Following Tuesday’s come from behind victory against Baltimore, Matt Gelb from The Athletic published a very good story talking to Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long about the top five batters in the Phillies lineup.

In it, Long identified what each guy needs to do to get on track offensively. It’s a really good look into the specifics of what is ailing each batter. Some of them are obvious and others are really subtle.

And the reality is, there is just as good a chance that after Wednesday’s 6-4 win over Baltimore, the Phillies 24th come-from-behind victory of the season, these hitters will course correct over the final 60 games of the season as there is a chance they continue to scuffle and underperform.

As the trade deadline approaches next Tuesday, Dave Dombrowski, Sam Fuld, and the rest of the Phillies front office has to decide what players they need to improve the team as they try to get back to the World Series again this year and win two more games than they did a season ago.

The conventional wisdom is that the Phillies need a right-handed bat. Bob and I have been saying that for some time on Crossed Up and we even suggested that it be a power bat, since the Phillies also struggle to hit home runs.

But what if the right-handed bat they acquire is not specifically designed to provide more power or more offense?

Here’s my thinking.

Almost every team in baseball, even the really good ones, needs pitching. Whether it’s another starter who can pitch in the postseason or a big bullpen arm teams are going to be on the prowl to add what they can there.

The Phillies are one of maybe two playoff-caliber teams (along with Milwaukee) who don’t need to add pitching (although they likely will for depth purposes). But, if you are lining up pitching staffs of potential playoff teams the Phillies are arguably the most complete staff. They may not have the best starters or the best bullpen, but combined they have more than mostly everyone.

Now, that could change at the deadline as teams look to add pieces to improve their staffs, but it’s going to cost teams to do that while the Phillies can spend their capital elsewhere.

This seems to set up perfectly for the Phillies to go out and spend what they are willing to spend in terms of future assets to get that big bat they covet, but it begs the question, who are the options there?

All the talk radio and Twitter fodder for guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in St. Louis or Shohei Ohtani with the Angels are far-fetched. Cody Bellinger would make perfect sense – if he were right-handed. But, unless the Phillies are going to say, “Screw it,” and load up on lefties, daring teams to find extra lefty hurlers they can turn to in tight postseason games, there might be a better option.

And that option is, not to make a big splash, but instead to find a player who helps a little on offense but more importantly, adds good defense and maybe even some defensive flexibility.

All the talk around Tuesday’s win was about the ninth inning comeback. Bryson Stott’s double, Bryce Harper’s mad dash around the bases, and Alec Bohm’s walk-off single. And then on Wednesday the chatter was about Rob Thomson sitting Trea Turner and replacing him with Edmundo Sosa, who proceeded to hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the seventh.

The Phillies don’t win Tuesday without three excellent outfield plays, one better than the other. They also are likely facing a late-inning deficit and aren’t tied were it not for a circus catch in the outfield Wednesday. And the thing is, each of these great plays was made by a different outfielder.

On Tuesday, Brandon Marsh made a nice running grab in the left centerfield gap on a ball that Kyle Schwarber would never have reached. The bases were loaded at the time and, well, the score would have gotten ugly quickly. Johan Rojas made a leaping catch against the wall in centerfield on Ryan O’Hearn on a ball that had an expected batting average of .720, according to StatCast. And Nick Castellanos made perhaps the catch of the Phillies season while saving a run in the process:


Then on Wednesday, it was Jake Cave in left field channeling his inner Aaron Rowand.

Rob Thomson talked about how important defense is after both games. With the Phillies willing to move Marsh to the corners for either Johan Rojas, or, once he returns from the injured list, Cristian Pache. The Phillies suddenly have the ability to have two really good defensive outfielders in the lineup each game and be able to possibly bring in a third to protect a lead in the late innings.

Considering Harper is likely going to be the regular first baseman the rest of the way, although he will get a few games at DH, in which case, Kyle Schwarber will have to play left field to stay in the lineup, the Phillies will have some outfield flexibility.

Castellanos is going to play right field, and it seems the plan is to platoon Marsh with either Rojas or Pache in centerfield, and now you have Cave (two hits Wednesday in addition to the catch), to face righties in left field.

So, maybe the trade deadline right-handed bat the Phillies are seeking should be one that provides good defense in left field first, and helps the lineup second.

There are a few guys who could serve in that role, as a platoon option with Cave, that should be available at the deadline.

The Mets’ Mark Canha comes to mind. Not that he’s an elite defensive outfielder, but he’s been pretty solid in left field for New York. According to Fangraphs, Canha’s +5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) ranks 15th among all outfielders in baseball who have played at least 400 innings in the field. The 34-year-old isn’t having the greatest season offensively (.237/.337/.376 for a .712 OPS), which are all below his career average, but he also offers the flexibility to play first base if Harper needs to DH a game, and he can play 3B in a pinch as well.

Another player who hasn’t hit well in a couple years, but offers the same defensive upgrade is Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano. Mostly a centerfielder, Laureano ranks fifth in all of baseball with a +10 DRS. From 2018-2021 Laureano slashed .263/.335/.465 for an OPS of .800, but in the year-and-a-half since it’s been an ugly .211/.283/.368 for a .652 OPS.

If Seattle is looking to sell, which, at the moment, they seem to be on the bubble. Teoscar Hernandez might be the best fit because he brings a combination of power (16 home runs) and defense (tied with Canha at +5 DRS), even though he strikes out a ton and has a lower batting average and doesn’t walk.

The Phillies have been linked to the Cardinals a lot, and St. Louis does have a log jam in the outfield. But, reports are that they won’t trade the oft-injured, but uber-talented Tyler O’Neill. Lars Nootbaar seems firmly ensconced in center and top prospect Jordan Walker is manning rightfield. They also have a super utility guy in Brendan Donovan who can play anywhere, which means once-heralded prospect Dylan Carlson could be a target.

Carlson isn’t as good defensively as the other names mentioned, but he’s not a bad defensive outfielder either, and his situation is very reminiscent to that of Brandon Marsh a year ago. A 24-year-old who hasn’t quite lived up to his original potential and is being squeezed out by other players, who could flourish with a change of scenery.

It was just two season ago when Carlson finished third in the N.L. Rookie of the Year vote, but he’s been mediocre at best since, and has dealt with some injuries as well. Maybe the Phillies view the switch hitter similarly to Marsh and feel they can fix something at the plate much like they did with him, that could make the Phillies a more dynamic offense.

But my personal choice would be Lane Thomas in Washington. The soon-to-be 28-year-old ranks tied for 27th in the majors in DRS (+3) and he’s having a solid year offensively for the Nationals (.293/.341/.486 for an .827 OPS). He also adds a little bit of pop as he has 16 homers and 54 RBI and isn’t afraid to steal a bag, with 12 steals so far this season. He’s also a guy who can fit in anywhere in the order, giving Thomson some flexibility. He hasn’t played left field this season, but he has as recently as 2022. He also has a couple years of control left as he is only arbitration eligible at this point and likely doesn’t fit the Nationals rebuild plan.

Any way you slice it, though, the Phillies are seeing that with the quality of their pitching, that they don’t necessarily need their offense to be explosive to win games. If it gets there, great. Then you are in an even better situation. But if not, becoming a better defensive team aids the pitchers even more, and likely makes it that the inconsistent offense doesn’t need to be relied upon to score as much just to win games.

In other sports, you always here the saying, “Defense wins championships.” It’s not usually something uttered in baseball because it’s often tertiary to pitching and offense, but considering what’s going to be available in a trade, considering what you already have, and considering what you need the most. The Phillies might just be best suited to think along those lines, and add to the defense to try and secure a championship for the first time in 15 years.