Dombrowski says Phillies 'looking to get better' ahead of Trade Deadline

July 20th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies believe they can win the World Series, maybe even without Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto.

But it doesn’t mean they won’t make moves before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline.

“You’re always looking to get better any way that you possibly can,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said before the Phillies’ 5-3 loss on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies should know more about what they need by the end of the weekend. The Phillies thought Bryce Harper might play first base this week against the Brewers, but following a four-day All-Star break, a doubleheader Saturday, rain Sunday and no game Monday, Harper did not work at first as much as he had hoped.

He has been sick recently, too, battling a fever and losing his voice.

“I’m hoping this weekend, at least for one [game],” Harper said, about the upcoming series in Cleveland.

“Part of what we need is based upon what happens with Bryce,” Dombrowski said. “Because if Bryce can move to first base, it allows us to free up the DH spot and put Kyle [Schwarber] there a little bit more, and then, we have the ability to decide what we want to do in left field -- or the outfield, period.”

Harper’s move to first and Schwarber’s move to DH would improve the Phillies’ defense and allow Dombrowski to pursue a hitter. Schwarber ranks last in baseball in fielding metrics Outs Above Average (-15) and Defensive Runs Saved (-19). A hitter could help replace Rhys Hoskins’ thump.

“Really what we’re looking for a little bit is somebody that can swing the bat from the right-hand side, but not just any position either,” Dombrowski said. “I keep a little open-mindedness to that because there’s some different type of thought processes that we have.”

Dombrowski said the Phillies could stick with internal options, like Johan Rojas and Cristian Pache, who could return from the injured list in a few weeks. It would give the Phillies their best defensive outfield in years, and an argument could be made for the Phillies to go that route. Since Philadelphia began a 27-11 (.730) run on June 3, which is the second-best record in baseball, it entered Wednesday ranked seventh in runs per game (5.22), 11th in on-base percentage (.330) and sixth in slugging percentage (.444).

So would the Phillies empty the farm system for an offense that has played considerably better the past six weeks? Would they empty the farm system to improve the rotation?

“You're never looking to trade your top prospects,” Dombrowski said. “But I can't also tell you that any time somebody drops something on your lap that you can't say no.”

Dombrowski said Phillies managing partner John Middleton is open to taking on additional salary, which is not a surprise.

“We have a generous owner that wants to win,” he said.

The Phillies like their Big Four in Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez and Taijuan Walker. Cristopher Sánchez has a 3.06 ERA in seven starts as the No. 5 starter, but should Sánchez regress or if somebody should suffer an injury, the Phillies’ starting pitching depth is relatively thin. Behind Sánchez are Triple-A starters Nick Nelson and Bailey Falter, and Double-A prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry.

“Probably like every organization in baseball, obviously you're looking at starting pitching depth,” Dombrowski said. “That would be something we'd keep our eyes open to.”

For the first time in a long time, the bullpen is not a pressing need.

But everything starts with Harper.

“When he finally says, ‘Hey, I’m comfortable and ready,’ he’s been cleared from a doctor’s perspective,” Dombrowski said. “I do not think that, per se, when he says that, he'll go out there and play every single day for a week straight. I think he'll go out there for a day or two, get a day off, and he'll come back in that regard. Now, I'm anticipating that, but that's why I always say 'anticipate.' Because I can't 100 percent tell you it's going to happen. But I've always felt that we would know by the Trade Deadline if he would be able to do it. Not necessarily play at [first on] that particular day, but if he would be able to do it from my own perspective and our perspective.”

Following the Phillies’ unexpected run to the NL pennant last fall and offseason free-agent acquisitions like Trea Turner and Walker, the anticipation of a big trade before Aug. 1 is high among a fanbase constantly filling Citizens Bank Park. Ohtani and Soto have caught the imaginations of people, although there are no indications either will be traded.

And if they do become available, the prices will be astronomical.

There is more out there than Ohtani and Soto, by the way. And right now, there are teams still deciding if they will sell or not.

They have less than two weeks to decide.

“Two weeks is really a long time in the Major League Baseball [Trade] Deadline period,” Dombrowski said. “I really find that each day sometimes is more like a week as far as conversations are concerned. I do think things will be done.”