There has been a lot of talk about the Phillies signing a right-handed bat before the trade deadline. Manager Charlie Manuel has publicly said that the Phillies could use a right-handed bat in the middle of the lineup.
It makes sense, as all the Phillies' power comes from the left side of the plate. The heart of their lineup—Utley, Howard and Ibanez—are all lefties.
At the same time, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is more concerned about strengthening their bullpen.
"I don't think it's absolutely necessary that we get a right-handed bat in order to win the World Series," Amaro said, per an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer writer, Bob Brookover. "To me, I'm more concerned about our pitching than our offense."
Amaro, of course, is talking about a bullpen consisting of disabled-list mainstays in Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge, as well as the ineffective Danys Baez.
Michael Stutes (2.92 ERA and 26K's in 24 and 2/3 innings) and Antonio Bastardo (0.96 ERA and 33 K's in 28 innings) have held down the back end of the bullpen for the first half of the season. However, these are two young players in the early stages of their careers.
Can they be relied upon in September and October?
In his first full season as a reliever in 2010, Bastardo only threw a total of 39 innings. He is already at 28 innings this year. Amaro appeared concerned with Bastardo's workload.
"I'm always concerned about our bullpen," Amaro said in the same interview with Brookover. "We have some young kids throwing in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, and it's hard to rely on them on a daily basis. They've never been through it in September, and they've never been through it in October, and now Contreras is down, and we don't have Lidge back."
It's generally agreed that a right-handed power bat and some bullpen insurance would be helpful. However, despite popular belief, the more pressing issue appears to be solidifying the bullpen.
The Phillies have made it through the first half of the season with the best record in baseball due to pitching, both starting and relief. They have done this despite their lackluster offense. The only reason this couldn't continue is if the bullpen falls apart later in the year.
Given the youth in key bullpen roles, this is almost likely to happen. A preemptive move to shore up the pen should be made before the young arms wear down. As last year's NLCS further proved, pitching dominates October.
If the Phillies had to choose to make a trade for a bullpen arm or right-handed bat before the trade deadline, they would be wise to choose the arm. It will be a more pressing need in September and October.