As Adam Dembowitz wrote about earlier, the Phillies traded second baseman Chase Utley to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two as yet unnamed minor league players. He will likely be the last veteran player the Phillies trade this season and joins Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere, and Jonathan Papelbon as players to be flipped in a trade. Utley will reunite with long-time double play partner Jimmy Rollins at Chavez Ravine.
I really can’t believe I just typed those words. But yes, it seems Chase Utley will be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. The return to the Phillies is two (as yet unidentified) minor leaguers. The Dodgers will take on about $2 million of the $6 million left on Utley’s deal.
There’s a new ideal of what “rebuilding” looks like in sports in large part due to franchises like the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia 76ers. Some have embraced the Astros and Sixers’ “tanking” and scorched earth approach as the best way to rebuild a franchise from the bottom up. Others, like Deadspin, have responded with vitriolic mockery. Whether it’s good or bad, the concept that rebuilding means securing top draft picks with losing records, rostering youth and only youth, and selling off all pieces with negligible future value is pervasive in sports fandom. It’s also dead wrong.
The Phillies made a pair of starting pitching signings in January, hoping to buy low and sell higher the way they did with Roberto Hernandez in 2014. Aaron Harang was coming off of a solid season with the Braves, but at 36-going-on-37, he only cost the Phillies $5 million on a one-year deal. Chad Billingsley was on his way back from right elbow surgery, so he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract which included performance incentives.
Unfortunately, neither deal panned out. Billingsley has been unable to stay healthy, making only seven starts with a 5.84 ERA. He’s currently on the disabled list with more elbow problems and it’s likely he’ll miss the rest of the season. Harang missed some time with plantar fasciitis and has otherwise been ineffective, carrying a 4.79 ERA following Sunday’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Given the 2015 Phillies starting pitching woes, it’s somewhat surprising that the Phillies do not lead the majors in reliever innings pitched. That honor goes to the Arizona Diamondbacks (385.2 IP) with the Colorado Rockies right on their heels (384.2 IP). The Phillies (381 IP) are in position for the bronze. Considering that four of the Phillies current relievers (Ken Giles, Luis Garcia, Justin De Fratus, and Jeanmar Gomez) have been on the active roster since Opening Day and a fifth (Elvis Araujo) joined the roster less than a month into the season, the workload of these arms is a growing concern.
As Bill Baer recently noted, Justin De Fratus currently leads the majors in pitches thrown by a reliever this season. Unsurprisingly, De Fratus is not the only familiar name near the top of that leaderboard.
I’ve been beating this drum for months in the hope that someone might forward it to Phillies management. Alas, there has been no progress in that regard. Justin De Fratus threw 37 more pitches in Monday’s 13-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He recorded four outs and allowed three runs on four hits.
The Phillies have the best record in Major League Baseball during the second half partly because their offense is scoring runs at a prolific rate (5.24 R/G, T-1st in NL, T-3rd in MLB), partly because their pitching is preventing runs (3.31 ERA, 2nd in NL, 4th in MLB), and partly because baseball is weirder than a cat on catnip. Two of the heroes of the Phillies recent stretch of success are young hitters getting it done with impressive speed and contact abilities – Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez. Although these two players have produced similar value this season and are only a year and a half apart in age, there is significantly more room for optimism for one of these players over the other.
Here are their 2015 season stats through Sunday’s game:
The Phillies completed a series sweep in San Diego against the Padres on Sunday afternoon, running their second-half record to 16-5, the best in baseball in that span of time. They’ve lost their stranglehold on the worst record in baseball, falling a game ahead of the division rival Miami Marlins. They’re only 2.5 games up on the Milwaukee Brewers and 3.5 up on the Colorado Rockies. It seemed like a lock even one month ago that the Phillies would pick first in the 2016 draft, but now, they’d have to fall pretty hard the rest of the way to secure that. And given the way the Phillies have been playing, it might not be in the cards.