We are 71 minutes past the MLB trade deadline. The Phillies have acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson and pitcher Dan Straily in the past three hours. Matt Klentak, Andy MacPhail, and John Middleton watched Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray, Mike Leake, and a number of other pitchers change teams in the past 24 hours. The Braves and Nationals both bolstered their pitching staffs and likely solidified their place ahead of the Phillies for the rest of the season. If the Phillies are going to make the playoffs, it will likely be as the second Wild Card team.
Not the first miss
The issue is deeper than just a failure to execute trades today. This past winter, the Phillies gave up former top prospect J.P. Crawford in a trade to acquire all-star shortstop Jean Segura. As it turns out, Crawford has been better than Segura. The Phillies traded Crawford because of a misevaluation of his abilities by the Phillies’ scouts, management, and coaching. They didn’t think he would be as good as he’s been for the Mariners. This was a win-now move that has only seen a WAR differential of 0.3 in Segura’s favor.
Even with Crawford having missed significant time last season due to injuries, hitting coach John Mallee failed to recognize signs that Crawford could become a valuable asset to be moved at a later date for a better return. Mallee’s “patience first” philosophy also failed first baseman Carlos Santana, who was traded in the Segura deal and was a first-time all-star this season with the Indians. Had the Phillies not moved Crawford, maybe McCutchen never gets hurt, and maybe the Phillies walk away with an impact pitcher in exchange for Crawford today. As for the shortstop position, super utility player Scott Kingery could’ve slid right in to take over for the departed Crawford.
Analytics letting down Evaluation?
The signing of marquee free agent right fielder Bryce Harper made it clear that the Phillies were tired of rebuilding. Owner John Middleton’s offseason comments made that clear. Yet, the Phillies have shown a strong desire to keep their farm system intact. More concerning than their lack of congruence in diagnosing the team’s current phase is their evaluation of prospects and their usage of analytics.
In the last few days, the Blue Jays traded ace pitcher Marcus Stroman to the Mets for two prospects — neither of whom are on the MLB’s top-100 list. The Phillies failed to recognize an opportunity to acquire a marquee pitcher with an additional year of control at an asking price of two insignificant prospects. For a team that has shifted its philosophies so heavily towards analytics, the failure to capitalize on that opportunity undoubtedly falls on their process of evaluating young players and their analytical system of projecting young players’ values.
Where do they go from here?
Most concerning of all is that Klentak and MacPhail are not going anywhere any time soon. John Middleton quietly extended their contracts this offseason–before the on-the-field results even began to take form. John Middleton is a demonstrative baseball fan and an active owner, but baseball operations is not where he’s going to do this franchise any good.
This season has served as a sign that the Phillies’ current management team may not be the one to cultivate a championship-winning team in this city. There are a number of places where they can start to make changes, whether it be terminating John Mallee’s role with the team, shifting towards a different analytical philosophy, renovating upper management to focus less on analytics, re-evaluating their approach to scouting, or re-assessing John Middleton’s involvement in baseball operations. Off-the-field changes are necessary to move this franchise’s needle. As currently operated, more questions surrounding the future of the Phillies have emerged in a season that was supposed to answer almost all of the questions remaining.