PHILADELPHIA -- Dave Dombrowski has been on the job only a few days, but he already has spent hours on the phone with Phillies manager Joe Girardi.
Dombrowski and Girardi have plenty to discuss.
Like, how do they fix the Phillies with a smaller budget?
It will take some deft decision-making, for sure. The Phillies need a catcher, a shortstop, multiple relievers, at least one starter and maybe another outfielder to snap the nine-year postseason drought. Sources have said that Dombrowski’s hiring as president of baseball operations late last week will not stop the Phillies from cutting payroll in 2021.
It is not an impossible task, but it will be difficult. The Phillies’ five-year rebuild did not go according to plan, leaving them with little financial flexibility and a bottom-10 farm system. Girardi expressed his optimism anyway on Monday in a Zoom call with reporters.
“I’m really excited, because wherever [Dombrowski] went, he has built a winner,” Girardi said.
Of course, every question about the 2021 roster starts with free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies have been pessimistic about their chances to re-sign Realmuto, although they have said re-signing him is a priority. But now that James McCann agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with the Mets, the free-agent catching options are Realmuto and a group that includes Yadier Molina, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Flowers, Kurt Suzuki and Mike Zunino.
“I think we're always looking to have a Plan B,” Girardi said. “And as players get taken off the board, your Plan B might become Plan C, D, E, F. That's the way it goes. But we understand that we really only have one Major League-ready catcher right now in Andrew Knapp, and that has to be addressed. We will continue to talk through it. I'm sure the market is going to have a lot to do with things as we move forward. I don't know how fast the market is going to move, because I think with the uncertainty of when fans might be in the stands again affects how you might spend this winter. So I think there's still a lot of things up in the air.”
The Phillies will be put into a difficult position if they lose Realmuto. First, as mentioned, there is no comparable replacement. Second, they shipped Sixto Sánchez to the Marlins to get him, so there will be constant reminders of their failures to keep him. Third, there is the potential backlash. Realmuto became an instant fan favorite and a favorite of teammate Bryce Harper. The fan base will not be happy. Harper will not be happy, either.
“I think you always worry about how players are going to handle things when things maybe don't go exactly the way they want or they think they should go, or the way it is,” Girardi said when asked about Harper’s potential reaction if Realmuto leaves. “But obviously, I'll sit down and have discussions about him with him, and I'm sure Dave will probably have discussions with Bryce about, 'Look, we want to win just as bad as you do. Trust us. And we're going to do everything we can to bring a championship to Philadelphia.’ Sometimes, things don't go exactly the way you want, but you've got to trust us. You've got to trust Dave and what Dave's going to do.”
But again, even if the Phillies re-sign Realmuto, they still have immense work to do.
“We’ve talked about the areas we feel we need to address,” Girardi said about his conversations with Dombrowski. “Obviously, we lost our shortstop [Didi Gregorius] and we lost our catcher. We still have Jean [Segura] that can play shortstop. We’ve had struggles in our bullpen, and he’s well aware of that. A lot of that will come down to what our payroll is going to be. You just don’t have endless amounts of money to spend is a lot of that. I know he has talked about a lot of different ideas and I’m sure he has a ton of ideas. He has been doing this a long, long time. He wants to win, but he also wants to build a consistent winner and not just a one-year fix. So I’m not really sure how that is going to manifest itself.”