Phillies' trade options to upgrade center field

In the week leading up to the August 2 MLB trade deadline, we’re taking a daily look at the trade market and what the Phillies could accomplish.

Dave Dombrowski didn’t want to tip his hand earlier this week when asked about the Phillies’ top priority at the trade deadline, but it’s apparent that they’re looking for starting pitching help.

If that is their biggest need with Zach Eflin sidelined an undetermined length of time by a knee injury, then offensive help isn’t too far behind.

But the Phils can’t add just any bat. They are limited positionally by the commitments they’ve already made. They’re not going to acquire an everyday catcher, left fielder, right fielder, first baseman or second baseman. J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Rhys Hoskins and, very soon, Jean Segura are occupying those positions.

Designated hitter? That’s tricky as well with Bryce Harper due back potentially at the end of August. If the Phils were to acquire a Nelson Cruz-like DH, they’d only be using that player on an everyday basis for about three, maybe four weeks. The question then would become, ‘Will this DH be appreciably better over 90 or so plate appearances than Darick Hall?’

Josh Bell is one of the best bats on the market and could help many teams, but the Phils aren’t a good fit because of who they have at first base, both outfield corners and eventually DH.

The one spot the Phillies could clearly upgrade is the same spot they could have upgraded most of the last decade: center field. Matt Vierling and Odubel Herrera have been OK, but the Phils have not gotten above-average production offensively or defensively in center.

Thus, the simplest way to upgrade the offense would be by filling the center field hole.

Who’s out there?

Two of the top names for the second straight deadline are Baltimore’s Cedric Mullins and Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds. It seems unlikely either will be moved for less than a king’s ransom, and Dombrowski indicated Monday that the Phillies will not be pursuing the top players on the trade market because they aren’t at a stage at which trading top prospects makes sense.

Ian Happ of the Cubs is an intriguing possibility. The switch-hitting 2022 All-Star turns 28 on August 12, so he’s young enough that it wouldn’t be a rental situation. He’s under club control one more season beyond 2022 after making $6.85 million this year.

By comparison, Mullins and Reynolds are under club control for three more seasons each beyond 2022, so they should cost significantly more.

Happ is a selective hitter with pop and speed who can bat at the top of an order or in more of a run-producing role. He’s had two years with at least 24 homers and this season has hit a career-high .282 with a career-high .366 OBP. The Cubs have other pieces that make sense for the Phillies in relievers David Robertson and Mychal Givens as well as lefty starter Drew Smyly.

The Royals have a few players capable of playing center. Perennial trade candidate Whit Merrifield, who is showing signs of decline, is one of them. He’d still be an upgrade for the Phillies. 

Andrew Benintendi, fifth in the majors with a .321 batting average, is a hot commodity. The question for the Phillies is whether he can play center. He hasn’t played there since 2019, graded out poorly when he did, and speed isn’t really a part of his game.

Kansas City also has veteran Michael A. Taylor, but that would be a defense-only upgrade as he has a .298 career on-base percentage with no power. He’s always been a Gold Glove-caliber defender but bottom-of-the-order bat.

Oakland’s Ramon Laureano has been an elite defensive center fielder throughout his career with big offensive upside, but he hasn’t hit in three years now. Laureano hit .288/.345/.509 his first two seasons but .232/.320/.412 in three years since. He was suspended 80 games last season for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Laureano, 28, is under control through the end of the 2024 season.

Colorado’s Randal Grichuk could be had, though he’s hit just .191 with a .542 OPS away from Coors Field this season.

The Reds could trade Tommy Pham, another boom-bust hitter. When Pham is right, he runs deep counts, takes his walks, can leave the yard and make things happen on the basepaths. When he’s not right, there’s a fair amount of swing-and-miss and he can be an easy out.

The Reds hold a $6 million mutual option on Pham for 2023 that can be bought out for $1.5 million.