Philadelphia Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper (3) in action during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Friday, June 30, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

MLB trade season is here, with players like Kiké Hernández, Lucas Giolito, and Carlos Santana on the move. 

And somewhat unexpectedly, the Phillies are buyers.

Overall, the NL East playoff picture is not quite what it was projected to be. The Mets were considered on the same top tier as the Braves, the Marlins were overlooked, and the Nationals were unsympathetically labeled as a sad little squad that would be nesting at the bottom for the duration.

Some of this has proven true: The Braves, despite their fans’ fist-clenching and lip-quivering over a couple more losses this week than they’re used to, are in fact on top: the powerhouse of not only the division, but the National League, and possibly all of baseball. The Nationals are, in fact, going nowhere. But the Marlins are stocking up for a run at the NL Wild Card, having just snagged reliever David Robertson from the Mets, who appear to have “surrender[ed] postseason hopes,” per columnist Jon Heyman.

Then there’s the Phillies, who were mostly shrugged at coming into 2023 despite being the defending NL champs, viewed as too shallow and top heavy to repeat their magical run. 

As of this writing, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the gang have yet to make a move. There’s plenty of ideas out there, and the fan/pundit reactions are moving beyond considered discussion into deranged shouting matches as the Aug. 1 trade deadline nears. 

What’s been pretty much settled on is that the Phillies are after a left fielder. Maybe one of the players the Mets have made available at their garage sale can fill that role. Maybe one of the many other, better options can do it. Maybe there’s an in-house solution no one’s thought of yet. Maybe the Phillies will decide they are content to let it ride with defensive whizzes Kyle Schwarber and Jake Cave

But they will be doing something. Which is in itself good news. 

Perhaps you can remember back in April, when the Phillies lost five of their first six games and didn’t even look like they’d get out of Texas. Rhys Hoskins’ season-ending injury threw all previously conceived notions into disarray, and though Bryce Harper did return from Tommy John surgery frighteningly early, it’s clear by now he came back with some differences. 

All over the roster, the Phillies have had to play and plan around a different-looking team. This is not a wrecking crew that is going to #SmashTheBell every night. The “Big 5” of their lineup — Harper, Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and J.T. Realmuto — have not produced on their expected levels. In the second half, only Harper has been hitting: Turner continues to struggle after setting the world on fire in the WBC; Realmuto is striking out in almost 35% of his second-half at-bats; after an all-star first half, Castellanos’ OBP is .185 in the second; Schwarber’s BA hasn’t hit .200 in months. 

This is a pretty dainty offense that plays in — and to be fair, wins — a lot of one-run games (the Phils are 21-12 when the final score is separated by a single run). 

Part of this is why Phillies brass is looking at potential offensive boosts like Cody Bellinger, Randal Grichuk, or Lane Thomas.

But before any of that goes down, let’s acknowledge that this is a team that has found a way to win despite being a completely different kind of team than they wanted to be. 

The Phillies have been carried by a stellar bullpen and a solid rotation, two components of the team that weren’t necessarily guaranteed as strengths back in spring. They crawled out of a sub-.500 hole to be ten games over .500 on July 18. Here at the trade deadline, as the Mets sadly toss scraps of their roster into the seething mass of NL Wild Card teams and the Marlins look to make their first serious playoff run since 2003 (no, we’re not counting 2020), the Phillies are looking to add, not give up and die. 

They have survived. All of the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over their terrible start has become teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over who they’ll acquire to pump up their underperforming offense. 

So as we tear each other apart arguing over who exactly the Phillies will land on for their needs in left field, it’s important to take a moment, and be thankful that they are in the market to add anybody. Just look at the Mets, and see how much worse a projected playoff team can be several months later at the trade deadline. 

And also, laugh at them. Obviously. 

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...