Dombrowski sets offseason priorities after NLCS loss

October 27th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Dave Dombrowski reflected Thursday on the reasons the Phillies lost the National League Championship Series.

No reason might be greater than the offense stumbling in the final five games.

“When they made adjustments, our guys still kept chasing,” Dombrowski said about the D-backs’ pitching staff. “And I’m not really sure why. I’m sure they didn’t want to chase.

"I don’t know if it was because they were such quality pitches that they were still fooled. I don’t know if timing was off. I don’t know if they were stressing too much or feeling pressure. I don’t really know that answer, but you could tell that we chased a lot more and they took advantage of it.”

The Phillies chased 31.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone from Opening Day through Game 2 of the NLCS. They chased 36 percent from Games 3 through 7. Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner and Johan Rojas each chased more than 50 percent of pitches out of the zone in that same span. Castellanos went hitless in his final 23 at-bats of the series. Turner went 2-for-19 in the final five games of the NLCS.

What can be done to make next year different? Most likely, offensive improvements will come from within because Dombrowski said he expects to bring back mostly the same team in 2024.

“When you start looking through the haze, we have a good team,” he said. “I think if we do those things [offseason improvements] we’ll go into it being a World Series contender.”

Besides potential adjustments to their offensive approach, what will the Phillies do? Dombrowski answered a few questions about it:

No. 1 priority: Re-sign Aaron Nola
If the Phillies want to win the World Series, they need to maintain a top-tier rotation. They need to re-sign Nola or acquire somebody comparable to replace him. Nola is expected to seek a contract worth more than $200 million. He might get it.

“He’s our priority to sign,” Dombrowski said. “[But] I can't tell you that I feel 100 percent confident we’re going to get it done. But we would like to sign him and we’ll be aggressive trying to make that happen. … But if we don’t, to me, that would be our No. 1 area [of need]: to replace him. We need to be in position where we have somebody else that will be a starting pitcher of quality. So, yes, it’s either Aaron or somebody else.”

Before this season, the Phillies hoped prospects Andrew Painter, Mick Abel and Griff McGarry either would pitch this season or put themselves in the mix for 2024. Painter is not expected to pitch next year following Tommy John surgery. Abel and McGarry will not enter Spring Training in the mix for jobs. Maybe later in the year they will.

“Starting pitching depth will also be something we need to focus on,” Dombrowski said.

No. 2 priority: Where does Bryce Harper play?
The Phillies said no decision has been made on Harper’s primary defensive position in 2024, but it will impact how they construct the roster.

“We need to sit down with Bryce and ask him what his preference is and sit down with a heart-to-heart on what he wants to do,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t know what he’s going to do at this time. It is something we’ll have to do relatively soon because we’ll have to know what types of moves we’re going to make.”

Harper volunteered to play first base this season, which allowed Kyle Schwarber to DH, Rojas to play center field and Brandon Marsh and Cristian Pache to share duties in left. The Phillies’ defense improved considerably.

It might not look like that next year. Dombrowski said Rojas will have to earn a job. It will not be handed to him. If Harper returns to right, Castellanos and Schwarber might see more time in left, moving Marsh/Pache/Rojas to center.

“Our defense was important for us, and I think it has shown,” Dombrowski said. “Again, there’s a lot of parts that are moving.”

Where does this leave Rhys Hoskins?
Hoskins missed the entire season following ACL surgery in March. Dombrowski and Rob Thomson said they don’t know if Hoskins would have made the World Series roster or not, although he was working toward it. But Hoskins’ offensive approach would help the Phillies. Hoskins, like Harper and Schwarber, knows how to get on base.

He has chased only 22 percent of pitches out of the zone in his career. Compare that to this season’s chase rates for Castellanos (41), Turner (35.3), Harper (33.4), J.T. Realmuto (30.6), Alec Bohm (30), Bryson Stott (29.5), Marsh (25.5) and Schwarber (21.6).

If Harper plays first base full-time, it is difficult to see Hoskins back. But if Harper plays right field full time or even part-time, there is a path. Harper said before Game 1 of the NLCS that he could provide flexibility to the Phillies by playing both right field and first base.

“In Aaron’s case it’s very simple for me to say we want to pursue him because we need a starting pitcher,” Dombrowski said. “As far as Rhys is concerned, there’s still some moving parts that I’m just not sure of different answers at this time. So I can’t answer that question.”

The Phillies have the option to make Hoskins a one-year qualifying offer, but it seems unlikely because it is expected to exceed $20 million.

The Phillies had a franchise-record payroll of $245 million this season. Nola will not be cheap.

When asked about his conversations with Phillies managing partner John Middleton regarding payroll, Dombrowski said, “I’ve talked preliminarily with John. … I would be surprised if we don’t have the finances to support what we need to do.”