By Matt Gregan, Frank Klose and Matt Rappa
With it being the middle of a very hectic season of Phillies baseball, we at Sports Talk Philly assembled three of our Phillies writers at Philliedelphia, our managing editor Matt Rappa, our owner and man in charge of Phillies coverage for 97.3 ESPN's website Frank Klose, and staff writer Matt Gregan, to talk about some of the key questions, concerns and rumors flying around the team right now.
With the Phillies in the midst of a terrible month of June (the team is 7-14 in June), what do you think needs to be done to help get the team out of this funk?
Matt Gregan: Heading into the season, the Phillies were a team that had a lot of expectations due to their offseason acquisitions (Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen). They began the season playing with some swagger and confidence, and that led them to being 33-24 through the first two months of the season. However, ever since the team lost McCutchen for the season with a torn ACL, they have not had the same swagger and confidence that they had the first two months of the season.
McCutchen provided a lot of leadership in the Phillies clubhouse in addition to his good play on the field. The Phillies, to break out of their recent funk, need another player on the team to step up and start getting the team to play with the same confidence that they were playing with to open up the season. Yesterday's 13-run outburst against the Mets was one of the first signs of that same confidence and swagger that we have seen since the middle of May. Let's hope that they can continue it.
Frank Klose: Well, I suppose my answer to this would have been what happened on Monday night: Try to recreate the lineup from early in the season that had success. The Phillies did do that, except it was Scott Kingery in left field instead of Andrew McCutchen, but Kingery occupied McCutchen’s old leadoff spot. Roman Quinn occupied Odubel Herrera’s number seven spot in the order. The Phillies scored 13 runs.
I would actually put Jay Bruce in the Quinn spot against right-handed pitching, shifting Kingery to center on those occasions. Kingery responded to his debut in the leadoff spot by going 3 for 6. Segura returned to the number two spot and got four hits. Harper had two hits batting third and Hoskins hit a home run batting fourth. Even Maikel Franco got three hits.
So I would leave that lineup alone for a while, except with Bruce playing against righties. Baseball is a game of averages; if players are left alone they will likely play as the proverbial “back of the baseball card” says. Some stability in the wake of the McCutchen injury can only help.
Matt Rappa: One of the things that caught the eye of fans heading into the season was the amount of All-Star caliber players that the team added in Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, etc. While Andrew McCutchen is sidelined until 2020, and although none of the aforementioned players will be All-Star starters following fan voting, they are all still capable of doing great things. And don’t forget Rhys Hoskins, who single-handedly carried the Phillies at time last season. He’s starting to pick things up himself. It’s a 162-game season, not a 16-game football season. Plenty of time to right the ship.
General manager Matt Klentak spoke to the media on Monday afternoon. He gave manager Gabe Kapler, as well as the rest of the coaching staff, a vote of confidence. He thinks that the Phillies' recent slump is just a prolonged slump and not something more serious. Do you agree or disagree and why?
Matt Gregan: Let's begin by saying that I don't think that the Phillies' recent slump is Gabe Kapler's fault. The Phillies are a very talented team, but the McCutchen loss (as I previously mentioned) really hurt the team both on and off the field. Also, the players need to play up to their talent level, which is something that I believe they will do if given the time and patience to.
However, the last couple of weeks of Phillies baseball has exposed some holes in the team's roster. The starting pitching needs improvement and the bullpen, being decimated by injuries, is not being helped out when the team is trotting out guys like Jerad Eickhoff or Enyel De Los Santos to pitch at most four or five innings per game.
So while I think that the team will definitely rebound (maybe they already have begun by demolishing the Mets 13-7 on Monday night), there are still some definite holes that Klentak will have to plug at some point before the trade deadline.
Frank Klose: I do not think Matt Klentak or any other general manager would say, “My manager better get it together within a week or be fired!” I do not think that the Phillies are as bad as their recent stretch. Then again, I do think that they have some real holes. Those holes were well-known heading into the offseason and not addressed by Klentak himself.
