Some of the best parts of the offseason are the little moves that end up playing much bigger parts down the road.
When Dave Dombrowski arrived in Philadelphia, one of the first things he did was acquire Jose Alvarado from the Tampa Bay Rays as a challenge trade. Not a challenge trade in the sense that we think of, where players are swapped as last chance moves, but one where Alvarado was challenged to start throwing strikes or he’d be out of a job. That move has paid massive dividends for the Phillies years later as Alvarado is the best reliever the team has right now.
While yesterday’s moves don’t necessarily qualify as something of that magnitude, it is still interesting what they’ve done. First, a waiver claim from, then a trade with, the Rays for two players likely headed off Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster anyway.
The Phillies have claimed LHP Josh Fleming off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays. Additionally, LHP Michael Plassmeyer and RHP Erich Uelmen were outrighted to Lehigh Valley (AAA).— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) November 6, 2023
The Phillies have acquired RHP Michael Mercado from the Tampa Bay Rays and selected his contract to the Major League roster. In exchange for Mercado, the Phillies have sent RHP Adam Leverett and cash considerations to Tampa Bay. The Phillies’ 40-man roster is currently at 38.— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) November 6, 2023
First off, the three players that head out of Philadelphia - Leverett, Uelman and Plassmeyer - are all the bottom of the 40-man barrel, waiting to be discarded in favor of something even incrementally better.
The players coming in are curious though.
Fleming isn’t someone who is going to be known for his stuff as his Savant page is a whole lotta blue. He does keep the ball on the ground quite a bit, dependent on a defense that can field groundballs with aplomb. The past few years have seen him depend more on his secondaries than before, the changeup receiving the most attention of late. Judging by the raw numbers against the pitch (.352 BA/.507 SLG), he probably shouldn’t throw it as much, but the team has to see something in the pitch that they’d look to grab him.
Mercado is a bit different in that he’s a reliever that can throw three pitches, but is obviously possesses strikeout stuff himself, striking out 95 pitchers across 62 innings last year across two levels in Tampa Bay’s system.
Oh, and Mercado has minor league options left.
This is the likely motivation behind both acquisitions. Both pitchers have qualities that the team likes, things they feel they can work with, but the biggest drawing card is that at least one of them has options the Phillies can use. Fleming probably looks like a guy who can be dropped if/when they add to the current roster. Mercado, though, has something the team values, the ability to move back and forth between the majors and minors. It’s worked for them so far, so they might as well keep going with the strategy.