After Nola deal, Phils' brass discusses what's next

November 20th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies said from the beginning that bringing back was their No. 1 offseason priority.

So, now that they signed him to a seven-year, $172 million contract, what’s next?

If it sounds like the team is finished making major moves, it might be. But the Phillies believe they are so close to winning a World Series that they will not stop looking for opportunities to improve. Perhaps something big comes along before Spring Training. Or perhaps they simply find value at the margins. But Phillies managing partner John Middleton said following Nola’s press conference on Monday at Citizens Bank Park that he is keeping an open mind.

“Dave [Dombrowski] comes to me and says, ‘This is my opportunity. This is what I think of that opportunity. This is what the opportunity costs.’ Then he says yes or no,” Middleton said. “Basically, everything that Dave has recommended to me, we’ve done. But I’ll also go to him and say, ‘Dave, would you want more money to do whatever?’ Sometimes he’ll say yes. Sometimes he’ll say no. Sometimes he’ll say, ‘I’ve got to think about it.’

“There’s a budget. There’s more money to do stuff. And budgets can be changed.”

It depends on the player, right?

“It’s the opportunity,” Middleton said. “How good is it?”

Dombrowski said Monday he believes the roster is mostly set following Nola’s deal. The Phillies had been interested enough in Japanese pitching star Yoshinobu Yamamoto that they got Bryce Harper to make a pitch to his camp, which included a sizzle reel. Sources said the Nola contract will not stop Philadelphia from pursuing Yamamoto, although the odds are long.

For one thing, the Phillies would need to clear payroll elsewhere to make Yamamoto fit.

Mike Trout has been a popular topic of conversation in Philly recently, but the chances the Phillies acquire him in a trade might be smaller than Yamamoto’s chances of coming to Philly. Trout’s contract is too big, and he has played more than 86 games only once in the past four seasons.

Free-agent closer Josh Hader is also unlikely to join the team.

“We can just evaluate a lot of different things that we think can make our club better,” Dombrowski said. “We don’t really have a glaring spot that we need to fill, like we needed at starting pitcher. We’re pretty deep in our bullpen. Of course, you can always be better. Our position players in the infield are basically set. Outfield, we have a little bit of a question just because we have a young player [in Johan Rojas] that we’re trying to create playing time. So we don’t really have a glaring need, but we will continue to look to see how we can get better.”

Back in his Detroit days, Dombrowski always seemed to add a significant outside piece to the Tigers, even though they made three American League Championship Series and one World Series in a four-year span. In a stretch from 2011-14, outside additions included Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes.

Asked why he is comfortable trying to win the 2024 World Series with essentially the same group that lost the National League Championship Series to Arizona, Dombrowski said, “One, we have a lot of big-name players now. We have a lot of stars. So it’s not necessarily always having more stars. I could go around and start and say [Nick] Castellanos qualifies as that, [Trea] Turner qualifies, Harper, [Kyle] Schwarber, [J.T.] Realmuto, [Zack] Wheeler, Nola. And then some of the young guys continue to grow.

“Second, we have a really good club. There’s not gaping holes in places. Usually in those situations [in Detroit], there was a hole that needed to be addressed. I think the third thing is, even though we’ve got a lot of the same players, it’s a different situation.”

He said it starts with Harper being healthy and playing first base every day.

“Now our infield is different all year long,” Dombrowski said.

He said he hopes Rojas can play center field every day and Cristopher Sánchez can pick up where he left off as a No. 5 starter. He said he believes the returning relievers can be better, and the Phillies have high hopes for rookie Orion Kerkering.

“In some ways, even though it’s the same names, it’s not the same team that was there for the whole year,” Dombrowski said. “I’m looking forward to having that group together.”