This team’s offseason path is one to admire

December 2nd, 2022

Admit it: There was a little part of you -- maybe a big part of you -- that thought the Phillies, with all the money they had been spending on free agents the past few years (and especially last offseason), were fooling themselves.

After the Jimmy Rollins/Chase Utley/Ryan Howard-era club aged out of contention, the Phillies -- like the Cubs and Astros around the same time -- underwent a rebuild that was meant to usher in a new generation of young stars.

Unlike those teams, though, it didn’t work as planned for Philly. Many of the high Draft picks didn’t pan out. The team didn’t have a huge rebound. The whole franchise felt stuck in the mud.

So the Phillies did that supposedly inefficient thing you’re not supposed to do when trying to build from the ground up: They spent on free agents.

The big one was Bryce Harper’s 13-year deal signed before the 2019 season, and after him came Zack Wheeler in '20 and J.T. Realmuto in '21. That still didn’t get the Phillies in the playoffs, but it also didn’t stop them heading into '22, when they agreed to multiyear contracts with a pair of defensively challenged outfielders in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos.

You clicked your tongue when they did that, didn’t you?

"Tsk tsk. Won’t the Phillies ever learn?"

And then look at what happened: The Phillies went out and made the World Series, in large part because they looked at their flawed roster -- along with the expanded postseason format -- and rather than say, “Well, how can we make this more efficient?” or, “Maybe we should tear this down and start over,” they said: "What more can we add?"

They went for it.

It might not have been what an efficiency consultant would have recommended. But it was probably what got them to the World Series. There might be a lesson here.

I thought of the Phillies’ previous offseason when I saw the moves that the Angels have made so far this winter.

Just about every article I’ve read about the Angels over the past few months has revolved around how they should trade Shohei Ohtani, who has just one year left on his contract and seems unlikely to sign an extension.

And while, yes, you can argue that the best time to trade Ohtani is now -- that this is the most they'll be able to maximize his value -- the Angels have clearly retorted with the argument, "We have Shohei Ohtani -- and, oh yeah, Mike Trout -- on our team and you don’t, so we’re going to try to win, if that’s OK with you."

These moves are not, to any extent of the imagination, earth-shaking. But they involve a team looking at its roster and deciding that rather than tearing it down, the best way to make it better is to add.

The Angels have decided to go for it. Now that they have made those additions, jeez, they absolutely should not stop. Maybe they’ll stay out of the shortstop sweepstakes -- though it wouldn’t hurt to pop their head in that too -- but they should keep an eye on any mid-tier hitter or pitcher available and be willing to bring them in. Mitch Haniger? Brandon Drury? Jean Segura? Michael Wacha? A perfect allocation of resources? Perhaps not. But each of those players would make the Angels better. And that is, after all, supposed to be the goal.

Remember: As the Phillies just showed, all you have to do is get to the tournament. The Angels, for all the frustration of the past few years, are projected for 84 wins by the (amusingly early) ZIPS 2023 standings predictions. That projection will obviously change as the offseason progresses, but it does speak to the baseline: The Halos can add a few solid players and get maximum value out of them because they bring the club closer to the playoffs.

And as we learned from Schwarber and Castellanos in the postseason, those players can be pretty handy then, too. Maybe Segura is worth a win or two in the regular season, but having him in the playoffs (as the Phillies can attest) can be worth even more.

It's pretty simple: Get better players to get a better team. When you’re a club like the Angels -- or, for that matter, the Guardians, the Orioles, the Giants or the Brewers -- and you’re hovering around .500 in projections, acquiring a player who pushes you up just a little higher is more important now than ever.

We can sit in our theoretical castles and criticize what might be seen as an overpay for a “marginal” free agent, stroking our chins, shaking our heads and clicking our tongues. But you’re never going to win a World Series that way. You win a World Series by going for it. The Phillies went for it and they reached the World Series. The Angels are trying to do the same.

Trying is the point: Trying is how you win.