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Critical off-season mistakes put the Phillies in a trade deadline hole

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Errors in pitching additions this off-season leaves the Phils in a hole they’ll have trouble digging out of.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Last night, it took just four batters for Matt Moore’s start, and the entire night’s proceedings, to unravel.

As Josh Bell’s three-run, line drive home run rocketed over the right-center field stands 15 minutes into the second game of an important four-game series against the Nationals, the Phillies found themselves in a quick 3-0 hole. One inning later, Moore surrendered another three-run shot, this one to Juan Soto, to make it 6-1 before most people had managed to get comfortable in their seats.

The game, despite a small insurgency in the middle innings by Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper, was over.

It was a typical Matt Moore start, one that pushed his ERA up to 6.46 after four lackluster innings in which he gave up those six runs on seven hits and two walks with two strikeouts.

He has lasted at least five innings in just three of his nine starts.

He has a -0.6 bWAR.

His WHIP is 1.652.

Opponents have a .917 OPS against him.

None of this is good.

Back in late January, the Phils signed Moore to a guaranteed $3 million contract. No, it’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it was notable in that it was guaranteed money, which meant Dave Dombrowski expected Moore to be a part of their starting rotation.

In retrospect, it was a mistake. But it wasn’t the only one.

A couple weeks after the Moore signing, the Phils inked Chase Anderson to a $4 million guaranteed deal, again with the expectation that he would be a part of the starting rotation in 2021. Anderson has been hurt most of the season, but in eight starts (12 games) he’s posted a 6.98 ERA and a bWAR of -0.5 in 40 innings. He has spent much of the last few weeks rehabbing in Lehigh Valley but was called up this week because of a roster crunch to be a long reliever in the bullpen.

He pitched two innings in Monday’s series opener against the Nats, his only big league appearance since May 31. Joe Girardi has avoided using him at all costs.

Prior to Dombrowski’s arrival, the nameless, faceless cadre of shadowy figures that were making baseball decisions after Matt Klentak’s departure as general manager (the TVA perhaps?) signed Vince Velasquez to a pre, non-tender deadline deal of $4 million guaranteed. Despite hauling a 4.76 ERA across five seasons with the Phillies (99 starts, 501 innings), the Phils kept Vinny Velo in the fold because they were concerned about their pitching depth.

They were right to be concerned. Velasquez responded with some solid outings and hopes were raised when, in six starts between April 23 and May 25, he went 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA and allowed a .677 OPS. In his last 10 starts since May 31, however, he’s gone 1-5 with an ERA of 7.74 and an OPS allowed of .910. He’s lasted less than five innings in half those starts and no more than five in seven of them. His ERA on the season stands at 5.54 with a WHIP of 1.431.

The off-and-on struggles of Aaron Nola have hurt the Phillies, as has Zach Eflin’s knee injury and inability to separate himself as an above-average starter (4.17 ERA, 1.249 WHIP in 18 starts), but the issue at the back of the rotation can no longer be described as a problem.

It’s a full-on gaping flesh wound.

On Tuesday, the Phillies thought they had a deal with the Pirates to obtain a back-of-the-rotation starter in left-hander Tyler Anderson, only to see that deal scuttled due to concerns over an injury to a minor league pitcher. Anderson was later traded to the Mariners.

Although clearly better and more reliable than Moore, Anderson and/or Velasquez, Anderson was hardly the final piece of the puzzle to fix the rotation, but he would have helped. Unlike the Phils’ dynamic trio, Anderson has stayed healthy (18 starts) and pitched deeper into games, with at least five innings in every start this season. He’s pitched six innings or more in eight of them.

A 4.35 ERA and 1.3 bWAR is similar to Eflin’s season thus far, and would have been similar to the Jason Vargas trade in 2019, when he came to the Phils with a 4.01 ERA in 18 starts with a 1.8 bWAR.

Anderson would have been a tourniquet, something merely to stop the bleeding, and make no mistake, the back of the Phillies’ rotation is gushing blood right now. Spencer Howard hasn’t been able to pitch past the fourth inning, Velasquez is imploding, and it’s pretty clear the Phils would be better served by seeing less of Moore.

Now, Dombrowski must turn elsewhere to stem the blood loss.

It won’t be easy. Prices will almost certainly come down ahead of Friday’s trade deadline at 4pm, and it’s likely the team will secure a No. 4 or 5 starter in the same vein as Anderson, but it’s unfortunately Dombrowski has to approach the trade deadline this way at all. Had he, and the team, made better decisions with regard to the pitching staff this off-season, perhaps he could spend time trying to land bigger fish over the next couple days.

If the Phillies are going to push the Mets and separate themselves from the Braves in the NL East, they need to do more than stop the bleeding. They need to do more than tread water. They need to add at least one truly impactful piece at the deadline, as well as a few other additions.

Dave Dombrowski has done it before, and there’s no doubt the NL East is there for the taking. But first, he must rectify some off-season moves that cost the team $11 million, lots of wasted innings and an exhausted bullpen.

It’s an important reminder that, off-season mistakes often must be fixed at the deadline before real additions can be made.