The deadline to secure players for the postseason roster is fast approaching, and a flurry of waiver trades have come through over the last few days.
Amongst the latest deals on the waiver wire came courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies, who put in a claim on Jose Bautista of the New York Mets and agreed to trade him for a player to be named later. Joel Sherman of The New York Post first reported the move.
This move is…strange, to say the least. It’s difficult to see where Joey Bats—or the shell of what’s left of him—will fit into this team, but his acquisition isn’t out of character for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who has made several moves since the end of the 2017 season that appear to have caused more problems than they’ve solved.
The Bautista trade is another in a line of moves that seems to have made manager Gabe Kapler’s job more difficult.
Bautista’s peak is long behind him. He hit a meager .203/.308/.366 with Toronto last year, producing 23 home runs and 65 RBI. This year, between the Mets and Atlanta Braves, he’s been even worse: a .196/.339/.364 slash line with 11 homers and 42 runs batted in in 342 plate appearances.
He picked things up when the Braves released him and he was picked up by the Mets, but that’s a relative term: a .204 batting average compared to .142, along with the lion’s share of his run production.
That certainly isn’t enough to force his way into the Phillies’ everyday lineup, especially given the fact that he’s limited to two positions at this point: corner outfield and third base. None of those places are available right now. Third baseman Maikel Franco has revitalized his career in the last two months, while the corners are manned by star slugger Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams, who has recovered from a rough April to hit .274/.343/.471 with 16 home runs and 45 RBI from May 1 on. None of these players should lose at-bats for whatever is left of Bautista, especially considering the downgrade he would represent to an already-awful defense.
That leaves Bautista as a bench bat. Fortunately, the price of a player to be named later is palatable for a bench player. But as the Phils try to recover from the scuffles they’ve dealt with the second half of August, do they really need a bench bat doesn’t do much else?
This is at least the third time since the end of last season that Klentak has made a move that, on some level, has unbalanced the team. The first came in the offseason when he signed Carlos Santana to a three-year deal in free agency. Santana was one of the more desirable bats available on the market but after the emergence of Hoskins (a natural first baseman) last season, it made little sense. Hoskins had to go back to left field, where he had played to accommodate last season’s incumbent first baseman Tommy Joseph, which created a logjam between Williams and Aaron Altherr. Sharing playing time led to Williams’ slow start and extended struggles for Altherr, who ended up being sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley six weeks ago. Santana has struggled himself this season, making the move even more vulnerable to hindsight.
The first base position was again the scene of a strange move earlier this month when Klentak traded for Justin Bour. Again, with Santana and Hoskins on his roster, a first baseman wasn’t an urgent need, and his primary function would have been a bench bat—if he hadn’t hit the disabled list with an oblique strain that could keep him out almost the entire rest of the year.
The only way the Bautista move makes sense is as a direct replacement for Bour as a bench bat with some power. But Klentak, who up to this point had handled the end phases of the Phillies’ rebuild well since replacing Ruben Amaro Jr. in 2015, has suddenly produced a roster devoid of balance. The team is top-heavy in certain positions and relies on the versatility of a few, like Asdrubal Cabrera and Scott Kingery, to cover for in-game substitution situations. Gabe Kapler has been hamstrung trying to find playing time for guys like Kingery, Williams, and Altherr throughout the season. With a guy like Bautista in the fold, that may only get more difficult.
With one of the biggest offseasons since the advent of free agency looming, all these logjams are raising questions about Klentak. If he can’t figure out a way to balance this roster, its promising young core might never recognize its potential.
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