PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper grabbed the microphone before the Phillies' season finale on Sept. 29 at Citizens Bank Park and offered a few words to the hometown crowd.
“I know it didn’t go as planned, but I believe in this organization,” he said. “I believe in this city. We will reign again.”
The Phillies have not reigned since they won the 2008 World Series. They have not played in the postseason since '11. Here are five burning questions for the Phils, who enter the offseason trying to get to the postseason in '20:
1. How will they address the rotation?
The Phillies plan to have another busy and potentially big offseason. They could take a run at right-hander Gerrit Cole, although everybody that knows him says he wants to play on the West Coast. Even if they surprise people and sign him, they probably need two starters. Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and potentially Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out of his contract) could be available. There are others, too. An intriguing name is Cole Hamels. He struggled at the end of the season because of injury, so he might not be a slam dunk anymore, but the left-hander at the right price might make sense. He could help the team’s younger players learn to understand Philly, which seemed to be an issue in the clubhouse at times.
2. Who will play second and third base?
César Hernández and Maikel Franco could have played their final games for the Phillies. Hernandez is eligible for salary arbitration for the final time, but it could be time for Scott Kingery to take over. If Kingery plays second and Franco moves on, the Phils could look at somebody like Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas or Todd Frazier at third base. And Anthony Rendon? Sure, he’d be great, but Philadelphia cannot afford both Cole and Rendon.
3. How do they fix the bullpen?
Injuries crushed the bullpen. David Robertson might not be back until late next season, if he returns at all. Vìctor Arano, Seranthony Domínguez and Adam Morgan each finished the season on the injured list. Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek both finished on the IL; Hunter is a free agent and Neshek's option was declined on Monday. José Álvarez Héctor Neris and Ranger Suárez -- barring a return to starting -- seem like the only healthy locks to rejoin the bullpen. Left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Will Harris will be free agents, but has the Phillies’ recent bad luck with veteran relievers scared them from signing relievers to multiyear deals?
4. How do they handle the outfield?
Harper will play right field. The team hopes Andrew McCutchen recovers from ACL surgery. Ideally, he plays left field, although he could play center. The Phillies have Jay Bruce, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn on the 40-man roster. Nick Williams might be best served with a change of scenery. Odubel Herrera's suspension after violating the league’s domestic abuse policy has ended. Will the Phillies bring him back? If the Phils get creative, they could play Kingery in center field.
5. Will they examine their processes?
Let’s start with this: if the Phillies want to be like the Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, Cubs, Brewers, Red Sox, etc., they need a robust analytics department and they need to think progressively to win.
Internally, the front office’s inner circle believes its practices and processes are sound and the decisions it has made are good ones, based on the information it had at the time. It is not second-guessing itself. But every team makes mistakes, and a true self-evaluation would be helpful. The Phillies entered the 2019 season believing they had a top-10 rotation and that somebody like Moustakas was not an upgrade over Franco at third base. How did they come to those conclusions? They should dig into their hitting and pitching philosophies and how they present their information to players, which even former manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged this summer got too complicated.
“There are ways for us to check and calibrate what we're doing vs. the rest of the league,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “But that's not enough because in order to beat the other teams in your league, you have to be better than those teams, too. You have to do things they are not doing. So there is some element of experimentation, trial and error. Some of those things work and some of those things won't work.
“You have to innovate sometimes. Not always. There are times you should not do that. And I think as we went along the last two years, Kap adjusted a lot for a variety of reasons. We weren't taking nearly the risks at the end of the '19 season that I think we did at the beginning of the '18 season. But I think to be a forward-thinking organization, you have to be willing to take risks and I think that is tougher in this market than it is just about anywhere else. I know that. But if we want to do what John (Middleton) has asked us to do, which is to continue to push forward and be a great organization and compete year in and year out with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, we have to be willing to continue to push the envelope at times. We will recognize the realities of our market but we have to continue to push."