PHILADELPHIA -- It should have felt like a nice step forward that the Phillies won 14 more games in 2018 than '17.
But a two-month collapse in August and September spoiled the warm, fuzzy feelings for most Phillies fans and even some inside the organization. The Phillies now enter the 2018-19 offseason needing and expecting to make significant changes to upgrade a mediocre offense and a porous defense.
They will not be easy fixes, but the Phillies have the resources to make them.
Here are five questions for the Phillies entering arguably the franchise's most critical offseason since 2002-03, when they signed Jim Thome and David Bell and acquired Kevin Millwood in a trade in anticipation of moving to Citizens Bank Park in '04:
1. Do the Phillies make a big splash in free agency?
They almost have to sign somebody big, don't they? The Phillies have been planning for this offseason for years. They spent general manager Matt Klentak's first couple of offseasons acquiring players on one-year contracts like Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz, David Hernandez, Pat Neshek, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders in part because they wanted to avoid multiyear deals to maintain the financial flexibility needed to pursue Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. Klentak said recently that the 2019-20 and 2020-21 free-agent classes are similarly talented, but the Phillies really need to come away with Machado or Harper, or do something else significant that makes fans jam the Phillies' ticket-office phone lines and purchase box loads of jerseys for the holidays. There is no reason why they cannot.
2. How do they shake up the rest of the offense and defense?
This is where things get even more interesting. Even if the Phillies sign Machado or Harper they still have plenty to do to improve the offense and defense. Playing Roman Quinn regularly in center field could help both the offense and defense. Moving Scott Kingery from shortstop to second base could help defensively, and maybe even help Kingery relax and produce more offensively. Moving Rhys Hoskins from left field to first base would help the outfield defense. But what do the Phillies do about Carlos Santana? They could try to trade him, but they have been playing him at third base the final couple of weeks of the season for a reason. They want to see if he can handle the position on a regular basis. But keeping Santana would help the offense in 2019. Yes, Santana had a terrible April, but he played close to his career averages the final five months of the season.
3. Do they look for help in the rotation?
Klentak said in July that the Phillies always want to avoid the starting-pitching market, but the Phillies' rotation struggled down the stretch. It is not crazy to think that the Phillies could open next season with the same starting five: Aaron Nola, Jacob Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. But should they? Phillies manager Gabe Kapler touts the FIP of pitchers like Pivetta and Velasquez, saying their ERAs would be better with better defenders behind them. Perhaps, but while FIP is a better predictor of the future than ERA, how reliable are their FIPs when they consistently are pulled in the fourth and fifth innings? There is no question a veteran starting pitcher could help the rotation. But are the Phillies willing to pay a high price for one?
4. Do they find a closer?
Sure, the Phillies could use a full-time closer, but the belief here is that the Phillies would be better served spending resources elsewhere. Besides, Seranthony Dominguez could develop into one next season.
5. Does Kapler make any adjustments before Spring Training?
Kapler knows he needs to be better next season, but what exactly does that mean? Players appreciate the fact that he communicates well with them, but there also is some frustration that nobody seems to know what is coming next. Will a pitcher be pulled in the fifth, despite throwing well? Will a batter be pinch-hit for in the second inning because of a matchup? Will a player play the next day after having a good game? The analytics might say these are the correct decisions, but it doesn't always sit well in the clubhouse.