It has been a disappointing season for Bryce Harper, the Phillies, and their fans. Photo by Wayne Terry, TPL.

The Philadelphia Phillies gave themselves a puncher’s chance at their first postseason appearance in ten years in the final week of the season. They had already guaranteed their first season of being at least .500 in nine years. However, despite clinching their first “winning” season since 2011, the Phillies once again failed to reach the postseason. 

The Phillies had the likely National League MVP in Bryce Harper, a Cy Young finalist in Zack Wheeler, and an unbelievable breakout season from Ranger Suárez. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. They will now head into the offseason looking to correct their mistakes. However, one week from last offseason serves as a prime example of the dangers and difficulties they face in fixing their problems in this offseason.  

Over before it Started

In the days between February 3rd and February 10th, the Phillies re-signed Didi Gregorious and signed Matt Moore, Chase Anderson, and Brandon Kintzler. Those four players contributed -1 WAR total in 2021. These four signings epitomized some of the biggest flaws of the 2021 Phillies: a poor bullpen, lack of starting pitching depth, and a lineup that wasn’t good enough. 

February 3rd: Phillies sign Matt Moore to a 1-year, $3M contract

February 8th: Phillies sign Chase Anderson to a 1-year, $4M contract

Moore and Anderson were both signed to serve as back-of-the-rotation options for the Phillies. Moore was given a deal to be the fourth starter. Anderson was given a deal with the hope that he would compete for the fifth rotation spot with Vince Velasquez or serve as rotation depth. The Phillies essentially hoped that two of these three could occupy the 4-5 spots until Spencer Howard was prepared to take one of the spots. 

But none of that happened. Moore had a 6.55 ERA in 13 starts. He was bumped out of the rotation on a few occasions and posted a 5.40 ERA in 11 relief appearances. Moore’s 6.29 season ERA was the eighth worst of all pitchers with at least 70 IP. Anderson was given the fifth spot out of Spring Training and lost it before the All-Star break. He was placed on the injured list in June and had a 7.34 ERA in 11 appearances with 8 starts prior to that. Anderson was activated on July 25th and released on August 27th. 

2020 Offseason Starting Pitchers compared to Moore, Anderson, and Velasquez

Player Age Team 2021 season Contract
Matt Moore 32 Phillies 73 IP, 6.29 ERA, 67 ERA+, -0.6 WAR 1-year, $3M
Chase Anderson 33 Phillies 48 IP, 6.75 ERA, 62 ERA+, -0.3 WAR 1-year, $4M
Vince Velasquez 29 Phillies/Padres 94.1 IP, 6.30 ERA, 66 ERA+, -0.4 1-year, $4M
Carlos Rodon 28 White Sox 132.2 IP, 2.37 ERA, 183 ERA+, 5.1 WAR 1-year, $3M
Robbie Ray 29 Blue Jays 193.1, 2.84 ERA, 154 ERA+, 6.7 WAR 1-year, $8M
Anthony DeSclafani 31 Giants 167.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 129 ERA+, 4.1 WAR 1-year, $6M
Garrett Richards 33 Red Sox 136.2, 4.87 ERA, 97 ERA+, 0.2 WAR 1-year, $10M
Martin Perez 30 Red Sox 114 IP, 4.74 ERA, 100 ERA+, 0.5 WAR 1-year. $5M

Mid-season Fix Attempts

The back half of the Phillies rotation floundered to the point they elected to move the closer they found in Ranger Suárez into the rotation. Suárez, despite being moved to the rotation in August, still finished with the fifth most innings amongst Phillies relievers. That move paid dividends and Suárez became arguably the Phillies most reliable starter. Nevertheless, the Phillies still had rotation problems due to Aaron Nola’s nightmare season and a injury-shortened season from Zach Eflin.

Spencer Howard did receive an opportunity to claim a spot, but he posted a 5.72 ERA after being bounced from the rotation and the bullpen. He was then traded to Texas for Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the trade deadline. Gibson had a 3.16 ERA through his first six starts but came back to Earth in September and finished with a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts. Kennedy struggled from the jump with the Phillies and finished with a 4.13 ERA in 23 appearances while allowing 7 of his 12 home runs on the season. 

