d see in the postseason (Freddie Freeman, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger to name a few) and his vaunted postseason heroics, would they be willing to shell out something like a Medina or Adam Haseley for him? It’s a difficult question. We won’t even get into what the relief market will look like because that is always someone overpaying to a large degree.
Many fans will point to the fact that they could have solved the rotation and/or bullpen problems by simply writing a check to Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, but they haven’t exactly set the world on fire in their returns to the big leagues. That ship has sailed and the time focus on the trade market is upon us.
Now, on the other hand, the team could also play the “ride or die” card and simply go with what they’ve got. Zach Eflin stands out as someone who has broken out in a way with the team letting him pitch in the major leagues and continue to improve. They weren’t playing for a playoff spot then, but they still were trying to win baseball games. The team could continue to place their trust in the data they are getting and the coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments to players like Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Enyel De Los Santos in the hopes that they will see the improvement needed to lead them to October. They have gotten this far on those players’ talents. They might just figure that there is enough there to get them to the postseason and beyond.
Arrieta’s injury may change the equation based on what the team finds during the break, but the fact remains the same. They are faced with a difficult decision of whether to mortgage some of their carefully cultivated future in the hopes on making the playoffs or just ride it out with what they have. As fans of the team, most of us would probably want them to go for it. Teams aren’t guaranteed shots at the playoffs every year and those shots should be maxmized whenever possible. At the same time, John Middleton’s checkbook can’t be counted on to bring in the answers every offseason. There has to be cost controlled talent coming from the minor leagues to supplement the big league roster every year. Trading that talent away is difficult to do, which is why teams are loathe to do it so often. It’ll be fascinating to see how the team decides to go in the coming weeks. Not only will it shape their 2019 roster, but it promises to shape future rosters beyond this year as well.