PHILADELPHIA -- In a sense, the Phillies have painted themselves into a corner.
They have Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler, who might be the National League MVP Award and Cy Young Award winners, respectively. They have other All-Star talents, like J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and Jean Segura. But the Phillies won only 82 games this season, missing the postseason for a 10th consecutive year, despite one of the highest payrolls in baseball. Philadelphia's many problems will not be easy to solve. The club has one of the worst farm systems in baseball, which means it is short on impactful reinforcements and trade chips. The Phillies do not have a ton of payroll flexibility, which means they will need to be creative this offseason.
And they need to be effective because they cannot take a step back. They have committed too much already.
“I don't know why we can't try to compete for a championship next year,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. “We have to make good moves, we have to make wise decisions. I'm not saying we're going to, but our goal is try to win.”
Dombrowski addressed the upcoming offseason in a wide-ranging press conference. Here are the highlights:
The top priority
Dombrowski said the Phillies will be aggressive in the free-agent and trade markets. But while the club could pursue a big-ticket free agent, like it did the previous three offseason (Harper in 2019, Wheeler in '20 and Realmuto in '21), it is more likely to pursue multiple complementary pieces. It makes sense, because the Phillies are more than one player away from competing for a World Series. They need to rebuild the bullpen. They need to find a left fielder, and possibly a center fielder. They are unsettled at third base and shortstop. And they need a better bench.
“Are you really better off getting one big-ticket item or working with a bunch of other things that [you put] together to make you better in different spots?” Dombrowski said.
But later, Dombrowski said the team needs a middle-of-the-lineup bat to support Harper. Big bats often come at a hefty price. Does it come in a trade? Does it come through free agency? Or do the Phillies simply hope that third baseman Alec Bohm and shortstop Didi Gregorius bounce back?
The luxury tax
The Phillies have never crossed the luxury tax threshold. There were rumblings in the spring that they chose not to carry both right-hander Brandon Kintzler and left-hander Tony Watson because of luxury tax concerns. Dombrowski maintains that ownership is supportive of the Phils spending more money, if it is done wisely.
“We’ve got plenty of payroll,” he said. “It’s how we use the payroll. We have to be smarter on it, including myself. … It’s not always where you spend big dollars. We need to figure it out ourselves to put that puzzle together.”
Manager Joe Girardi is entering the final season of his contract, but he does have a club option for 2023. Dombrowski said he is not concerned about Girardi entering Spring Training without a guaranteed contract beyond next year.
“Not with someone with the stature of Joe Girardi,” he said. “He’s been a big-league manager for a long time. I don’t think that’s an issue for him. I know it’s not. We’ve had some discussions and I’ve had many managers go into the last year of their contract. … I think he’ll handle it very well.”
Third base and shortstop
Dombrowski said Bohm and Gregorius will have to earn jobs in 2022. He reiterated that Bohm is working as a third baseman. There are no plans to play him at first base or left field. Gregorius enters the second year of a two-year, $28 million contract. He underperformed both offensively and defensively, and he ranked No. 29 out of 31 shortstops (minimum 400 plate appearances) with a 0.0 fWAR.
But the Phillies could look outside for help.
“It very well could be him,” Dombrowski said of Gregorius. “But he knows, we’ve had a discussion with him that he needs to be better. We’re in a position where we also are going to be open minded to what’s going to take place at shortstop next year. It could be internal. It could be him if he comes back. … He’s not guaranteed that he’s been told that he’s for sure the shortstop. It doesn’t mean that he can’t play other positions for us, too. And maybe we’ll have a DH that’ll be part of our club too next year.”
The Phillies had one of the worst bullpens in baseball history in 2020, and they blew a Major League-record 34 saves this season.
Philadelphia needs a closer.
“That will be one of the answers we’ll be looking for as a priority,” Dombrowski said. “'Who’s going to close games?' I don’t think we have anyone right now on our staff that we would anoint as our closer next year. In that case, you need to make a move, make a trade or a free-agent signing, something along those lines. We need to be better there.”