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What should be the team’s focus at the trade deadline?

Zach Eflin’s injury may have changed the equation a bit

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MLB: San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As this season has progressed, the Phillies have had most, if not all, of their warts exposed at some point. We’ve seen the offense struggle at times, the result of a collection of streaky hitters all going cold at the same time. We’ve seen the bullpen have issues getting people out with any kind of regularity, so much so that a change in the closer’s position has had to happen. We’ve seen the defense struggle to get even the basic plays right. And last, even though there was a stretch where Odubel Herrera was modestly effective at the plate, the center field spot has continued to be a black hole for this team, the stretch dating back to the days of Shane Victorino.

Basically, everything that we have said could be their Achilles’ heel leading up to the season has come to fruition.

Once Dave Dombrowski was given the go ahead to spend over the luxury tax, it was never more obvious that making it to the playoffs was, at the bare minimum, the goal for the season. The team was not going to spend this amount of money only to be able to wave the “We finished over .500!” flag once more. The change in manager, something Dombrowski said he was loathe to do midseason, sent another flare up that this team needed to make the playoffs this year and that the current setup wasn’t the right way to get that done. So, we’ve always known that reinforcements were going to be needed in order to help this team. We just didn’t know the priority list for the team when it came to which reinforcements would be the ones they went after the hardest.

This weekend may have just changed the calculus a bit.

The 2022 Phillies were built around their offense and starting pitching. Having Zack Wheeler and a good Aaron Nola at the top has helped them lean on that rotation a bit, the back three only needing to make sure the team remained close. Luckily for the Phillies, there have been games where they have gotten really good performances out of Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson and Ranger Suarez, especially in the month of June. During this run of success, their offense has definitely been the catalyst, but the rotation has been one of the better ones in the game. In June, they have the eighth best starters’ ERA (3.19), as well as the rotation with the best walks per nine in that time period (1.68). It has helped that they have kept runners off base, as well as limiting the damage if they do get on.

The biggest thing that they as a group has given them is health. They’ve only had to rely on another starter other than their regular five only three times this year and one of those was because of the doubleheader this past weekend. Now, Eflin has had his last two starts cut short because of knee problems and there may be the possibility he needs to go onto the injured list. The natural replacement would be Bailey Falter, but after that, the team’s depth thins out very quickly. From those on the 40-man roster already, Cristopher Sanchez would be the next man up, but after him, the options in the minors have either been injured (Hans Crouse) or not good (James McArthur) during their minor league stints. So, the team may have to go the trade route to add something to the bullpen.

Before this injury, the priority list for what the team should be looking to acquire probably started with the bullpen. It was probably followed by bullpen help, then again by, you guessed it, more bullpen help (it’s been that bad). There are still those of us who believe it’s finally time to address the center field issue by trading for someone like Bryan Reynolds, even parting with a major piece to begin with. But if we follow how the team has been trying to operate this season, it’s starting to look like adding another starting pitcher may have just jumped to the forefront of the team’s deadline plans.

Of course, as we all contemplate the available options, we have to take into account two things:

  1. the Phillies could look at some teams and do some one-stop shopping
  2. they have the cash to acquire bad contracts, perhaps lessening the price in prospects they’d have to pay

In an article Matt Gelb wrote last week about acquiring help for center field, he talked about how maybe the team doesn’t go the star player route. Maybe they take a more subtle approach to improving the position.

Maybe the Phillies would rather devote their scant prospect capital to a more pressing need than center field...Even if center field is the most logical place for an upgrade should the Phillies pursue a non-pitching acquisition, they could do it on a smaller scale and delay a more long-term decision until after the season.

Some of the names he mentions - Ramon Laureano, Michael A. Taylor - are playing with teams that also have options at other positions the Phillies could also use help with. If the team were willing to take on Laureano’s contract, maybe they could induce the Athletics into parting with Frankie Montas for a return that doesn’t include either Mick Abel or Andrew Painter. If the team was willing to pay the rest of Taylor’s contract for 2022, maybe Kansas City would be more willing to discuss adding Josh Staumont in a deal as well.

This is all assuming they still want to add a center fielder. They may simply be content riding with some combination of Herrera, Matt Vierling and Mickey Moniak, relying on the rest of the team for offense when it’s needed. The team’s focus when it comes to trade targets could very rest on adding bullpen depth and bullpen depth only.

Regardless of what they do, there have to be some upgrades made. Adding pieces to the bullpen might be the route they go, believing that the injury to Eflin isn’t enough that they need to go out and grab another starter. There is some logic in this thinking. After all, had they believed his injury to be more serious than it was, it’s unlikely they would have let him start at all on Sunday. Adding a center fielder could still be a course of action, whether that be a defensive upgrade, an offensive stud or a combination of both. Or they could feel that another starting pitcher, then perhaps moving someone like Ranger Suarez to the bullpen again, would be the best way to help both parts of the pitching staff.

However, if they believe that there is any way that Eflin could be compromised with his balky knee, adding a starter to the rotation might be their new charted course. It’s something to look into as the deadline draws near.