The Phillies didn’t trade for Juan Soto. They didn’t get Luis Castillo. They didn’t acquire Frankie Montas or Tyler Mahle, and they didn’t pry Ian Happ away from the Cubs.
(By the way, what on earth are the Cubs doing? Keeping Willson Contreras and Happ?)
Reluctant to give up any of their Big-3 pitching prospects, Mick Abel, Andrew Painter or Griff McGarry, team president Dave Dombrowski added depth to their $230 million roster at yesterday’s trade deadline.
It was the right thing.
They traded for Noah Sydergaard, the former flame-thrower who “only” throws 94 mph now, to be their No. 3/4 starter. They brought former Phillie Dave Robertson back to finish what he was not able to do in 2019-20, pitch high leverage innings in a pennant race for the Phils. And they may have found their center fielder of the future, Brandon Marsh, a player who strikes out like it’s a bodily function but is an elite glove in center and was a top-30 prospect in baseball heading into last season. Oh, and they added defensive whiz Edmundo Sosa to be the back-up shortstop, too.
None are breathtaking additions, but it is not always the breathtaking additions that win championships.
By adding Syndergaard, the Phillies assured themselves of some reliability in the wake of Zach Eflin landing on the 60-day IL for continued knee issues. Starting Bailey Falter or a bullpen game every fifth day was simply not an option, although Dombrowski says he didn’t think he was going to be able to land a starter up until 15 minutes before the deadline.
Robertson’s arrival takes some of the pressure off Seranthony Dominguez, who is in his first full season coming off Tommy John surgery, giving Rob Thomson one more reliable arm in the later innings, and shortening games all the more. Phils starters no longer need to feel indebted to finish seven innings every time out, although that certainly won’t be discouraged. Not only that, the Phils DFA’d Jeurys Familia and his 6.09 ERA as a result. Addition by subtraction, to be sure.
Marsh will assume the everyday gig in center, replacing the combination of Matt Vierling and Odubel Herrera. Sure, Vierling will still get some starts against tough left-handers, but it’ll Marsh out there most of the time, giving the Phillies one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. Marsh has 9 OAA (Outs Above Average), tied with Max Kepler for most among MLB outfielders. That’s important playing in between two of the worst defensive corner outfielders in the game, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, although the Phillies got some good news as Bryce Harper has begun a throwing program again. And like the dismissal of Familia, Marsh’s arrival means the end of Herrera’s time in Philadelphia, too.
The addition of Sosa flew under the radar, but don’t underestimate the importance of an above average defender at an important position like shortstop in a playoff atmosphere. For years the Phillies have eschewed defense in exchange for offense, so it was important to find ways to shore up that aspect of what they do. Good teams make the plays that need to be made and sometimes are forced to make the great play. Sosa likely replaces Didi Gregorius on the roster when Jean Segura returns, shoring up yet another roster spot with a quality baseball player in Sosa.
When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did not make the big splash. The Milwaukee Brewers went all-in with the acquisition of CC Sabathia, and he helped them win the NL Wild Card. The Dodgers got the best hitter in baseball, Manny Ramirez, and he went crazy down the stretch, propelling L.A. to a division title. The Phils, meanwhile, added Joe Blanton to fortify the middle of the rotation, Scott Eyre for middle relief, and traded for Matt Stairs during the post Aug. 1 waiver trade deadline.
It didn’t feel like enough at the time, but it added significant depth to an already-good roster. At the end of the day, the Phils knocked off the Brewers in the NLDS and the Dodgers in the NLCS before hammering the Rays in the World Series. Now, that’s not to say Sabathia and Ramirez weren’t awesome additions, because they were. Both helped get their respective teams into the postseason, which is the whole reason why you make moves at the deadline.
Certainly the limited prospect capital they could afford to give up affected their shopping list. While Abel, Painter and McGarry are not assured of big league success (and if Phillies history is to be repeated, it’s less likely than not), they do represent the future. Teams like the Padres, Yankees, Dodgers and Rays can afford to trade away whatever prospects they want because they have so many. Whether they choose to do so is another matter. But the Phillies had limited resources and utilized them to fill three glaring holes.
Fans have complained about the top-heavy nature of the team for years, and for good reason. John Middleton has sunk big bucks into Harper, Castellanos, Wheeler, Schwarber, Realmuto, Gregorius and others, with nothing much to show for it so far. This year, the team appears deeper. The bullpen is better. The top of the rotation is healthy and dominant, and with Segura returning Thursday and Harper a couple weeks behind him, the offense will finally be whole again.
A productive offense combined with a dominant top-two in the rotation, a collection of stable arms 3-5 and a suddenly dominant, bat-missing bullpen makes the Phillies a very dangerous team. They’ve improved defensively in some real ways, strengthened evergreen need in the ‘pen, and got a starter to get them to the finish line, barring another injury of course.
The Phils already had the high-priced stars. What they needed was depth.