It was the starting pitching falling apart that was reason for much of the Phillies drop-off last season that cause them to lose control of the division. Yet, Klentak approached camp with the same five starters plus maybe Jerad Eickhoff, who may or may not have been healthy in time for Opening Day. That was a huge mistake.Vince Velasquez is back in the rotation after everyone was told he could be a key piece of the back-end of the Phillies bullpen. So after Eickhoff was removed from the rotation without a plan forward, the Phillies are now according to their own logic, leaving the back end of the bullpen weak so they can start a pitcher who traditionally has rarely averaged more than five-plus innings a start.
The best way to overexpose a weak bullpen is to have poor starters. The Phillies must do better in the starting rotation and the dominos will fall. It is on Klentak to add a reliable starter as soon as possible.
Matt Rappa: The Phillies showed signs of being able to sustain first-place-caliber baseball under Gabe Kapler in parts of last and this season. It would be a mistake to move on from him so quickly. It’s not like there is Bobby Cox or Tony LaRussa-caliber managers out there waiting to be picked up by another team. There is no chemistry issues on this team like we are seeing with the New York Mets. Everything is fine.
How would you handle the lack of hustle that we have seen from a multitude of different players on the team (Jean Segura, Cesar Hernandez) if you were the manager?
Matt Gregan: While the Phillies' recent slump is not the fault of manager Gabe Kapler, the lack of hustle on the field is. Kapler needed to come down hard on Segura the very first time that he did not run out a ball earlier this month. Segura should have been benched the very next game, or at the least the next game after he failed to run out a ball again less than two weeks later.
At this point, the situation has already been mishandled by Kapler to the point where he can't really do much other than to make the decision to bench players who fail to run out the ball. If this situation is to be resolved, I strongly believe that it is up to the players to step up and begin to police themselves inside the clubhouse. This team has enough veteran leadership that doing that, if needed, should not be a problem.
Frank Klose: I am an impatient guy. I would probably be the one who benches the player on the spot. But by not benching Segura, Hernandez then was unable to be benched because a standard had been set. The same standard now exists if rookie Adam Haseley returns and does the same thing. Consistency is important.
Even Charlie Manuel benched Jimmy Rollins a couple times. That’s what I would do, but the managerial world is changed. The role of the present-day manager is about managing personalities more than it is a game. Maybe this day’s game merits something different, but I cannot say it resonates with me personally.
Matt Rappa: Hustling is tricky, because giving 110% effort 100% of the time could lead to injury. I get why players do not hustle all the time. As long as their motive to not hustle is not laziness, I’m OK with it. Kapler should just be honest and go up to them and talk about the situation, which he has. Point is, the Phillies have a greater chance to produce runs with Segura and Hernandez in the lineup than some of their backup bench options right now.
Last week, Jim Bowden of The Athletic reported that the Phillies were interested in trading for Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd. Would you be happy if the team pulled the trigger on a deal for Boyd? Do you think that he will solve the issues with the starting rotation?
Matt Gregan: Matthew Boyd is an intriguing trade option for the Phillies. He is a left-handed pitcher who is relatively young and has some years of team control on his contract (he would be under team control through the 2022 season). He is currently 5-5 with a 3.61 ERA and is a strikeout machine, posting a 11.22 K/9 so far this season. One of the only issues I have with Boyd is that he has been in the MLB since 2015 and this season would be his first with an ERA under 4.00. I believe that to acquire a player like Boyd will mean giving up a couple of the team's top-end prospects, which might be a bit too much for some people's liking.
With other big name starting pitchers available on the trade market (Zack Grienke, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor), it might be worth it to give up a little bit more than what it would cost to acquire Boyd to get someone who is more proven in the MLB. Bumgarner would be the guy that I would go after for the Phillies. He provides veteran leadership and it has been reported that he plays better when on a contending team. Assuming that the Phillies are able to rebound from their June slump, Bumgarner would be one of the pitchers who would make a lot of sense for the team to add via trade.
