What if I told you that the Phillies improved their odds of winning a World Series on Tuesday afternoon? You might crinkle your forehead and log onto the Internet and spend the rest of the day raining tweets of fire down upon my head. You might start by pointing to the Dodgers, who emerged from baseball’s pre-July 31 hot stove with a new middle-of-the-order bat at shortstop. You might move on to Milwaukee, where the Brewers made a significant upgrade at third base. You might then point to Atlanta, which on Tuesday bolstered its rotation with the addition of former Oriole Kevin Gausman, or the Cubs, which added rotation depth in Cole Hamels and a legitimate back-of-the-bullpen arm in Brandon Kintzler.
Basically, you’d say that the Phillies only fell further behind in the pennant race this season, because virtually every team they are currently vying with found a way to make themselves significantly better. And you’d be right. Because they did. But here’s the thing: I never said anything about this season.
The goal is to win another World Series, period. Really, it’s to win as many World Series as possible between now and the next rebuilding project. No doubt, when they considered the trade market, the Phillies had the opportunity to make some sort of move that would have provided a bigger boost to this year’s odds than acquiring a rotational infielder and a second or third lefty specialist and a catcher who might not be healthy enough to play until September. But the pertinent question was whether the increase in those 2018 odds was substantial enough to offset whatever future value they would have needed to sacrifice to achieve it.
In settling for Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Loup and Wilson Ramos in a trio of deals with the Mets, Blue Jays and Rays, the Phillies may have emerged as a loser in this year’s arms race. But winning a war sometimes necessitates losing a battle. It’s entirely possible to increase one’s odds in the former by sacrificing one’s odds in the latter. It’s not the most exhilarating thing to witness, but from a tactician’s standpoint, it is often the right thing.
PODCAST: Recapping the Phillies’ trade deadline
The bottom line is this: There wasn’t a player out there who would have made up the talent gulf that currently exists between this Phillies roster and the ones boasted by the Cubs or the Dodgers or even the Nationals. Sure, there were some who would have made them more competitive, maybe even one or two who could have dramatically improved their chances of fending off the Nationals and the Braves in the division. But even then, what would their odds have been of winning a pennant this season? And what are their odds of winning one over the next 10 seasons now that they’ll finish 2018 with their farm system intact and a roster full of young players getting the kind of experience that can pay dividends down the road? And what would those 10-year odds have been had they sacrificed that big-league experience and minor-league depth?
That is the calculus that this Phillies front office needed to perform as the team weighed whatever potential deals existed.
“At any juncture, we are always going to lean in the direction of giving playing time to our young players, to our internal players,” GM Matt Klentak said after Tuesday’s deadline had passed, “and a lot of our young guys have put us in a position to do just that.”
The reality is, once Manny Machado was off the market, there wasn’t a position player available who would have dramatically improved the wherewithal of Gabe Kapler’s lineup. On the pitching end of things, the one player who might’ve left the Phillies in the short and long-term black ended up going to the Pirates for a considerable haul. Landing Chris Archer required the Pirates to part with 23-year-old outfielder Austin Meadows, who entered the season as a top-50 prospect and has hit .292 with a .795 OPS since breaking into the big leagues 49 games ago. They also traded away 24-year-old pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who was a blue-chip prospect last year before struggling in a half season as a starter. A third piece of the package has yet to be named.
For the Phillies, the bare minimum equivalent would have been something along the lines of Nick Williams and either Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez. Forget where you would have stood on such a swap. The potential downside would have been real. If Williams spends the rest of his career hitting like he has since he moved into the starting lineup full-time, and if Pivetta or Velasquez ends up establishing himself as a 180-plus innings starter in a playoff rotation, and Archer ages along the curve that a lot of pitchers do, and the Phillies do not end up winning this season … where does that leave their odds?
“You’ve heard me say it before and I’m happy to repeat it: If you can stay out of the trade market for starting pitching at the deadline, you should do that, because it tends to be very expensive,” Klentak said.
The simple truth is this: Given the talent level that existed on the market, and the potential that exists in their farm system, and the long odds that any sort of deal would put them in a position to compete with this year’s NL front-runners, the Phillies could have easily done themselves more harm than good in attempting to keep up in this year’s race.
That they did not do that could, years from now, show this year’s trade deadline to be a solid win.