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Offseason checklist: Phillies' needs and moves

@ToddZolecki
December 4, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- The pressure is on the Phillies in 2020. They not only need to win, they need to make the postseason. They fell short in 2018 (80-82) and '19 (81-81). Two consecutive late-season collapses cost former manager Gabe Kapler his job. New manager Joe Girardi will be tasked with

PHILADELPHIA -- The pressure is on the Phillies in 2020.

They not only need to win, they need to make the postseason. They fell short in 2018 (80-82) and '19 (81-81). Two consecutive late-season collapses cost former manager Gabe Kapler his job. New manager Joe Girardi will be tasked with taking the Phillies to the postseason for the first time since 2011. But Girardi cannot do it alone. He needs help.

So what are the Phils’ biggest needs entering 2020, and what moves must they make to address them? MLB.com is keeping track here. As the offseason continues, be sure to check back for updates:

NEEDS ADDRESSED

Starting pitching
The Phillies and Zack Wheeler agreed to a five-year, $118 million contract on Dec. 4. Aaron Nola and Wheeler become the Phillies’ 1-2 punch atop the rotation with Jake Arrieta sliding behind them. Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta will compete for the remaining two jobs in the rotation with Eflin the presumed favorite for one of those two jobs.

The Phillies could still sign another free-agent starter, but anybody will be on a low-end, short-term deal. In other words, it is unlikely at this point the Phillies aggressively pursue Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner.

NEEDS LEFT TO FILL

The bullpen
The Phillies suffered a rash of injuries to their bullpen in 2019, leaving them with few locks to make the ‘pen on Opening Day. (Héctor Neris and José Álvarez could be the only two.) Vìctor Arano, Seranthony Domínguez, Adam Morgan and David Robertson each finished the season with injured elbows. The Phils believe Arano, Domínguez and Morgan will be ready by the spring. Robertson, however, could miss the entire season following Tommy John surgery. In short, Philadelphia probably cannot find enough bullpen help this offseason. Somebody like Velasquez or Pivetta could move to the bullpen, if they’re not in the rotation.

Infield
Phillies third basemen ranked 24th in the Majors with a .725 OPS last season and 28th with a .721 OPS from 2016-19. It is time for an upgrade, but they might find an upgrade by moving Jean Segura or Scott Kingery to third. How would that work? Well, the Phillies could sign shortstop Didi Gregorius. For the moment, big-ticket infielders like Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson seem unlikely.

Outfield
Bryce Harper will man right field. The Phillies hope Andrew McCutchen will be fully recovered from an ACL injury, but time will tell. It might make sense to find another everyday player for the outfield, even though they can bring back Jay Bruce, Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn. Odúbel Herrera remains on the roster. Nick Williams does, too.

MOVES MADE

Dec. 4: Phillies and Zack Wheeler agree to deal
Wheeler, 29, went 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Mets. In 60 starts over the past two seasons, he had a 3.65 ERA and a 3.37 FIP. Based on FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, Wheeler’s WAR either made him the 10th or 19th most valuable pitcher in that span.

Teams love Wheeler’s stuff and upside. His four-seam fastball averaged 96.8 mph last season, which ranked fourth among starters (minimum 750 four-seam fastballs thrown). Only Noah Syndergaard (97.8 mph), Gerrit Cole (97.1) and Jacob deGrom (96.9) threw harder. Wheeler’s slider averaged 91.2 mph. Only deGrom’s slider (92.5 mph) was harder. Both pitches are effective, but Wheeler’s curveball was a remarkable weapon last season. The .250 expected slugging percentage (xSLG) against the pitch ranked 14th out of 91 starters (minimum 250 curveballs thrown).

Dec. 2: Claim Kelley off waivers from Red Sox
Reliever Trevor Kelley, 26, posted an 8.64 ERA in 10 appearances with Boston in 2019. He compiled a 1.79 ERA in 52 appearances with Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 63 and walking 21 in 65 1/3 innings. He provides the Phillies bullpen depth for '20.

Nov. 26: Sign Harrison
The Phillies signed veteran utility player Josh Harrison to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. A two-time All-Star, Harrison played just 36 games last season with the Tigers because of injuries. He missed two weeks early in the season with a bruised left shoulder before returning on May 13. Harrison strained his left hamstring two weeks later to keep him on the IL for two and a half months.

The 32-year-old has played second base, third base, shortstop and both corner-outfield spots over his nine-year career. Now that rosters have expanded to 26 players, Harrison has a legit chance to make the team coming out of camp.

Nov. 20: Rule 5 protections
The Phillies added four pitchers -- left-handers JoJo Romero, Garrett Cleavinger and Cristopher Sanchez, as well as right-hander Mauricio Llovera -- to the 40-man roster to protect them from December's Rule 5 Draft.

Romero is the organization’s No. 10 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Llovera is ranked No. 15, while Cleavinger and Sanchez are not ranked among the Phillies' top 30 prospects. Sanchez was added to the 40-man roster shortly after being acquired from the Rays in exchange for Rookie-level infielder Curtis Mead.

Nov. 4: Arrieta returns, Phils decline options on relievers
Jake Arrieta exercised his $20 million player option to return to the Phillies in 2020. The decision was not a surprising one after Arrieta struggled to a 4.64 ERA over 24 injury-plagued starts before undergoing season-ending surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow.

In the bullpen, meanwhile, the Phils declined team options for right-handers Jared Hughes ($250,000 buyout) and Pat Neshek ($750,000 buyout), as well as left-hander Jason Vargas ($2 million buyout).

Oct. 30: Stock claimed off waivers
Right-hander Robert Stock, 29, is a relief pitcher with upside. He had a 2.50 ERA in 32 appearances in 2018 with San Diego. He posted a 10.13 ERA in 10 appearances in 2019 before missing the final three months with a strained right biceps. Stock struck out 53 and walked 21 in 50 1/3 innings over the past two years.

Stock throws a four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball averaged 97.9 mph last season.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .