Red Sox at Orioles 09/28/13

The Phillies made two trades on Friday in an attempt to improve their historically bad bullpen. First, they acquired David Hale from the New York Yankees in return for Addison Russ. Later, they acquired Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Boston Red Sox as well as cash considerations in exchange for Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold. 

First Trade

Hale is a 32 year old right hander who has allowed two runs across six innings pitched in 2020. He is primarily a ground ball pitcher who was designated for assignment by the Yankees due to their loaded bullpen. Russ is a 25 year old relief prospect who has a career 4.61 ERA across three levels in the Phillies system. Last year while in Double A, the right hander had a 2.54 ERA in 56 ⅔ innings pitched. Russ posted high strikeout numbers (12.86 K/9) and limited walks (3.16 BB/9) in 2019. 

Second Trade

Workman is another 32 year old right hander who took over as the Red Sox closer in 2019, a season where he recorded 16 saves and pitched to a 1.88 ERA across 71 ⅔ innings. So far in 2020, Workman has allowed three runs across seven appearances. Workman was originally drafted by the Phillies in 2007 but did not sign. He will be a free agent at season’s end. 

Hembree is a 31 year old hard throwing right hander with a 3.60 ERA career ERA. He averages 94 MPH on his fastball, instantly becoming one of the hardest throwing pitchers on the Phillies roster. In 2020, he has allowed six runs in 9 ⅔ innings pitched across 11 appearances. He is under team control via arbitration through 2021.

Seabold was one of the Phillies promising upper level pitchers, ranking 23rd overall in their system according to MLB.com. He profiles as a back end of the rotation starter or possibly a middle reliever. Nick Pivetta ends his Phillies career with a 5.50 ERA across 396 ⅓ innings pitched. 

Analysis

Both of these trades smell of desperation. GM Matt Klentak knows he is trading for his job. The bullpen he assembled in the offseason has a league worst 7.97 ERA, a full two runs higher than the next worst Seattle Mariners with a 5.92 ERA. It is one of the main reasons for the Phillies record being 9-13. 

Klentak knew he had to do something in an attempt to save his job and in the process decided to pillage the Phillies upper minors pitching depth. Make no mistake however, the Phillies are a better team then they were yesterday. All three of these relievers should be dramatic upgrades over the likes of what the Phillies have now. 

But their future is much bleaker today than it was yesterday. Of course, when you are in contention you don’t mind selling some of the future for the present. But that’s the crux of this argument. Are the Phillies, as they are currently constructed, really in contention? Is their ceiling anything higher than a first round postseason exit? Should they be pushing their chips in with this team? Ironically enough, the Phillies and Red Sox have the exact same amount of wins. One is a seller and one is desperately buying. 

Real contending teams get something for players they DFA. Real contending teams don’t worry about trading a Seabold or a Russ. This is a trade that’s made to sure up a weak spot en route to the postseason, not to try and sneak in. 

Maybe Seabold and Russ never amount to anything and this argument becomes moot. But at some point, the Phillies are going to have to stop trading away all of their young pitchers and instead actually develop some of them into contributing major leaguers.

Take Jacob Waguespack for example. The Phillies traded Waguespack to the Blue Jays for nine appearances of Aaron Loup in 2018. In the second game of Thursday’s double header, Waguespack pitched 2 ⅓ innings while allowing one run on one hit while striking out 3 against the Phillies. His 3.97 ERA would be third best in the Phillies bullpen. Waguespack was one of the Phillies middling prospects at the time of the trade. There’s a chance he would have and still doesn’t amount to anything, but was the chance that he does worth four innings of Aaron Loup in a season the Phillies finished under .500?

Only one of the pitchers they acquired yesterday is under control through next season. All of them are over 30. In the case of Hale, there’s a good argument that the Phillies would’ve been better off just promoting Russ instead who is near MLB ready and seeing what he has. 

On the Hot Seat

But Klentak doesn’t have time for that. He and the Phillies have failed horrifically at developing any young talent, but especially pitchers. Even Pivetta was, and in some cases still is, viewed as locked potential. Klentak should have addressed the bullpen in the offseason with more than Tommy Hunter and waiver pickups. Or better, Klentak should have been able to develop some useful relievers over five years as general manager and acquiring numerous pitching prospects along the way. 

Luxury Tax

It all comes back to owner John Middleton. The Phillies weren’t able to adequately address their bullpen in the offseason because they did not want to go over the luxury tax. In the Workman trade, they made sure to get cash back in exchange for a better prospect so they could stay under the tax. Middleton made the Phillies get $800k back so he could save money at the expense of a thin farm system. 

This is how you end up rebuilding for 9 years. If you can’t develop talent, you have to spend. If you can’t (or won’t) do either, you end up like the Phillies are now, desperately trying to make patchwork changes to a flawed roster in an attempt to sneak into an expanded postseason.