The Phillies have a host of issues to address this offseason, and relatively limited resources in that they already have more than $125 million committed to Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Zack Wheeler, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson, plus the potential salaries of arbitration-eligible players like Rhys Hoskins, Zach Eflin, Odúbel Herrera, José Alvarado and more. The Phillies also have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball, meaning they have little trade capital.
It will not be easy to improve before Opening Day in 2022, but it is doable.
“We’ll be aggressive in making it happen and we’ll pursue every avenue that we possibly can -- free agency, trades, any way you can do those things,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said after season's end. “You try to leave no stone unturned, which I think everybody probably takes the same philosophy. But I think it’s a situation where there’s a lot of things that need to be done.”
Here are the five biggest questions for the Phillies:
1) Will they find somebody to protect Harper in the lineup?
Dombrowski said the Phillies need a middle-of-the-lineup bat to protect Harper. But he also said it does not make sense to sink their remaining resources into one superstar player, because they have so many areas to improve.
Can the Phillies find a middle-of-the-lineup bat without breaking the bank? If Dombrowski means what he says, it likely prevents the team from signing free agents like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant and Trevor Story. Marcus Semien, who could return to shortstop, and Nick Castellanos wouldn’t come cheap, but they might be options to help manager Joe Girardi lengthen the lineup.
“We need to work and put pieces together that blend together. … Are you really better off getting one big-ticket item or working with a bunch of other things that puts you together to make you better in different spots?” Dombrowski said. “We’ve already explored different possibilities and talked about free agents, and we’ll start talking about clubs. But to me, just going out and getting big-ticket items isn’t always the answer in this regard, because we have some big-ticket items.”
2) Who will be the leadoff hitter?
Phillies leadoff hitters had a .302 on-base percentage this season, ranking 29th in baseball. Dombrowski said the Phillies need to find somebody to hit there, too. Chris Taylor will be a free agent after the season, and he has a .343 on-base percentage over the past five seasons with the Dodgers. Taylor can play just about everywhere, too, so he could fill potential holes in left field and center field.
3) How will the Phillies fix the bullpen?
They need to find a closer. Ian Kennedy did not pitch great after he joined the Phillies in August, but he solidified the role and allowed Héctor Neris, Archie Bradley and others to slide into other roles. Raisel Iglesias, Kenley Jansen and Brad Hand are free agents with closing experience. Closers are often acquired in trades, too.
But the Phillies need more than just a closer. It makes all the sense in the world to re-sign Neris, who was fantastic the final three months of the season. It makes sense to acquire at least one more veteran reliever as well.
4) And how do they fix the defense?
Infield coach Juan Castro took the fall for the Phillies’ poor infield defense, although everybody knows the best coach in the world can’t teach or improve range or make an infielder catch a ball hit directly at him.
Dombrowski said that Alec Bohm and Gregorius will have to earn their jobs at third and shortstop, respectively, in 2022, but he was far more pointed in his comments about Gregorius. Dombrowski said the Phillies told him that he needs to be better; he also said the Phillies could go outside to solve their shortstop problem. But he also made a point to mention prospect Bryson Stott, who is ranked No. 97 overall in baseball and could be promoted sometime next season.
5) Will the analytics department uncover any hidden gems?
Phillies president Andy MacPhail’s one critique of the organization the previous five years was that the analytics department was unable to find diamonds in the rough like other organizations. (MacPhail’s tenure with the Phillies expires at the end of the year. He has declined comment about his six-year run in Philadelphia.) Now would be a good time for the department to find some quality complimentary pieces to round out the roster.
“They've already, to me, they contributed with some of the things in a positive fashion that we did,” Dombrowski said. “I think that they'll help us. But I do think there's room for improvement. It's an area where we need to better define how we're going to use all that information, and now with the wintertime ahead of us, we'll be doing that.”