Ready to take a break? The Phillies are. A stretch of 11 games in 10 days in four cities ended with a thud Sunday in Miami. The Phillies blew a five-run lead in an ugly 10-5 loss to the Marlins. But they still finished the road trip with a 6-5 record and closed the first half at 53-42, a 20-game improvement over the same stretch last season. They're in first place, a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Braves and 5 1/2 in front of the heavily favored Washington Nationals. If the Phillies go only 34-33 the rest of the way, they still will finish with 87 wins, the same total as three of the last four National League wild-card teams.
And now, as the league's best players step into the spotlight for the 89th annual All-Star Game, the focus also shifts to the trade market. Swayed by the play of the youngest roster in the majors, the Phillies' front office is going for it, looking to upgrade the team in every way possible before the July 31 trade deadline, including getting aggressive in pursuit of Manny Machado.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy the break. It's going to be a crazy couple of weeks.
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It's easy to get swept up in how well the Phillies have played. Whether you're a red-blooded fan who tunes in to every game or a team executive trained to be cold-blooded about personnel decisions, there is no ignoring that the rebuild has progressed more quickly than expected or that the Nationals' struggles have left the NL East up for grabs.
But that doesn't mean Phillies general manager Matt Klentak can simply put all of his cards on the table and go for broke at the trade deadline. Not if his stated goal of building a team that can remain competitive for many years is to be taken seriously.
And so, over the past few weeks, Klentak and his staff have monitored what's available on the trade market, specifically in the area of middle-of-the-order bats. But they also have conducted a thorough organizational inventory, an exercise equal in importance to getting a read on the market. Trading for Baltimore Orioles star shortstop Manny Machado, for instance, will come at a cost, and it's always helpful to deal from the deepest positions possible.
"You're trying to assess where you have some depth and where you don't, where you have some strength and where you can absorb some losses, and you have to react accordingly," Phillies president Andy MacPhail told reporters, including our Matt Breen, over the weekend. "This is a very active time organizationally on the baseball side trying to recalibrate the [minor-league] system, stack 'em up and see what you can afford to do and what you can't."
For the Phillies, the position with the greatest excess is starting pitching. Top prospect Sixto Sanchez is nearly untouchable, but if the Orioles are looking for young pitching, the Phils can still put together an attractive package around triple-A arms Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez and double-A starters Franklyn Kilome and JoJo Romero. Adonis Medina has a 4.92 ERA at high-A Clearwater, but the 21-year-old righthander remains a touted prospect. De Los Santos' success at triple-A (9-3, 1.89 ERA in 16 starts) might even compel the Phillies to move Zach Eflin in a Machado deal.
The Orioles also might want a major-league-ready infielder to replace Machado, and the Phillies could offer up Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford or Scott Kingery. Crawford, in particular, would seem to be expendable if the Phillies are able to re-sign Machado in the offseason. Of course, that's hardly a guarantee.
That's all part of the calculus for Klentak, a first-time buyer after selling off parts at the last two trade deadlines.
"It's an inexact science, for sure," said MacPhail, a longtime general manager with the Twins, Cubs and Orioles. "But you try to ascertain as best you can what is immovable and where you have areas where you are giving up talent but you have enough in the system to absorb that. That's how you make that balance" between winning now and planning for the future.
Like most Phillies fans, MacPhail hoped for "meaningful, measurable progress" from the team this season. At 11 games over .500, circumstances have changed. That explains why the Phillies' pursuit of Manny Machado is getting hot and heavy.
The Phillies have had their share of bad losses this season. Blowing a five-run lead in the fifth inning with spot-starting rookie Enyel De Los Santos on the mound and losing by 10-5 to the lowly Marlins is up there with any of them.
Aaron Nola takes center stage this week as the Phillies' lone all-star. It's hardly a coincidence that his emergence as one of the majors' elite pitchers has come as his change-up has developed into a real weapon.
Nobody knows better than Brad Lidge that a pennant race means lots of tread on the arms of late-inning relievers. So, Lidge met the Phillies in Miami over the weekend and spent some time working with the relievers.
Zach Eflin didn't start Sunday and went on the disabled list because of a blister.
Because Maikel Franco made his major-league debut way back in 2014, it's easy to forget that he's still only 25 years old. Bob Brookover wonders whether the Phillies' enigmatic third baseman is finally putting it all together.
I caught up with former Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who acknowledged it would be a "blessing" to get traded back to Philadelphia.
Tonight: Rhys Hoskins competes in the Home Run Derby, 8 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola pitches in the All-Star Game, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Thursday: No games, but Manny Watch will persist.
Friday: Phillies return from the all-star break to host the Padres, 7:05 p.m.
July 23: Save the date, as Chase Utley's farewell tour hits Philly, 7:05 p.m.
Aaron Nola will represent the Phillies in the All-Star Game, a fitting honor for a pitcher who has a 12-3 record, 2.30 ERA and 131 strikeouts and has held opponents to a .199 average, six homers and a .537 OPS. Let's put Nola's outstanding first half into statistical and historical perspective:
• Nola is the fifth Phillies pitcher with at least 12 wins at the all-star break, joining Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Curt Schilling and Jim Lonborg.
• The only other Phillies pitcher to post a 2.30 ERA or lower and record at least 130 strikeouts before the break was Carlton in 1980 (2.14 ERA, 155 strikeouts). Carlton won his third career Cy Young Award that year.
Question: Please confirm what I think I understand: If the Phillies trade for Machado, and he opts for free agency, and the Phils make a qualifying offer, and Machado signs elsewhere, do they get the compensation pick? If so, I would be behind the move even if he does not re-sign. We would trade a lottery ticket and get one back. — Richard J., via e-mail
Answer: Hi, Richard. Thanks for the question. OK, let's consult our trusty collective bargaining agreement. According to Article XX(B) paragraph 3, a player who elects free agency may be eligible for the qualifying offer only if he has spent the entire season with one team. The only team, then, that would be entitled compensation for losing Machado in free agency would be the Orioles — but only if they don't trade him.
The Phillies wouldn't receive compensation for Machado, just as the Diamondbacks and Dodgers weren't compensated after making midseason trades last year for J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish and watching them sign elsewhere in the offseason.