CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Bryce Harper shared the same concerns last fall. He asked the same questions.
Like, are the Phillies in trouble?
“Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of people thought that,” Harper said Tuesday morning at Spectrum Field. “I think guys within the organization thought that. We were kind of figuring out like, what our identity is going to be, what are we going to do this offseason? … I remember sitting there talking to J.T. [Realmuto] and trying to be like, 'What are we doing?' You know like, 'What’s going on?' Not even about J.T., but just about everything else. Because if you're a free agent and you're sitting there and your team hasn't really done anything, you’re sitting there going, 'Well, do I really want to sign back?' But being able to look at a team and look at their roster and go, 'This is where I want to be,' they have to make the moves to do that.”
Then Dave Dombrowski arrived as president of baseball operations in December. Moods and outlooks improved.
“Once Dombrowski came in, finally, it was kind of like a breath of fresh air,” Harper said, “where you're sitting there going, man, this guy is going to do his job and he’s going to do everything he can to help this organization. And I think the city is in need of that, you know what I’m saying?”
Remember where the Phillies were last fall. They finished 28-32 behind the worst bullpen in baseball in 90 years. Six days later they removed Matt Klentak as general manager. They named Ned Rice interim general manager, but indicated they might not hire a full-time replacement until after the 2021 season, if they could not find a candidate they liked. There were public and private discussions that the organization planned to cut payroll following 80 layoffs, strongly suggesting they might not bring back Realmuto or Didi Gregorius or fill the holes they needed to fill.
It was not what Harper imagined when he signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies in March 2019. The Phils lengthened the deal to lower its average annual value, which they told Harper would allow them to invest in payroll throughout the entirety of the contract.
Two years later, many of the folks who made that pitch to Harper are not around.
“Our GM is gone, our president's gone, our manager is gone,” Harper said, referring to Klentak, Andy MacPhail and Gabe Kapler.
Kapler left after the 2019 season. Klentak left after '20. MacPhail remains team president, although his contract expires at the end of the season. Dombrowski reports to managing partner John Middleton, not MacPhail.
“The whole meeting that I had with all of those guys, I mean, the only guy at the table [still with the Phillies] is John,” Harper said. “It’s kind of crazy to think about that. But having John at the top, I think you have an owner that wants to win. And I think you need to find guys that had that same value and that same goal with him. So bringing in Dombrowski, bringing in [GM] Sam [Fuld] and [manager Joe] Girardi last year, I think it's a win-now move for all three of those guys. You don't bring in Dombrowski if it's not a win-now move. You don't just bring him in just to say, 'Hey, come and you can steer the ship for us, but can't really do anything because your hands are going to be tied.' And that's not what John did.
“I have all the faith in John to do what he needs to do for us as a whole, as an organization, but also being smart about it as well. We need to be good for a window. Not just one or two years and that's it.”
Since Dombrowski got the job, the Phillies re-signed Realmuto and Gregorius; signed Archie Bradley, Matt Moore, Chase Anderson and Brad Miller; acquired José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod in trades; and signed players like Tony Watson, Brandon Kintzler, Héctor Rondón and Matt Joyce to Minor League contracts with opportunities to make the team.
Harper liked what he saw.
“We needed to be able to spend money, because we don't have the prospects to actually trade and do that,” Harper said. “We were kind of in a predicament of, 'What can we do right now, but how can we prolong this for the next four or five years and not just one year?'
“So being able to kind to get a new GM, get a new president of baseball operations and kind of go from there. I mean, when Dombrowski came in, I was really excited, because I saw what he did in Boston, what he did in Detroit. I was sitting there thinking to myself, 'Man, well, yeah, we can possibly spend money. But do we have the prospects to kind of get the guys that we need to?' And I mean, I trusted so much in what Dombrowski was going to do, what Sam Fuld is going to do for us. I know how smart Sam is. I know how smart Dombrowski is. So I knew they were going to be able to do what they did. But I didn't know they were going to be able to do what they did like this. I was really pumped about it. And I was, quite frankly, a little shocked that they were able to do what they did.”