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The Phillies are in a tough spot as the trade deadline comes into focus

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Do they have the pieces to make any kind of significant moves?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline is coming. The Phillies have a bunch of games before then - starting with the Nationals and Mets - that will determine whether they are buyers, sellers or somewhere in between at the deadline. If the team does decide to become buyers, Matt Gelb of the Athletic points out one player that might pique the interest of other teams.

As the front office debates its path in the coming weeks, Rafael Marchan might be a prominent focus in those discussions. He is 22 and talented. He plays a premium position but is blocked for the foreseeable future. He intrigues other teams. That makes him a potential trade chip in July...[h]e’ll be out of minor-league options in 2024; that’s the fourth year of J.T. Realmuto’s five-year contract. The Phillies can find ways to continue Marchan’s development despite his place on the 40-man roster, but it does make it tougher. All of this might nudge the Phillies to dangle Marchan in July if the right offer materializes.

Marchan might be the team’s best trade chip that is also the closest to the major leagues, something teams might be prioritizing in a season full of minor league attrition. But what exactly would Marchan get the team? Are they even someone who should be buying at the deadline, trading away assets in a season that is slowly going south?

In an earlier article for the Athletic, Jim Bowden classified the Phillies as buyers during this current trade market.

The Phillies are nothing more than a .500 team, but this year that’s good enough for second place in the NL East, five games behind the Mets. The Phillies rank 10th in the NL in runs scored and ninth in team ERA — mediocrity personified. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski worked to bolster the bullpen with limited funds in the offseason, but the improvement from their worst-in-the-majors unit in 2020 hasn’t been significant enough, as shown by the bullpen’s 4.49 ERA and 14 blown saves this season. This team has a lot of needs, but improving the bullpen should continue to be its primary focus.

It’s hard to argue with this logic, that the team should be buyers thanks to the overall weakness of the division, but the cost of adding those pieces that Bowden mentions may not be something the Phillies are going to be able to pay.

The rate of injuries that are happening to teams around the league this season is causing many to alter pitching roles that they haven’t had to alter before. As the season marches on, the need for pitching is going to increase, particularly among teams that are competing for the postseason. The innings that will need to be filled will cause teams to not only raid their own minor leagues, but also look outside the organizations for additional help. All of this will lead to an increase in demand for pitching, which in turn will cause the compensation for trading away that pitching to go up. All of a sudden, where trading for a soon-to-be free agent #4 starter may have cost a few low level lottery tickets, those costs may be driven up to the point where a top 100-125 prospect might be the desired return to trade that pitcher.

Which brings us back to the Phillies. Marchan is a nice player, one that could help a decent number of teams. However, we have to have realistic expectations about what he would fetch in a trade. How many teams are going to be in the market for a light hitting, defense first catcher that might not grow into the power necessary for today’s game? How many teams would be willing to part with something significant enough that it would still help the Phillies in 2021 or beyond? Keeping Marchan for next year might also have the added benefit of allowing the team to move on from Andrew Knapp as their backup catcher, therefore saving them a few million dollars next season.

It puts the Phillies in a really tough spot come this trade deadline. Their minor league system has maybe a few players that would be desirable of other team, but as far as playing for the big boys, your Scherzers, your Meanses, those are going to be players that will cost any team a very nice set of prospects, ones the Phillies really don’t have a lot of. As Gelb put in his article, a lot of the Phillies best prospect are in the lower parts of the minors, years away from making an impact. The ones that are the closest are the ones the Phillies really should be leaning on soon to make their own impact in Philadelphia. It’s possible that someone sees something in Bryson Stott and they look to move him, but shouldn’t he be considered for a second base, or even a third base, spot in the near future?

So while someone like Marchan might be able to get someone of use to the team, it may not be enough to paper over the plethora of holes this team has. They’ve been plagued by inconsistency and injury to be sure, but there isn’t a whole lot of roster wiggle room right now. Any starter that they were to hypothetically trade for would have to bump out someone else, possibly someone whose salary is not exactly commensurate with bench status. It’s a tough needle to thread, a needle created by the lack of roster management knowhow of the previous general manager.

So while yes, Rafael Marchan might be dangled in a trade this trade season, he’s not going to be bringing back anything that is going to shift the tide in the division. No one that the team would even consider trading from their minor league system will. So that leaves them stuck, which leaves us stuck. It’ll be interesting to watch unfold this month plus.