Frank Klose: Matt Boyd may be the perfect piece for this team. The left-handed arm is one that the club really needs, and if the Phillies are going to have to give up value to get an arm back, one who has three more years of control left is the type to target. I am not sure Boyd is the savior that will solve everything, but he will certainly help.
The price, as Jim Bowden of the Athletic wrote, might take Adam Haseley along with another pitching prospect. I think the Phillies would have to put someone in the deal who can pitch in the big leagues right away to throw the ball for the Tigers (Cole Irvin? Jerad Eickhoff? Vince Velasquez?). Despite the high price, the Phillies would have one less worry. Depth, as we have learned, is so important.
Matt Rappa: At the start of the season, I was OK with the Phillies being status quo on their rotation. It seemed they had a surplus of talent. Now, it is obvious the Phillies need some help with starting pitching, especially since Aaron Nola is not matching his 2018 Cy Young-caliber season yet. If the Phillies do make the postseason for the first time since 2011, I’m not sure I would be confident in any Phillies starting pitcher to deliver a quality start. Boyd is a left-hander which is something the Phillies desperately need to balance their rotation, too. He’s not owed much money this season, either. Go for it if the cost for Madison Bumgarner is too high.
With the Phillies having some holes on their roster due to either injuries or poor performance, name some players that you would want the Phillies to attempt to trade for and explain why you think those players would help out the team.
Matt Gregan: The Phillies' prolonged slump in June, combined with injuries to their bullpen, have opened up some holes on the Phillies' roster. The Phillies' top two needs right now are starting pitching and someone in the outfield. I'm of the opinion that the bullpen will be fine once a lot of the injured arms come back, but I would not be shocked at all to see the team make a trade for an arm to strengthen the bullpen.
As I mentioned above, I think that trading for Bumgarner would make a lot of sense for the Phillies. Assuming that the June slump that the Phillies are going through is just that, a slump, and that the team will bounce back and make the playoffs, Bumgarner would make a lot of sense to add in a trade to improve the starting pitching.
Due to the loss of McCutchen for the season, the Phillies have a hole in their outfield. They attempted to patch it by trading for Jay Bruce, but the Phillies will need someone more consistent to occupy an everyday outfield role. Adam Jones, who the team attempted to trade for last season, would be a good fit if they can get him away from the Diamondbacks. Jones is currently hitting .271 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs.
Another possible outfield trade option would be the Mariners' Mitch Haniger. Haniger is having a down season, hitting .220 with 15 home runs and 32 RBIs, but he still provides both power and an ability to draw walks (.314 OBP this season). The fact that he is having a down season could drive down the price that it would take to get him in a trade. The Phillies would be banking on hitting in a more hitter-friendly ballpark as well as moving off of the Mariners, one of the worst teams in the AL, resulting in Haniger producing like he did the previous two years (a .280 batting average to go with some pop at the plate).
Frank Klose: My shopping list for the Phillies would be a starting pitcher, back-end bullpen arm, and then someone who can start either at third base or center field. I would focus on defense for the position player. Scott Kingery could be moved around accordingly in response. I think Kingery is still the long-term second base solution, so it would be a temporary situation wherever he ends up for now.
It's really hard to figure out potential trade targets because so many teams are in it. Only eight times are more than four games out of a playoff spot, and many of the rebuilding teams feature potential building blocks at those positions.
Matt Rappa: As I mentioned before, Bumgarner would be a good addition to the Phillies rotation, although he is not the same player it appears. Yet, he has plenty of postseason experience, which is something this current Phillies roster does not have a lot of, outside of Bryce Harper’s brief stints with the Washington Nationals and a few other players.
I do think the Phillies need another outfielder. Perhaps they can attempt to acquire Adam Jones for a second time. Losing McCutchen clearly hurt this team and arguably led to their season-long, seven-game skid.
It’s too early to tell about the bullpen, as players are still on the injured list and their returns themselves could be a great boost. Tommy Hunter could contribute significantly once he returns. If Pat Neshek can return to even half the player he was in previous seasons with the Phillies, that’s a plus, also.