“Have you ever seen a team in contention trade for a player at the two most important positions on the field at the deadline?”
That’s a question I was posed by a caller a few nights back, and it really got me thinking in a different way. The short answer to his question is no. No, I don’t recall ever seeing a team right in the thick of things, leading their division at the time, attempt to bolster the shortstop and catcher position at the deadline with starting caliber players. Most teams fighting for playoffs spots have established, skilled players at both, or at least one, of those spots.
The Phillies didn’t.
Their particular circumstances forced the team to go outside of the system and acquire Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos in order to make a playoff push. Earlier today, the team added former All-Star Jose Bautista to the fold as a pinch hitter. With the acquisition of Justin Bour, as well, the Phillies went out and got three starters and a bench player that all happen to play the infield.
So the acquisitions, in turn, bring up a second question: Where are the Phillies?
We say we know what they are. The team echoes that sentiment. But do any of us truly know what this team actually is? Are they a playoff team? Are they an average team? Have they simply gotten lucky this season, and their record over the course of the last seven series is far more indicative of their actual talent level than their early success led on? Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe is the answer to all three of those questions, leaving the Phillies in an odd, precarious spot in relation to the league’s contenders.
They aren’t a bad team. That much we have surmised. In fact, they’re better than what most of us anticipated coming into the season. I believe I sat somewhere in the 75-78 win range, with a high end prediction of just over .500. They’ll likely surpass that. They’ve also kept us entertained in season we didn’t expect them to. “2020 is their year,” we heard all across the Delaware Valley, as if 2020 is some magical year in which we fantasize all four Philadelphia teams being title contenders at once. Here’s the caveat: sports don’t work that way. The Eagles overachieved to the highest level. I also expect the Sixers’ win total to take a dip this year, all while they advance further into the playoffs. Sports are unpredictable.
But this team might be the ultimate in unpredictability. And it’s gotten to the point in the season where I don’t think the front office knows exactly what they are, and as a result, they’re pressing as many buttons as they possibly can at once to cover the largest range imaginable. Why go out and get veterans to help the team in September if they aren’t a playoff team? But at the same time, could one of these vets help you earn a playoff spot?
Jose Bautista is the latest example of the team throwing the pasta against the wall hoping upon hope it sticks and doesn’t simply slide to the floor, becoming inedible. He’s a power bat off the bench who could provide the team with some pop. He’s also hitting .199 this season and is on his third team in less than a year. There’s a reason he was traded for a player to be named later OR cash consideration. If it’s the latter, he was basically handed to the Phillies for a small monetary value because you can’t just give a team a player without cutting him. He could win you an important game or two down the stretch. He could also hit .143 and strikeout 12 times in 12 games, like he did in Atlanta.
It’s a weird time in Philadelphia watching this baseball team. They’re abysmal defensively. They don’t hit in the clutch. But up until recently, they were having a ton of success. But again, the front office doesn’t know what to make of this team. If they believed they were true division contenders, they would have gone out and acquired Cole Hamels at the deadline. If they wanted to wait another year and keep their farm totally in tact, they wouldn’t have made the moves to get Cabrera, Ramos, Bour and now Bautista.
But they’ve found themselves somewhere in the middle, a treacherous sports purgatory that isn’t ideal. If the Phillies find a way to get into the playoffs this year, especially if the moves to bring in some of the aforementioned players works in the team’s favor, than the front office should be lauded for their efforts in bringing in help without splurging and ruining the future. The problem, however, seems to be that this team is destined to be an average team at the end of the season. Can they still win the division by taking five of the final seven against the Braves to end September? Absolutely. Are they good enough to? That’s the real identity crisis.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports