Remember the days of “Trust the Prospects”? The days when the fanbase was just itching to see homegrown talent make good in the major leagues, guys that would come up together regardless of position and be ready to win together. It was how the championship team of 1980 was built. It was how the championship team of 2008 was built. It’s the way that many fans would rather their teams be built when it comes to assemble a podium at second base for a trophy presentation. For those people that follow the team, there is just something about seeing guys drafted/signed as amateurs, developed and graduated that makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
For the Phillies, the past few weeks have seen a marked shift in the team’s procurement of pitching talent to help them win in 2023. The days of waiting for the pitchers in the development system, the ones that are on the fringes of the top prospect lists around the game, are now over. Since they have finally tasted the rejuvenating waters of the playoffs and even sniffed the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the World Series, the front office has decided that the window is open right now and that they are going to use those players as trade chips to bring in other, more useful players that have at least demonstrated a modicum of success at the big league level and can help right now in 2023 rather than in 2024 or 2025.
- Andrew Vazquez and Luis Ortiz claimed off of waivers in November
- Erich Uelman acquired from the Cubs
- Yunior Marte acquired from the Giants
- Gregory Soto acquired from the Tigers
Soto coming over has already been discussed but the other four pitchers listed here all could make major league bullpen elsewhere, but in Philadelphia, will serve as minor league depth. Marte threw 38 innings for San Francisco last year, not finding a whole lot of success on the stat sheet, but having peripheral numbers that intrigued the Phillies enough to make a move for him. The same could be said for Uelman - decent stuff, not great baseball card numbers. Vazquez and Ortiz are probably further down the list as far as how the Lehigh Valley depth chart might shake out, but these are not “nothing” arms. These are guys that have a skillset the team has been searching for in the Dombrowski years.
In order to get them, though, the team has had to make some sacrifices to their minor league system that may raise an eyebrow or two, but make some sense when looked at through a different lens. We all know that Matt Vierling, Nick Maton and Donny Sands were sent to Detroit for Soto, but that’s the cost of doing business. It’s the trading of Erik Miller and designation for assignment of Francisco Morales that showed the team is quite focused on the here and now rather than hoping for future production.
Now, all of these names do have something in common - they didn’t really have a future because they aren’t in the best position to help the team win in 2023. While Vierling and Maton have shown that they can fill particular roles with a team, they’re ceiling has always been that of role players rather than starters. Sure, they will likely receive a lot more playing time in Detroit, but the Tigers are nowhere near a playoff contender yet. They’re a second division team that needs young players who are cheap and come with talent to see if they can be productive for them. Vierling is the one most likely to get 500 or more plate appearances and he might be one to put up a 2-3 WAR season, but the chances of that are pretty remote. Miller and Morales have both shown they have a past that they just can’t shake (Miller’s being that he has a lengthy injury history, Morales’s being that he can’t throw strikes) and the team was just not going to wait any longer. The roster spots that they possessed were more valuable to the team than the talent they might bring in the future.
Having made a deep playoff run for the first time in a decade means they’re going to have a roster full of pitchers that are going to have to have their workloads managed. We’re still not sure how they are going to look once the season begins, so it’s likely that Rob Thomson will be careful in how he uses them. You’ll likely see the team be extra cautious should someone’s arm feel a bit tired or a soreness start to creep into an elbow. Injured list transactions will likely be frequent for the team in the early weeks of the season, meaning they’ll need to substitute in arms that are major league quality that have had experience already in the big leagues. That is likely why they are loading up on as many arms as they can that have demonstrated the ability to get major league hitters out while also possessing minor league options that the team can utilize. It’s uncharted territory for the organization and Dombrowski is trying to navigate those waters with as many options as possible.
So while we can mourn the loss of players like Vierling and Maton that made the World Series run so special, we can also appreciate that the team is building the depth they will need in the pitching staff that can help them win in 2023. They’ve got stiff enough competition in the National League East, let alone the other two divisions. Time will tell if these moves work, but you can’t say they aren’t trying.