This year's trade deadline wasn't all about the here and now. In a market where controllable pitchers Chris Archer and Kevin Gausman joined National League teams, the Phillies had some opportunities to solve some of their looming dilemmas. They decided the price was not right, and that's better than making a mistake with exponential consequences. But the dilemmas remain and will need to be addressed before we can seriously consider the Phillies a World Series contender.
Because of space constraints, let's limit our focus to two of them:
On June 16, Maikel Franco looked like a lost cause. He was hitting .241 with an unmanageable .284 on-base percentage and looked little different from the player who'd spent the previous two seasons unleashing swings that inflicted more violence upon his batting helmet than the ball. Since then, a few things have happened to complicate the Phillies' evaluation of their future at third base. Most significant, Franco morphed back into the player he was as a rookie, hitting .333 with a .386 on-base percentage and an elite .605 slugging percentage, raising his season totals to .278/.323/.485 with 17 home runs entering Thursday's game.
Second, Scott Kingery has continued to look like a man in need of a guidebook at the plate. The 24-year-old rookie, once the presumptive replacement for Franco at third, has been one of the least productive hitters in the majors this season with a .228/.270/.329 line and 96 strikeouts in 359 at bats.
Third, Manny Machado went to the Dodgers in a mid-July trade, drastically complicating the Phillies' ability to project him into their lineup next season.
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Let's say Machado likes playing with the Dodgers and gives them the right to match his best contract offer in free agency. Let's also say that the Dodgers exercise that right and keep him in the fold.
In such a scenario, how do the Phillies proceed? The free-agent market offers nothing in the way of long-term solutions. Assuming Josh Donaldson comes back from his calf injury and returns to his 2015-17 form, he figures to be in the market for a pricey multi-year deal that comes with significant risk given his recent health struggles and the fact that he will be 33 next season. Eduardo Escobar has an .849 OPS and will be 30 years old, but he has been a less-than-league-average hitter up to this point, and Franco offers more upside with a similar level of uncertainty.
It's a similar story with Mike Moustakas, who will be 30 years old and has an .809 OPS with an average of 22 home runs over the last four seasons. But his production has slipped this year, and it's worth noting that, like Franco, he got off to a slow start to his career. In Franco, the Phillies could have a pre-peak Moustakas instead of signing the post-peak version.
At least two veterans could be in line for a short-term deal. Jed Lowrie, 35 next season, has 17 home runs, a .352 OBP, and an .820 OPS for the A's this season. And Asdrubal Cabrera will be a free agent.
If Franco finishes the season with a battling line similar to the one he has now, the Phillies can probably rule out any attempt to spend money on the position in free agency. But that still leaves shortstop.
The Phillies clearly believe in Kingery, given the contract they gave him before he played a day in the majors. He has shown himself to be a capable and improving defender at short, but the position has been a black hole offensively. Like third base, though, the free-agent market does not offer many options. Elvis Andrus can opt out of his contract with the Rangers, but he is having a down year and figures to be a pricey gamble at the age of 30. Winning a bidding war for Machado remains the Phillies' best hope at an upgrade.
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In a conference call after Tuesday's trade deadline, Matt Klentak was adamant about his belief in his starting five. But it's hard to imagine he envisions this to be the rotation that will be in place when the Phillies are a legitimate World Series contender. If the Phillies are going to overpay for pitching, now is the time. The Phillies have a young, talented core of hitters in place who will only get better, and it would be a shame if they repeated the mistakes of the previous generation and failed to pair that lineup with a playoff-caliber rotation while those hitters were cheap and entering their prime.
The biggest name to keep in your mind is Patrick Corbin, the Diamondbacks lefty who is in the midst of a dominant season and will hit the free-agent market at the age of 29. In 22 starts, he has a 3.26 ERA with averages of 11.0 strikeouts, 2.5 walks, and 0.7 home runs per nine innings. Assuming he stays healthy, he projects to be very, very expensive. But he also projects to be the surest thing on the market, assuming the Dodgers do not allow Clayton Kershaw to opt out and test free agency.
There will be some decent short-term veteran options, including former Phillies legends J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton. Otherwise, options include a grinder like Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel and one-year resurgences like Nate Eovaldi, Matt Harvey, Tyson Ross, and Derek Holland, all of whom come with a significant degree of uncertainty.