ATLANTA – In a wild flurry of activity that started 2½ hours before Tuesday’s trade deadline, the Phillies addressed three glaring needs as they shored up their team for a late-season push that they hope will end their 10-year playoff drought.
“I think we’re better,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, summing up the day.
In order, the Phillies acquired center fielder Brandon Marsh from the Los Angeles Angels, reliever David Robertson from the Chicago Cubs and starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard from the Angels.
The Syndergaard deal was sewed up just moments before the 6 p.m. deadline when the Angels moved away from a different potential deal and phoned the Phillies.
It made a good day of wheeling and dealing that much better.
“That was big for us,” Dombrowski said. “I was starting to think we weren’t going to get a starting pitcher. The asks were very high. So, we’re thrilled about that.
“We added a starting pitcher, we stabilized and made the bullpen better, and we solidified our defense with an everyday position player. We’re in a tough division and there are tough teams in the race, but I think we’re better.”
The Phils parted with just two of their top prospects in these deals. Catcher Logan O’Hoppe went to the Angels for Marsh and pitcher Ben Brown to the Cubs for Robertson.
The Phils sent former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak and minor-league outfielder Jadiel Sanchez to the Angels for Syndergaard. Moniak never lived up to his billing with the Phillies and may benefit from a change of scenery.
Dombrowski said the Phils “loved” O’Hoppe but were comfortable giving him up because Marsh comes with five years of contractual control and has tremendous upside at a position, center field, that has been an annual problem for the Phils. He added that J.T. Realmuto was set at catcher for three more years.
“Brown is probably the one that hurt the most,” Dombrowski said of the 6-6, 22-year-old, power-armed right-hander who went to the Cubs in the Robertson deal. “We like him a lot, but you can’t protect everybody. If you’re trying to get to the postseason, David Robertson is as good a reliever as is out there and that was the cost for us to get him.”
The Phils were able to hang on to their top three pitching prospects – Mick Abel, Andrew Painter and Griff McGarry.
“We never discussed them,” Dombrowski said. “We just didn’t want to trade those guys.”
That didn’t stop other clubs from asking – constantly.
“Tremendous. Off the charts,” Dombrowski said of the interest in the trio. “We couldn’t get people off those names. From an organizational perspective, we just felt we couldn’t mortgage the future by trading one of those guys.”
While Dombrowski believes that the organization’s best days are down the road, he fully expects this team to remain in contention for a playoff berth. The Phils lost 13-1 to Atlanta on Tuesday night and share a 55-48 record with St. Louis. However, the Phils control the third and final NL wild-card spot after winning the season series with St. Louis. The Phils are taking on the remainder of Syndergaard’s contract – more than $7 million – and project to be over the $230 million luxury tax threshold. Ownership badly wants to make the playoffs and see what happens with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola at the top of the rotation. In addition to Tuesday’s improvements from the trade market, the Phils will get their two best pure hitters back in the coming weeks. Jean Segura (broken finger) is expected to come off the injured list Thursday and Bryce Harper (broken thumb) has begun swinging a bat and could be back by around the end of the month.
As for the roles the new players will fill …
Syndergaard will move into the rotation, taking the spot vacated by the injured Zach Eflin. The powerfully built, 6-6 right-hander does not throw 100 mph anymore, but he still sits in the mid-90s with sink on his fastball.
“We think he can be effective in a five- or six-inning role,” Dombrowski said. “We weren’t looking for a No. 1 guy. We weren’t in that market.”
Dombrowski praised the work of Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sanchez. Both have spent time filling in for Eflin and they remain valuable to the team in terms of depth.
Marsh, 24, is a former second-round draft pick of the Angels and at one time was that organization’s top prospect. He has not hit consistently and his strikeout rate is high at over 35 percent in his two seasons in the majors. Marsh is, however, “a premium defender” in center field, to use Dombrowski’s description. He will get the bulk of the playing time at the position with Matt Vierling getting time against lefties.
Both Dombrowski and manager Rob Thomson said the Phillies’ hitting staff, led by hitting coach Kevin Long, spent hours reviewing Marsh’s left-handed stroke and approach.
“We think there’s some things we can do to help him,” Thomson said. “He’s one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, so that’s an upgrade.”
Robertson, 37, has been one of the best stories in baseball this season. He signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the Phillies before the 2019 season but pitched in just seven games because of an elbow injury that required surgery. He did not pitch in 2020 and made it back to the big leagues for 12 games with Tampa Bay last season. With the Cubs this season, Robertson notched a 2.23 ERA and 14 saves in 40 1/3 innings. He was striking out 11.4 batters per nine innings.
Robertson is playoff tested from his time with the Yankees – he was on the 2009 Yankees team that beat the Phillies in the World Series – and he’s motivated to help the Phillies after breaking down his first time through town.
“He was very disappointed that he got hurt,” Thomson said. “I think he felt bad about it, I really do.”
The Phillies hope to have Robertson in uniform for Wednesday afternoon’s game in Atlanta. Marsh and Syndergaard, who are coming from the West Coast, will likely join the team Thursday in Philadelphia.
As Gene Hackman said in Hoosiers, “This is your team.” It’s better than it was a few days ago. Time will tell if it’s good enough to break the postseason drought.