Ethan Witte: If at all possible, they should be both. Somehow, some way, they are still only 4 1⁄2 games out of first place in the National League East. The Mets just seem to be 2 steps forward, 1 step back, not being able to mount a nine out of eleven run to take off with the division lead, the Braves are still stuck spinning wheels and the Nationals have cooled off and lost their hottest hitter. While the Phillies haven’t exactly set the world on fire, they also haven’t simply disappeared either.
It’s possible that they could buy the necessary bullpen pieces to shore up what could best be termed a “leaky” bullpen. Adding sixth- or seventh-inning reliever shouldn’t cost them any of their best prospects, so if there is something there, they should pounce. At the same time, were a team that is more assured of a playoff spot become desperate for something the Phillies have, Andrew McCutchen for example, it’s something the Phillies should absolutely look at.
Leo Morgenstern: Can I say neither? The Phillies’ playoff odds are around 15% right now (PECOTA: 18.3%, FanGraphs: 12%, Baseball Reference: 15.6%). 15% isn’t great, and it’s not worth mortgaging the future (i.e. trading Spencer Howard, Mick Abel, or Bryson Stott) for a marginally higher chance at the postseason. On the other hand, it would be ridiculous if the Phillies give up when they still have a 15% chance of making the playoffs. Their best option is to make some small moves here and there and then hope for the best.
Allie Foster: As much as I hate to say it, I think they need to be sellers this year. Now, I’m not saying it should be a fire sale heading into a full rebuild. But I do think the front office needs to take a long, critical look at the state of the organization and realize that this is not a playoff-bound roster and there isn’t much help coming from the minors in the next few years. If ownership wants to continue to refuse to go over the luxury tax, they’re going to have to massively upgrade in another way or risk being relegated to MLB’s purgatory for the next decade.
EW: So Leo, making small moves for players to help upgrade their chances of making the playoffs isn’t becoming a buyer?
LM: I suppose it’s more accurate to say I don’t think they should be major buyers. Dombrowski should make some Brandon Workman-type trades (and hope they work out better this time) but I view that more as damage control than becoming buyers.
I would be more comfortable with the Phillies being full-on buyers if they targeted players who aren’t just one year rentals. I’d be very happy if the Phillies traded for Sonny Gray (signed through ‘23) or German Marquez (signed through ‘24), but if it turns into a bidding war I’m not sure they have the pieces to make one of those deals happen.
Smarty Jones: The playoffs are a possibility, so I’d lean towards the buying side. But the problem is, I don’t know what you can reasonably buy. Maybe you could trade for a third baseman, since its becoming more obvious by the day that Alec Bohm is not a Major League quality third baseman. Aside from that, I’m not sure where you’re going to upgrade the lineup or defense.
The pitching could obviously be improved, but as we saw last year, trading for relievers can sometimes make matters worse, and trading for a starting pitcher better than Vince Velasquez or Matt Moore probably costs more than they should be willing to pay - assuming they even have enough prospect capital to pay even if they wanted to.
If things fall apart, selling raises its own problem: Unless they’re going the total teardown route - which I am strongly against - anything they sell, they’ll need to replace next year. So if you wanted to trade a Jean Segura or Rhys Hoskins, that leaves you with a void at one of the infield spots next year.
EW: Yeah, no way they should be trading guys who have control next season. Even though Segura might grab you a decent package, who will take over for him in 2022? Luke Williams? Nick Maton? But someone who is on a one-year deal, like McCutchen or Archie Bradley, someone who you don’t really have a plan to bring back next year, they’re going to be a little more desirable to a contender.
LM: If they do trade Segura, his replacement for 2022 should be a free agent, not Williams or Maton. The Phillies need to make major improvements, and they have the money to do so. Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javy Baez, and Marcus Semien should all be targets in the 2021-2022 off-season. That being said, I don’t think the Phillies should trade Segura, even if he is their most valuable trade chip. They need him if they want any shot at winning this season, and he or Didi can always move over to third base in 2022 to make room for Story/Seager/Correa/Baez/Semien.
EW: Yeah, that’s why I’m kind of in the “do both” camp. If they get an offer that they can’t refuse, for the good of the franchise, they have to seriously consider it. However, after these past two nights, where they finally have everyone healthy and productive, they may want to just do a soft buy where they scour for some bullpen arms. Let’s face it: they aren’t going anywhere without improving this bullpen. Even as I write this, they allowed six runs in a game the Cubs have no business making any noise in. Thinking that they’ll get by by utilizing matchups to close out games is foolhardy.
Smarty: Maybe Dombrowski will be better at trading for bullpen arms than Klentak was (low set bar), but I have too many memories of midseason reliever trades turning out to be disasters. I’m probably forgetting someone, but it feels like the best midseason reliever additions the Phillies have made over the last twenty years were J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre, and both of those guys were off the waiver wire.
AF: Scott Eyre was the best midseason reliever addition in franchise history, change my mind.
But also, as much as I see the value in the “do both” mentality, I’m concerned that continuing to only make little moves here and there just isn’t going to be enough. Is this a playoff bubble team that only needs one or two key pieces to push them over the edge? Some days, yes. Other days, they’re so far off they might as well be playing a different sport.
The front office hasn’t made a major move (besides re-signing Realmuto) since Zack Wheeler. And besides him, they haven’t done much of note since the winter of Harper/Realmuto. How long will they spin the wheels of mediocracy before finally doing something significant?