At last year’s trade deadline, the Braves had a problem. When the team went their separate ways at the All-Star break, the outfield Atlanta had been running out each day consisted of Abraham Almonte (.764 OPS), Ehire Adrianza (.770) and Guillermo Heredia (.754). While they had been performing somewhat admirably at the time, anyone watching them knew that if they were going to make any kind of run at the playoffs, that trio was not going to cut it. Improvements had to be made.
The biggest name that was rumored to be available to help in the outfield was Kris Bryant, someone that would have fit well with Atlanta, but they decided to forgo that option. Instead, the Braves went and used their prospect depth to basically grab an entirely new outfield for what turned out to be very little cost. First, it was Joc Pederson during the break, then they added Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler before the final bell tolled, giving themselves options for one of them to possibly get hot and help the team offensively.
You know the rest.
All three of them somehow defied the odds and gave the Braves outstanding performances that carried them to a World Series title. Pederson (.752 OPS), Duvall (.800), and Soler (.852) gave the team what was needed to help the team get hot enough to sustain the team into October. Even the most ardent Braves fan would have to admit there was a bit of luck involved in having all three players perform as well as they did, but there is also the part of the story that some people miss. When these players were acquired, they were not meant to be the players that carried the team offensively. Instead, they were meant to supplement the stars of the team that were already playing well, players like Austin Riley, Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies. Having one of them hit reasonably well in Atlanta might have been expected. Having three players go completely bonkers like that outfield trio did was a luxury. It added to the offensive depth the team had, making their lineup impossibly difficult to navigate during a series and gave them a title.
So what does this have to do with the Phillies?
It’s almost a guarantee that most of the proposed deals you will find from the fanbase has the team acquiring someone from the very top of the market to help the Phillies. It’s a lot more fun to think of a package that might land them someone like Luis Castillo, Bryan Reynolds or someone of that nature than it is to shove things around in the clearance section. However, it may not be in the team’s best interest to shop at the top of market. Instead, they should be looking to replicate what the Braves did a season ago: don’t pay top dollar for the best trade targets. Focus on adding some depth on the cheap that may not quicken your heartbeat, but gives the team much more help in case of injury or ineffectiveness.
They’ve got the players already
As I stated earlier, the Braves didn’t add that trio of outfielders thinking they would be gamechangers for the lineup. They already had players capable of filling those roles. Instead, they added a bunch of wild cards that ended up hitting extremely well for them. The Phillies are in much the same position with the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto in the lineup, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the rotation. If we were to count Bryce Harper and Jean Segura among that group in due time, that’s a solid group of players that can lead them into the playoffs. What the Phillies truly need is to add around the edges so that depending on Johan Camargo, Yairo Munoz and the like isn’t a necessity.
Let’s talk about the lineup first. Even though it feels like half of the lineup is hitting below what the expectation of them was (looking at you, Nick), If we use wRC+ as the metric of choice, their 102 number ranks 12th in the game, plenty good enough to sustain them over the coming weeks. Additions would be welcome, of course, but then we have to think about where they might play and who they might displace. The most obvious place that people think the team needs to upgrade at is in center field, but who exactly is available? Is the team thinking of grabbing Andrew Benintendi and playing him out of position there? Are they interested in grabbing someone like Ramon Laureano or Michael A. Taylor? That might be all well and good, but then they have to ask themselves: is it really better than what they already have? Matt Vierling has more or less taken over as the regular center fielder, starting six of the last eight games the team has played in. While he hasn’t exactly hit well in that time period, his defense has actually been more than adequate (0 OAA, exactly average). He’s not embarrassing himself out there and looks more comfortable with each game.
If there is another place to upgrade, maybe the team looks to move on from Didi Gregorius and grab someone with a better glove at the spot on a cheap deal. While they do have Bryson Stott to fill in there long term, the fact that Stott is needed at second base right now makes that notion impossible. There aren’t many of the top shortstops available like there have been in the past, but maybe someone like Jose Iglesias from the Rockies, playing on a one year deal, might be of interest. He’s hitting .301/.340/.404 on the season (97 wRC+) and though he has lost a bit defensively, he’s still an upgrade there over Gregorius. Were the team to grab him, he probably wouldn’t command a huge return, certainly not one of the top prospects the team has in their system.
Which brings us to our next point.
Think of the farm system
Luis Castillo is certainly the best option among starting pitchers that could help the team. David Bednar is probably the best one among relievers. When it comes to hitters, there is Reynolds, Benintendi, Wilson Contreras, Ian Happ, dare I say it....Juan Soto?
It’s not as if you are the only one noticing this either. If you are aware that these players represent the very best that are available at the deadline, surely their current teams know this as well and have attached a certain prospect return they feel is worthy of their talents.
Do the Phillies even have that kind of prospect capital to play at in that part of the trade pool?
We’ve seen multiple reports that the team is not going to trade their top three pitching prospects, which means they can probably forget about adding these kinds of players. But think about what the Braves dealt last year at their deadline. None of the acquisitions they made cost them anything real of value in terms of prospects, no players that they are thinking will come back to truly bite them. Much like that, there are deals to be made with the prospects the Phillies are willing deal that can still improve the club in some way. They just aren’t the ones that are going to move the needle much among the national pundits.
Of course we would love to see someone like Castillo join the rotation. Having him join Wheeler and Nola would give the team a devastating trio of pitchers that keeps them in most games. We’ve seen time and time again how much having solid starting pitching helps a team in the playoffs and with the extra round this year added as a best of three, having three good starters is going to separate contenders and pretenders. Again, though, getting someone like Castillo, an ace level starter, would probably require them to part with someone they aren’t keen on parting with. Instead, acquiring someone like Brad Keller (3.96/4.22 ERA/FIP, 16.4 K%) might fit what they want to do a little better. Adding depth to the rotation with someone like Keller helps them move away from relying on Zach Eflin and his constantly balky knees and helps them not have to dip too much into minor league starting pitching depth they really don’t actually have. It’s not the sexiest of moves, but it also helps give them something they need right now - consistent innings in the rotation.
If there is a deal to be made for someone at the top of the trade market, the team should pursue it. The playoff drought has made them desperate to join the October parade as evidenced by their offseason spending. With how the roster is currently constructed though, they may not have to go out and add from that top if it means parting with the very best of their prospects. There are ways to improve the team that may not be the most eye catching at first, but could pay dividends as the season crawls on. It’s up to Sam Fuld and Dave Dombrowski to know what those moves are and to make them.