Phillies embrace sustainable approach by passing on 'good' trade for Kerkering

Dave Dombrowski admits that he passed up a good trade in favor of keeping youngster Orion Kerkering in Philadelphia.

Dave Dombrowski said he passed on a 'good' trade involving Orion Kerkering at the Winter Meetings
Dave Dombrowski said he passed on a 'good' trade involving Orion Kerkering at the Winter Meetings / Bob Levey/GettyImages
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The Philadelphia Phillies failed to make a big splash at the MLB Winter Meetings in Nashville this past week. While that might be frustrating to a fan base that has become used to landing star players in recent years, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski seems pretty content with how his Major League roster looks for the 2024 season.

According to Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, trading for star players at the expense of giving up young, controllable talent is not a price the franchise is willing to pay this offseason.

“Today, I could have made a trade,” said Dombrowski, per Zolecki. “Somebody would have said, 'Jeez, that's a good trade.' I could have traded [Orion] Kerkering for somebody like that today. I said, 'I don't really want to do that.' Because, if we're going to have all of these star players, we also have to have some young players that are not making a lot of money.”

A couple of things stand out when reading that quote. The Phillies had opportunities to make deals with teams during the Winter Meetings that involved high-impact Major League players and have so far gone unreported. And dealing young players is not a risk the franchise is willing to take right now, with the financial health of the organization a high priority this offseason.

This quote from Dombrowski should be taken with some degree of skepticism. Revealing all of the organization's plans is not what successful baseball executives do when surrounded by journalists and microphones.

What is the Phillies' priority for 2024?

The very idea of supplementing a very expensive roster full of current and former All-Stars with an influx of talented and inexpensive young players points towards a team taking a more sustainable approach going into 2024. Some of those players, like Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, and Ranger Suárez, are already making a big impact on the field, but the arbitration process will surely make them more expensive as they continue to accumulate service time.

That's what makes publicizing a rejected trade for Orion Kerkering all that more interesting to dissect. Is Dave Dombrowski trying to outline the organization's philosophy this offseason, or is he trying to build some hype around a young and talented arm like Kerkering's to get the wider baseball world's attention? It could be a little of both.

MLB Pipeline ranked the Phillies farm system number 23 out of 30 teams. There's clearly a lot of room for improvement. With top pitching prospect Andrew Painter sidelined by Tommy John surgery, trading other promising arms like Mick Abel and Griff McGarry this winter seems like a major risk. With many of the other top Phillies prospects far from making an impact on the diamond, maybe Orion Kerkering's name is being floated as trade bait? Unlikely, considering the current state of the Phillies bullpen, but not a complete stretch of the imagination.

It's more likely that the Phillies as an organization are trying to show some restraint after signing franchise faces like Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner, and Aaron Nola to large contracts in recent years, and being ready for the next contract extension or free agent signing in the future is a central point of emphasis. Does this future-leaning position take into account extending Zack Wheeler or Bryce Harper?

It could also be true that Dave Dombrowski has learned a lesson from his time as a general manager in other organizations like the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox, that spending to the luxury tax limit and trading away young pieces in the farm system to win now aren't sustainable models for a contending franchise.

With the Phillies expected to contend at a high level each year following a run of recent success, winning now might seem like the move, but high-salary teams with older players have a proven history of crashing and burning spectacularly.

Owner John Middleton certainly knows what eleven years between Red Octobers is like, and maybe that's part of the equation. One way or another, the Hot Stove is still getting warmed up, and a lot of work has yet to be done to build a winning Phillies team in 2024.

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