5 key questions facing Phillies this offseason

October 29th, 2020

It's been less than a month since the Phillies announced Matt Klentak stepped down as general manager.

Klentak’s right-hand man, Ned Rice, replaced him as interim GM. It is unclear how long Rice will fill the role or how much authority he will have to make major decisions about the Phillies’ 40-man roster. But somebody will need to make those decisions in a critical offseason for the Phillies’ front office, a group which once talked about engineering the fastest rebuild in recent memory, but now has numerous holes to fill on the big-league roster and relatively little help coming through the farm system.

They have no easy fixes.

Here are five questions to address about the big league roster.

1) Do the Phillies sign J.T.?
Everybody knows how feels about , but he made the point one more time after the Phillies’ season-ending loss on Sept. 27. Because, why not?

“J.T. Realmuto needs to be our catcher next year,” Harper said. “Plain and simple. … I don’t think that should even be a question or anything. Because there’s going to be two teams or three teams in the NL East who are going to go after that guy, and if that happens, I mean, that’s going to be tough to swallow for us.”

The Phillies bet in February that they could lock up Realmuto to a multiyear extension before the end of Spring Training, but once they started talking with Realmuto’s agent, the two sides realized how far apart they were. Then the pandemic hit and changed baseball’s economic landscape. Even with the uncertainty, the Phillies believed they still had more financial resources than anybody to sign him. It was a gamble then. It is a gamble now. The Phillies might feel that their number is the correct number -- and it might be -- but it only takes one team to prove them wrong.

2) Where do they even start with the bullpen?
The bullpen’s 7.06 ERA is the second highest in the past 90 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But it was only a 60-game season, right? Well, only six bullpens in the past 20 years had 60-game stretches worse than the Phillies: the 2003 Royals (7.14 ERA), '19 Orioles (7.15 ERA), '07 Orioles (7.32 ERA), '07 White Sox (7.77 ERA), '10 D-backs (7.77 ERA) and '07 Rays (8.11 ERA).

The Phillies cannot just throw money at the problem, either.

“The bullpen is made from within,” Harper said. “Not all teams go out and spend a million bajillion dollars on bullpens. I mean, you can’t do it. You can’t just go out and just spend a crazy amount of money on a bullpen, because you have to be able to rely on the guys in your organization to get the job done. Pitching wins championships. Development wins championships. Being able to develop and understand what it takes to develop wins championships.”

José Álvarez, Tommy Hunter, Brandon Workman and David Robertson are free agents. David Phelps will be a free agent, if the Phillies do not exercise a $4.5 million club option ($250,000 buyout). Héctor Neris has a $7 million club option. If the Phillies decline it, he remains eligible for salary arbitration. Adam Morgan, Blake Parker, Heath Hembree, David Hale and Seranthony Domínguez are eligible for arbitration, too.

How many in that 11-pitcher group are back next season on a big-league contract? Maybe only Neris.

The Phillies might have something special in Connor Brogdon and JoJo Romero, but they need more than that. Free-agent relievers include Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Alex Colomé and Shane Greene. The Brewers' Josh Hader is always rumored to be available, but the asking price is high and the Phillies do not have enough to get him, unless they want to further limit the farm system.

3) How many starters do they need?
The Phillies are solid at the top of their rotation with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. Spencer Howard figures to be the No. 4 or 5 starter, but after missing time each of the past two seasons with shoulder issues, they cannot bet on him to pitch an entire year.

Jake Arrieta will not be back. It is no guarantee they tender a contract to right-hander Vince Velasquez. The Phillies have Cole Irvin, Mauricio Llovera, Adonis Medina, Ramón Rosso and Ranger Suárez among internal options on the 40-man roster. But the Phillies need at least one more starter, probably two.

4) What about Didi and the outfield?
Didi Gregorius’ .832 OPS ranked seventh among 21 qualified shortstops. The Phillies could make him a qualifying offer, but they might decline and take their chances in a post-pandemic market. It is a risk. The club could move Jean Segura or Scott Kingery to shortstop if Gregorius signs elsewhere, but that is not ideal.

Then there is the outfield. Do the Phillies bring back Odúbel Herrera to play center field? If they do, they could have some combination of Andrew McCutchen, Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley in left. Maybe they bring back Jay Bruce if there is a designated hitter again in the National League.

For those keeping score, even if the Phillies re-sign Realmuto, they still need to completely reimagine the bullpen, acquire a starter or two, acquire a shortstop and possibly even an outfielder or two.

How are they going to do all that?

5) Can they do something to support their pitching?
From 2016-19 there were 9.2 runs per game on average in the regular season, compared to 8.0 runs per game in the postseason, according to Sports Info Solutions. The numbers reinforce the importance of pitching and defense. The Phillies had one of the worst defenses in baseball. They ranked 28th in defensive runs saved (minus-33), according to SIS, and they ranked 26th on Statcast’s Outs Above Average leaderboard.

The Phillies might need to get creative to boost the defense, because it seems unlikely they can do everything they want to improve the pitching.