February 10th: Phillies sign Brandon Kintzler to a 1-year, $3M minor league contract

Kintzler was designated for assignment on July 30th and released on August 2nd after posting a 6.37 ERA across 29 relief appearances. Despite those poor numbers, Kintzer still logged the eighth most innings out of the Phillies bullpen in 2021. They entered 2021 having to completely rebuild a bullpen after a historically bad one was their Achilles’ heel in 2020. Philadelphia acquired Kintzler, Jose Alvarado, Archie Bradley, and Sam Coonrod in the hopes of remedying the issue. 

Not much improvement

That didn’t quite go as planned. The team bullpen ERA was improved (7.06 to 4.60) but it was still the sixth worst in baseball. Their problems in the late innings were not solved at all. The 2021 Phillies tied the previous record for blown saves in a Major League season with 34. That record was set by the 2004 Colorado Rockies and was in fact broken this year, but by the Washington Nationals with 37. 

February 10th: Phillies sign Didi Gregorious to a 2-year, $28M contract

Didi Gregorious was signed to be a middle-of-the order bat that could extend the Phillies lineup and provide some protection for the heart of the Phillies order. He went on to have the worst season of his career and he finished with the tenth worst OPS among all players with at least 400 plate appearances. The Phillies chose to give him a two year contract as opposed to a one year contract in order to lower his competitive balance tax number. He is under contract for 2022 and will count for $14M against the luxury tax. 

2020 Offseason Free Agent Shortstops

Player Age Team 2021 Season Contract
Didi Gregorious 31 Phillies .639 OPS, 13 HR, -0.8 WAR, -0.5 dWAR 2-years, $28M
Marcus Semien 30 Blue Jays .873 OPS, 45 HR, 7.1 WAR, 1.7 dWAR 1-year, $18M
Freddy Galvis 31 Orioles/Phillies .709 OPS, 14 HR, 1.0 WAR, 0.2 dWAR 1-year, $1.5M
Andrelton Simmons 31 Twins .558 OPS, 3 HR, 1.4 WAR, 2.2 dWAR 1-year, $10.5M

Gregorious’ disappointing season led to the rise of Ronald Torreyes as the Phillies starting shortstop. Torreyes provided many clutch hits and no doubt had a positive impact on the season, but he was given far too much playing time. He finished with a .632 OPS in 344 plate appearances across 111 games. That mark ranks 241st among 262 players with at least 300 PAs. 

Domino Effect

The rise of Torreyes helped lead to the downfall of Alec Bohm. Bohm had a very disappointing sophomore season (-0.2 WAR) and was demoted to ultimately get Torreyes more playing time. This happened multiple times throughout the season where manager Joe Girardi favored ineffective veterans over productive young players or gave younger players much shorter leashes. 

The poor performances of Gregorious and Bohm greatly shortened the lineup. Then Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season in August and the Phillies had no consistent form of offense outside of MVP candidate Bryce Harper. Harper posted an astounding 1.188 OPS in the second half of the season. The rest of the Phillies combined had a .718 OPS.  

Failure has Many Fathers

The Phillies failure to seize a golden opportunity to capture their first postseason berth since 2011 had many causes. It’s disingenuous to place all the blame on four players. However, you can trace many of the problems this season back to this week in February without much squinting. Philadelphia’s front office failed to sufficiently fill holes in the roster and manager Joe Girardi failed at realizing deficiencies and weaknesses in the players he gave starting roles. All of these issues fed off one another to create a perfect storm of mediocrity that led to an 82-80 record. 

February 3rd-10th, 2021 serves as a cautionary tale for the Phillies. But, they will once again have to look to free agency to fix their problems. Principal Owner John Middleton has stressed the desire to improve the organization’s ability to plug holes internally. That is the correct long term philosophy. The rub is that the Phillies under Middleton have been unable to do so despite numerous attempts to remedy the issues. Therefore, their only way towards contention in the immediate future is to spend in free agency.

No Margin for Error

The Phillies have a core that can compete. That is evident with the performances of Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler among some others this season. The problem is that the only way to not waste any more years of their primes is to spend in free agency to create the best supporting cast. In the best case scenario where president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski successfully improves the Phillies minor league system, those effects will not be felt for at least 3-5 years. 

Middleton is on record saying he will only go over the luxury tax if the team has a real chance at a World Series. The problem for the Phillies however is they will have a difficult task of having that chance if they don’t go over. If they do adhere to the tax as, they have shown multiple times they will, they cannot afford to waste the resources they have limited themselves to. They cannot have another February of 2021.