The Phillies need a right-handed bat in their lineup as much as any MLB team, but the team should first target a bullpen arm as the annual July trade deadline nears. General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. previously suggested Philadelphia won't be making a major in-season deal, but all indications are that the club will look to make at least a minor adjustment for the stretch of its 2011 campaign, and there's little question the Phils should eyeball a relief pitcher before anything else when it comes to scouring the market for possible acquisitions.
"I think we definitely could use a good bullpen piece, a guy who's done it before and is solid, a veteran guy," said skipper Charlie Manuel late last month, echoing Amaro's recent statements that the team's top priority is likely landing another bullpen arm. It's not as if the Phillies' pitching has been bad this year; the heralded starting rotation has performed up to expectations and the 'pen has done a respectable job thus far, blowing fewer saves than all other MLB organizations and posting an impressive ERA. However, injuries and other circumstances have cut short the relief pitching depth, and a move could very well be on the way--or at least it should be.
It's been mentioned before that the Phillies don't have much room on their payroll to add a hefty contract, so it might be best for fans to at least temporarily ignore big-name trade candidates like Heath Bell. However, there are quite a few bullpen arms around the league that could garner a reasonable amount of interest from the City of Brotherly Love. The Blue Jays' Octavio Dotel has been mentioned as a potential target, while the Nationals' Tyler Clippard and Oakland's Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour could also be of interest.
Dotel is 37 years old and been on over 10 teams thus far in his career, but he's been steadily productive this year with Toronto. In 28 games, he's posted an ERA of 3.86 and struck out 27 batters in just 23.1 innings. Dotel's held a closer role before, and with the Jays not likely to be in contention for the playoffs, he could wind up being a cost-effective trade bargain. Meanwhile, Clippard could be a bit harder to pry away from Washington, but has done very well with the opportunities he's had in 2011, allowing only 10 runs in 48.1 innings of work. Both Fuentes and Balfour would provide the Phillies with late-inning veteran options--pitchers built in the mold that Charlie Manuel seems to be seeking with the season's month of July in full swing.
Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo have been more than capable of handling duties in the bullpen this year, but when it comes time to take on serious contenders in the postseason and fight through those rookie mistakes, the Phillies will likely want to turn to some experienced help in terms of relief pitching, so an in-season trade (regardless of the significance of the move in regards to the acquisition's popularity) could, in fact, be in the mix. If it's not, there's no doubt it should be. The team is supposedly on a tight budget and already has one of the best rotations in the majors, but some added help down the stretch could put the Phillies over the top in their hunt for a second World Series title in four years.