The Phillies may not have played as well as they’d hoped after an active first offseason under new front office leaders Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld, but they’re still a game over .500 and only three back from the lead in a division no one has run away with just yet. Given the context of their division and Dombrowski’s reputation as an aggressive, “win-now” type of executive, it should come as little surprise that he plainly indicated this week that he has no plans to trade away veteran pieces in the week-plus leading up to the July 30 trade deadline.
“We are contending,” Dombrowski told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark on his podcast this week. “…We’re not selling. We’re not in a position where we’re looking to move players off our team.”
Dombrowski declined to tip his hand as to specific areas he could upgrade, though he did note that the bullpen has again been inconsistent and that the team’s defense “is not our strength.” The first-year Phillies president of baseball ops also pushed back on the narrative that his team doesn’t have the prospects to make substantial upgrades. Dombrowski suggested that 2020 first-rounder Mick Abel isn’t likely to be moved but generally sounded open-minded about making moves to improve his club. Phillies fans, in particular, will want to give the entire interview a listen.
While Dombrowski would only vaguely indicate that the club can “get better in a couple areas,” Jayson Stark and Matt Gelb of The Athletic report that the team is targeting fourth and fifth starters to round out the rotation, as well as back-end relievers who can help shore up the team’s late-inning relief corps.
That meshes with Dombrowski’s assessment of the rotation in his interview with Clark. The former Expos, Marlins, Tigers and Red Sox baseball ops head lauded Zack Wheeler’s work and noted that when Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin are all pitching up to their capabilities, “you can beat anybody” in a short playoff series. Dombrowski also repeatedly praised lefty Ranger Suarez, who has recently emerged as a ninth-inning option and generally been effective since joining the club in early May. Suarez carries a 1.22 ERA, a 27.3 percent strikeout rate, and 8.4 percent walk rate and a 65.2 percent ground-ball rate in 37 innings.
One option of particular intrigue for Phillies fans could be former Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels. The free-agent lefty held a showcase for MLB teams last week, and Dombrowski confirmed to Clark that the Phillies attended the workout and threw the ball well. While candidly acknowledging interest in the lefty, however, Dombrowski also noted that he could be 30-plus days away from joining a big league rotation, as Hamels needs to go through the equivalent of a Spring Training buildup. That doesn’t provide the Phils or anyone else immediate help — and that’s something the Phillies could use with Eflin on the injured list at the moment.
With regard to specific trade targets, Dombrowski appears to still be casting a wide net and gauging asking prices throughout the league. Stark and Gelb write that the Phils have checked on “every closer who could be available” but aren’t limiting their search to current closers. The Phillies, like every other team, are cognizant of the fact that the next week could determine whether a few clubs operate as buyers or make some veterans available.
Dombrowski spoke about that tenuous balance with Clark, noting that it’d take something catastrophic (e.g. a 10-game losing streak) for the Phillies to sell. On the flip side, however, as a team looking to buy, that fine line being walked by so many other clubs could lead to players becoming available just before the deadline. “All of a sudden, [another team] loses three in a row, and somebody may be available that you weren’t anticipating to be available,” Dombrowski said to Clark.
There’s an argument that the Phillies (and other buyers) should simply act now rather than take the wait-and-see approach that is so prevalent throughout the game at the moment. But every front office is at the mercy of how much ownership will spend, and investing immediate resources only to find that a more desirable target is available a couple of days down the road is a risk when payroll isn’t unlimited.
Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez has the Phillies about $4.2MM from the $210MM luxury threshold. Stark, however, reports that the feeling among other clubs who’ve spoken with the Phillies about potential trades is that they’d be willing to cross that barrier for the first time in franchise history. That doesn’t mean Phils fans should assume there’s no limit to what Dombrowski can spend on outside acquisitions, but it’s a critical piece of context to consider as the deadline looms.
Looking around the league, there are plenty of fourth starter types available. Minnesota’s Michael Pineda, Colorado’s Jon Gray, Pittsburgh’s Tyler Anderson and Chicago’s Zach Davies are among the names available. There’s no need for the Phils to limit themselves to rental starters, either; Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, Archie Bradley, Chase Anderson, Matt Moore, Brad Miller, Vince Velasquez, Hector Neris, Brandon Kintzler and Matt Joyce are all coming off the roster at season’s end. The Phils still have $134MM committed to their 2022 books even with that large group of pending free agents, but this is a team that opened the 2021 season with a $197MM payroll and is now willing to add to it. Merrill Kelly, Matthew Boyd and Kyle Gibson are among the names available who could be moved even though they’re controlled through the 2022 season.