3 storylines to pay attention to in Phillies camp

February 14th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki's Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

By the time you read this newsletter on Wednesday, Phillies pitchers and catchers might have already finished their first official workout of the spring.

The first full-squad workout is Monday.

There will be plenty of Phillies stories to come from Clearwater, Fla., including the expected and unexpected.

Here are three that every Philadelphia fan will want to follow:

1. Is Johan Rojas the man?
The Phillies have talked to free-agent outfielders this offseason, but they said none are interested because they cannot guarantee them playing time. Why? They want Rojas to be the everyday center fielder, which would put Brandon Marsh in left.

Rojas might be Philadelphia's best defensive center fielder since eight-time Gold Glove Award winner Garry Maddox. (Rojas could be better.) Rojas played so well in 59 games as a rookie that he tied Taijuan Walker for seventh on the team with 2.5 WAR, according to Baseball Reference.

Everything was going great, until Rojas went 4-for-43 with one walk and 15 strikeouts in the postseason.

Suddenly, everybody had questions.

The Phillies said Rojas must earn a job this spring, but they really want him to win it, too. Rojas doesn’t need to hit like he hit in the regular season (.302/.342/.430). In fact, it’s probably unrealistic. But with the offensive firepower in the lineup, the Phils don’t need him to. They just need him to produce enough offensively to keep his glove in center field.

If Rojas struggles like he struggled in the postseason he could open the season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Then, the urgency to find another outfielder would increase.

2. Will the Phillies sign Zack Wheeler to a contract extension?
Philadelphia's No. 1 priority this spring is signing Wheeler to a contract extension. It won’t be easy. It won’t come cheaply, either.

It is not impossible to imagine Wheeler signing a multiyear deal with an AAV (average annual value) that rivals Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. After all, Wheeler’s 19.6 bWAR and 19.3 fWAR the past four seasons is the best in the Majors. His 2.42 ERA in the postseason is the sixth best in MLB history (minimum 10 starts).

Scherzer, 39, signed a three-year, $130 million contract that runs through 2024 ($43.33 million AAV). Verlander, 40, signed a two-year, $86.7 million deal that runs through '24 ($43.33 million AAV). If Wheeler, who turns 34 on May 30, doesn’t crack $40 million, his floor figures to be Jacob deGrom ($37 million AAV), Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Stephen Strasburg ($35 million AAV).

One thing is certain: the Phillies don’t want Wheeler to hit free agency following the 2024 season. Too many teams will want him.

3. Is Dombrowski really finished making moves?
No matter how many times president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski says the Phillies are OK with their 40-man roster depth in the outfield, rotation and bullpen, few people believe they will open the season without another addition or two.

It could mean a fourth or fifth outfielder. It could mean another starter. Philadelphia would take left-hander Jordan Montgomery on a one- to two-year deal, but he isn’t ready to sign for that. There was a report recently about the Phillies talking to Cleveland about closer Emmanuel Clase, but Dombrowski said late last week, “We do not have any ongoing conversations for bullpen guys.”

One thing we know about Dombrowski is that he will strike if he finds a good opportunity in front of him. Stay tuned.