PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have been relatively quiet this offseason, while the Mets have reportedly handed out $254.5 million in guaranteed contracts in the past week to Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar.
But things could be changing.
“We have plenty of irons in the fire, with trade conversations, with potential free agents,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said earlier on Monday. “We have all of that stuff going on. We’re still trying. We’re going to continue to try. Do I feel optimistic? I think we have a chance to do a lot of the things that we want. We’ll analyze where we stand with various moves. But there’s nothing that’s really taken place that would change that.”
That is because while high-profile names like Scherzer, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ray and Jon Gray are off the board, the Phillies were never involved in the top-tier starting pitching or shortstop markets in the first place.
The Phils have been clear: They want a left fielder, center fielder and late-inning bullpen help, especially a closer.
Schwarber would be a nice fit in left field. He slashed .266/.374/.554 with 32 home runs, 71 RBIs and a .928 OPS last season with the Nationals and Red Sox. He could be the middle-of-the-order bat that Dombrowski covets, although Schwarber also had tremendous success hitting first and second last season, which is another hole the team needs to fill.
Knebel would provide a solid late-inning presence. He posted a 1.78 ERA with the Brewers in 2017, but he had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and missed the entire 2019 season. He struggled in 2020 with Milwaukee. He joined the Dodgers in 2021, but missed most of the season with a strained right lat. Still, he returned in August and had a 1.83 ERA in 19 appearances down the stretch. He had a 3.18 ERA in seven postseason appearances, including two starts.
How the Phillies address center field is less clear, especially with Marte off the board and Byron Buxton no longer a viable trade candidate. Free agent Chris Taylor makes sense, but he received a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, so the Phillies would forfeit a second-round pick in the 2022 Draft, plus $500,000 in international bonus pool money, to sign him.
The Phillies want to avoid that if possible, as they try to rebuild their farm system.
The Phillies reportedly lost Héctor Neris over the weekend to the Astros. He agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal. Fortunately for Philadelphia, there are other relievers available. Everybody believes the White Sox will trade Craig Kimbrel at some point. The Phillies are a potential fit there.
“We like Héctor,” Dombrowski said. “We like him a great deal. We just reached a point with where the dollars were going and the contractual status, we felt that we were better turning to other options at this time.”
That option is Knebel.
To this point, the Phillies have made minor trades and waiver-wire claims. They got right-hander Nick Nelson and catcher Donny Sands in a trade with the Yankees. They got catcher Garrett Stubbs in a trade with the Astros. They claimed left-handers Scott Moss, Kent Emanuel and Ryan Sherriff as well as right-hander Yoan López off waivers.
Stubbs and Sands will compete to be J.T. Realmuto’s backup.
“We feel comfortable with them being in a battle,” Dombrowski said. “We have [Rafael] Marchan at this point, too.”
The Phillies prefer Marchan to play every day in Triple-A and prospect Logan O’Hoppe to play every day in Double-A. The organizational depth at catcher could help facilitate a trade. Teams expressed interest in Marchan in July.
Nelson, Moss, Emanuel, Sherriff and López could compete for jobs in Spring Training, if they make it through the winter on the 40-man roster.
“One of the goals that we didn’t publicize much because it’s not an attention grabber … we felt that we needed to improve the depth of the back end of our roster,” Dombrowski said. “So these are all moves that we felt upgraded us in that sense. We like some of those guys potentially helping us next year. That’s part of what we’ve tried to do. Not only do they provide depth, but some of those guys could take a step forward and help us next season. But you’re not touting them to do that. It could happen.”
But the big holes still need to be filled. Perhaps it happens in the next couple days. Perhaps it starts with Knebel and rolls into Schwarber. Or perhaps everything happens after there is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“Every winter is different,” Dombrowski said. “You just evaluate your different options as you go through it. You make a move whenever you feel it’s the right time to do it. If you said you have your choice, I’d rather get it done early because it’s done, right? But I don’t think you do that to just say it’s done.
“But we have gone into every Spring Training that I know of being satisfied with the moves we made because they made us better and filled our needs. We’ve always been able to achieve that throughout the years.”