There is a thing that teams do when their roster needs a jolt of energy where they will call up some kind of young prospect who has laurels on his resume to provide a spark to a lagging team. Sometimes that team will use that promotion as a jumpstart to their season, much like Cincinnati has done this year, and sometimes that promotion will....not provide that spark.
The Phillies this weekend brought up one of their own in Johan Rojas who did provide that tiny spark with his webgem to start Saturday’s doubleheader, but his was not done with an eye to spark the team. His was done in response to an injury to Cristian Pache. Rojas will likely see a lot of time as part of a platoon with Brandon Marsh, but his promotion got me to thinking about the team’s bench right now, mostly because of that platoon.
Rob Thomson has not been hesitant to use the platoon advantage at several positions this year, including with one of his better hitters in Bryson Stott, one of his better gloves in Marsh and out of necessity at first base with the injury to Rhys Hoskins. That has meant many more plate appearances for players the team wasn’t necessarily counting on this season. It also has meant that plate appearances people might rather see go to Stott, someone coming into Sunday’s game hitting .302/.340/.422, have gone to players like Josh Harrison or Edmundo Sosa. It’s not without merit either. Stott is less an example of this kind of platoon this year, his hitting against left-handed pitching (.319/.375/.415) actually slightly better than against right-handers (.296/.325/.426). Instead, the focus has been more on someone like Marsh, who people would like see on the field every day despite an OPS against left-handers that is 250 points lower than when he faces right-handers (.615 vs .851).
The point here is that Thomson is going to use everyone on his bench....and that is the issue. The players he has at his disposal right now are not players that he should be using. It’s not a matter of his using that bench. He’s been rather adept at when to press certain buttons during the season. It’s that the personnel he has on hand just isn’t that good right now for him to continue trotting out there.
Garrett Stubbs: .240/.321/.300, 75 wRC+
Darick Hall: .174/.208/.261, 24 wRC+
Edmundo Sosa: .249/.271/.405, 79 wRC+
Drew Ellis: .217/.379/.478, 135 wRC+
Go a little further to look at the options that are available at Lehigh Valley and you won’t find much better.
Kody Clemens: .230/.277/.367, 73 wRC+
Jake Cave: .222/.286/.333, 68 wRC+
This being the National League of 2023, with the DH rule in place now, having a thriving bench is less important than it was in the days of needing to have capable players for double switches and pinch hitting. But when you have a manager that is as prolific at using his bench as Thomson is, it behooves the team to have better quality options there and right now, they aren’t.
Now, all of this will enter the spotlight a little more this week. Bryce Harper will begin playing games at first base, which will free up the designated hitter spot for Thomson to have at his disposal. The obvious solution is putting Kyle Schwarber in the position in order to free up the left field spot for a person who can use their glove for more good than harm. Were the team to put that alignment on the field right now, they are looking at a potential defensive outfield of Marsh-Rojas-Nick Castellanos. Thanks to Castellanos showing marked improvement as a defender, that is probably the best alignment they’ve got at the moment with Pache on the injured list. It also leaves the bench shorthanded and forces Thomson to have to put Rojas in a position (facing right-handers more often) he probably doesn’t want to find himself in.
That is going to require the team to look at upgrading the bench from outside of the organization, something that can be truly hit or miss. Trading for a bench piece is not something that can be Earth-shattering on the list of trade deadline report cards, but it can truly come in handy when it matters most. One needs to look no further than the addition of Sosa at last year’s deadline for the Phillies. It wasn’t seen as much of anything at the time (if you don’t believe me, check out the replies and quotes from this announcement), but come down the stretch toward the playoffs, Sosa was providing important hits and defense for a team that needed every single bit of help to even get into October baseball.
Another issue that comes from this is that, depending on who you talk to, the team has more pressing needs at the deadline that will require more luxurious trade capital to be spent. With Harper moving to first base and Schwarber (theoretically) moving to DH, a starting type player in the outfield is probably going to be at the top of the team’s list, which is probably correct. If an opportunity to add a starter to the team arises, that is the avenue the team should probably be taking. The only factor there is the cost, both in terms of money and in terms of prospects. The team may not be comfortable using prospects to acquire a starter at this point, if such a starter that could improve the team actually exists. It might be cheaper both from a financial and player development standpoint to focus instead on adding bench depth and ride with what is currently on the roster. The noted Marsh-Rojas-Castellanos outfield could actually turn out to be something of a strength if better bench pieces are acquired that would give Thomson more chances to gain the platoon advantage.
The trade deadline is going to be a seller’s market. There are a lot of teams that are still in the wild card races and fewer teams actually labeled as sellers now. That is going to drive up prices on players that may only be incremental upgrades compared to the package the team would have to give up in return. It could steer the Phillies away from adding a big ticket item and instead guide them towards smaller scale additions. Luckily for them, they are a team that could really use those smaller scale additions thanks to how much their manager relies on them during the season. One way or another, they’re going to need help offensively. It’ll be up to them which course they take: trade for a starter or better improve the bench/depth.
Or they could just do both.