Machado is key to a “Bold” contending future for Phils

Anyone who has been following the Philadelphia Phillies on a regular basis knows simply by watching that this is an improved baseball team.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Phillies currently have more legitimate rising talent at the Major League Baseball level than at any point in the last half-dozen or so years.

However, partly because there is so much youth at one time, and partly because some of that youth is being mishandled, the team has not been maximizing its potential. This has begun to show up in the results and the standings over the last few weeks.

Four times the Phillies lifted themselves up to nine games over the .500 mark during the month of May. All four times they followed with a loss, never capable of pushing to the double-digit mark.

Their recent 3-7 road trip was disheartening. It added to what has been a month and a half of sub par baseball. The Phillies have now gone just 16-20 stretching back to an April 27th win over Atlanta. That victory gave them 15 wins in 20 games, and they simply haven’t been the same ever since.

The club wakes up this morning at just three games over that .500 mark, three games off the pace in both the NL East and NL Wildcard races, and fading fast. This kind of thing has happened twice in recent years as well. A nice start over the first month and a half, followed by reality setting in.

How do these Phillies reverse this present-day skid? How do they keep themselves from becoming just another short-term tease and long-term disappointment to the fan base?

I believe there are things that can be done. Hard things for sure, at least based on the way that the club has chosen to conduct itself in the early months of the Gabe Kapler era.

And while some of it is indeed on the rookie skipper, he is going to need help from management if the Phillies actually envision a summer of postseason contention.

The most difficult thing can often be admitting that you made a mistake. That is especially so if that mistake actually cost you a large amount of money, and you still have years to pay on that mistake.

Signing Carlos Santana was such a mistake. The Phillies handed the aging first baseman with limited power a $60 million, three-year contract as a free agent this past off-season. This, when they already had that position answered for the long term with power-hitting Rhys Hoskins.

The Phillies need to recognize this mistake for what it was quickly, move Santana to anyone willing to eat a piece of that contract, and put Hoskins back at first base where he belongs. Toronto, Minnesota, and Colorado might fit the bill.

The second difficult move that the Phillies brain trust needs to make happen is also on the right side of their infield: a trade of second baseman Cesar Hernandez. He has always had empty offensive numbers, but right now is in his prime and playing well.

Some team (the LA Dodgers?) with a need and aspirations of contending might be willing to part with a half-decent pitching prospect (Dennis Santana? Dustin May? Caleb Ferguson?) for the 28-year old.

In my “Bold” plan, the Phillies would deal
both Santana (L) and Hernandez (R)

This would make room for Scott Kingery to get to his natural position of second base, where he is clearly the future at the position. Putting Hoskins and Kingery out as the regular, everyday starters at their natural positions should result in them becoming more comfortable. I believe it would result in increased offensive production and consistency from both players.

These moves would also result in clarifying the starting outfield roles for the time being. Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, and Nick Williams become the starting outfield from left to right. This youngish trio should have the opportunity to grow and show what they can do against all pitching over an extended period of time.

The left side of the infield needs to be Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford – again, for the time being. Both players are still young enough, Crawford obviously so, that they need to be playing in secure, everyday roles. We’ll get to the “for the time being” situation later in this piece.

The next move is to formalize what everyone already seems to know is the best move at the closer position: formally anoint Seranthony Dominguez to the role.

Also in the bullpen, give Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano key late innings roles. Move veterans Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, Luis Garcia, and Adam Morgan to the earlier 6th and 7th inning roles.

And for the final bullpen move, the most radical: make Vince Velasquez the primary setup man. The righty continues to show an inability to consistently get deep in his starting assignments.

Velasquez has gone just  3-5 with a 5.48 ERA over his last nine starts. Perhaps even more revealing is that he has lasted just 46 innings, basically going five innings per start. Four of those nine starts resulting in outings of fewer than five innings.

It’s the old opinion that many who have watched Velasquez have had for some time. That in shorter bursts out of the bullpen, he could just let himself go, and his results could be truly dominating. It’s time to find out if that is the case. I believe it will prove a brilliant move.

Of course that would mean the Phillies need to find a starting pitcher to take his place. That answer comes from the AAA ranks in 22-year old Enyel De Los Santos. The right-hander is 6-3 with a 1.63 ERA, has allowed just 47 hits over 66.1 innings, and carries a 69/20 K:BB ratio.

Some of these moves are temporary. The more permanent moves come from the front office. If they truly want to contend this season, it’s time to make a serious push for two players: Manny Machado and Cole Hamels.

Either or both of Franco/Crawford can go in a Machado deal. So can any prospect in the minor league system not named Sixto Sanchez or Alec Bohm, assuming the 2018 top draft pick signs quickly. Whatever is left can go in a Hamels deal. There is enough prospect talent available to get such deals done.

If Machado is your shortstop, and Franco is gone, I would go after a veteran third baseman. One possible answer could be free agent switch-hitter Chase Headley. Another would be to pickup Adrian Beltre in the Hamels deal. Yes, big name. But look at the age, salary, and injury risk. If the Phillies truly want to contend, the future Hall of Famer is a realistic short-term target.

My “Bold” plan returns Hamels
to the Phillies starting rotation

The other piece of a Machado move would be to sign him long term. Yes, he has earned the opportunity to go to free agency. But let’s face it, no team has more financial resources than the Phillies when all things are considered.

There is a number out there that would get Machado’s signature on a long term deal. Up to Matt Klentak to find that number and ensure this is a cornerstone building block.

As for Hamels, he is now 34 years old, and pitching with a last place team that clearly needs to rebuild. The shoe is now on the other foot when considering a Phillies-Rangers trade involving a rebuilding club and a rising contender.

Rolling out a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta and whoever can fight to the fifth starter spot should be enough to keep the club in contention. That is assuming the offense can add the legit pop and pressure relief that signing Machado and getting the right-side infield kids back to their natural positions should provide.

In the off-season, after the dust settles, the Phillies should find themselves in position to go after yet another big free agent bat in Bryce Harper. That’s right, both Machado and Harper in red pinstripes. But that’s a conversation for November.

So, who feels any of this is pie-in-the-sky thinking? Well, if so, then I hope the Phillies aren’t thinking like you. That would, to me, would run counter to their “Be Bold” motto for this season. It’s now time for the Phillies management to be what they have been asking their players to be – bold.


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