The Philadelphia Phillies season ended almost exactly one month ago after they failed to reach the postseason for the ninth consecutive season. That makes them the not-so-proud owners of the longest postseason drought in the National League and the second longest overall behind the Seattle Mariners (19 years.)
This team has a lot of work to do this offseason. They have to find a way to help close the gap within their division, especially with the Atlanta Braves. There are major decisions that need to be made that are critical to pushing this team over the near decade old hump into the postseason.
To GM or not to GM
Matt Klentak was removed from his general manager position on October 3rd. We still do not have a clear picture of just exactly how the Phillies front office is going to be structured as the calendar lurches towards November.
Principal owner John Middleton is calling the shots. That is for sure. Middleton is the man who ultimately makes the decisions and has had no qualms recently about making his involvement known. Anything that happens to the Phillies from here on out can be directly traced back to Middleton. Frankly, this has been the case since 2015-2016.
That said, Middleton has yet to commit to even hiring a new GM. What he has committed to is keeping Andy MacPhail around as team president and having him more involved in baseball operations. That is until MacPhail “retires” after the 2021 season when his contract expires. Middleton seems to have alluded to the possibility of MacPhail taking a more hands on approach while keeping interim GM Ned Rice in place until next year, essentially kicking the can down the road.
New Boss same as the Old Boss
This is an incredibly shortsighted decision for two reasons. One being that MacPhail may not even be good at his current job. Yes, Middleton has made it known that MacPhail does have two World Series championships to his resume, but those were in 1987 and 1991, 33 and 29 years ago respectively. The game has drastically changed in that time frame. Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, and Rhys Hoskins weren’t even born yet. Zack Wheeler was one year-old in 1991. That is the core of the team MacPhail is currently in control of.
The other reason is that MacPhail was the person who hired the recently removed Klentak. Why should anyone have confidence in the man who hired and oversaw the GM who was removed after five seasons of sub .500 baseball?
There are some rumors that the Phillies will indeed look to hire a traditional general manager. J.J. Piccolo of the small-market Kansas City Royals has been connected, as has former Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski.
The front office structure is the most important decision facing the Phillies this offseason. They need to find someone who can oversee an organization that has been lapped by practically all of its rivals in player development. They cannot just punt the decision to 2021.
Make a decision on J.T.
All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto’s contract status has been a topic of discussion dating back to when he was acquired before the 2019 season. Now he is set to hit the open market. The Phillies dropped the ball dramatically on this in not moving to lock up Realmuto quickly after he was acquired or while he was in the midst of his career high 2019 season. They let his price tag run up and then even took him to arbitration to save $2M and avoid going over the luxury tax.
The Negotiations were Short
The last we heard of any official talks was back in the spring before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down baseball. The Phillies were already looking to be budget conscious. They will almost certainly tighten the purse strings in a down year for revenue. To be clear, that is an incredibly poor decision. Middleton’s previously thought to be deep pockets were the Phillies only real competitive advantage in roster building.
But here we are. Realmuto is seeking a record breaking contract for a catcher. He has been adamant that the best players will always get their due, even in a year with down revenue across the board. Realmuto is certainly the best position player available with Mookie Betts off the board. The bidding will start at Joe Mauer’s record $23M average annual value. It very well may reach $200M overall.
The Phillies dug themselves this hole and now must decide what to do. Do they give Realmuto what he wants and take the risk of paying a 30 year old catcher $200M? Or do they let him walk knowing they traded their best prospect into the division for roughly 200 games of Realmuto?
The feeling here is that the Phillies will certainly make an attempt, but they will have a limit. They may very well just try to outbid all other suitors rather than giving Realmuto what he wants, banking on the market being depressed. That is an incredibly risky gamble, especially considering the Mets and their new billionaire owner are thought to be strong contenders. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Nationals could be involved as well.
We all know by now so we won’t rehash it. The Phillies had the third worst bullpen ERA since the stat was recorded. It is by far the biggest upgrade they need to make to contend.
Lucky for them, this year has a good crop of free agent relievers. The top tier is made up of Liam Hendriks (1.78 ERA, 0.67 WHIP), Alex Colome (0.81, 0.94), and Jeremy Jeffress (1.54, 0.94). Those three are the best on the market but come with the caveat that they are all over 30. Brad Hand, despite a rocky postseason outing, could join this tier if the Indians decline his option.
The next tier includes less eye popping numbers but nevertheless solid performers. Shane Greene (2.60 ERA,1.12 WHIP) and Trevor May (3.86, 1.16) are among the best in this tier.
This class also has some interesting bounce back candidates. Sean Doolittle has been a very consistent and sometimes dominant reliever over his career. However, he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and this year struggled with both injuries and ineffectiveness, posting a career high 5.87 ERA and losing his closing job.
Keone Kela is another strong bounce back candidate. After posting a 2.12 ERA across 32 appearances for the Pirates in 2019, Kela appeared in just three games in 2020 due to right forearm inflammation. Kela is the youngest of any relievers listed here at 28 years-old.
Blake Treinen is an interesting case. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2018 for Oakland, posting a 9-2 record and a 0.78 ERA. However, a rough 2019 caused the Athletics to let him go to free agency, where he signed a one year contract with the Dodgers. Treinen rebounded a bit (3.86 ERA) in 2020, but his rocky end of season and postseason may give some teams pause.
The Phillies do have some relievers worth bringing back. Hector Neris is likely to be back but should not be handed the closer role without competition. There’s a good chance the team retains Jose Alvarez as well. David Phelps will most likely be back due to his reasonable contract and his overall numbers. Connor Brogdon and JoJo Romero were two young relievers who both showed promise. Nevertheless, the team still needs to look outside the organization to fill this gigantic hole.
Hire a pitching coach
Bryan Price’s sudden retirement came as a shock. Price is highly regarded as one of the better pitching coaches in baseball. No one could’ve saved the Phillies bullpen, so it’s hard to fault Price there. But it’s fair to argue that Zach Eflin is the only Phillies pitcher who showed a noticeable improvement under Price. Regardless, the Phillies now have to look for a replacement to help their inconsistent pitching staff.
Fill out Rotation
On that note, the Phillies currently only have three starting pitchers locked in for 2021. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Eflin are the three whose spots are safe. Spencer Howard will in all likelihood however be given a rotation spot and a chance to show progress in a (hopefully) normal Spring Training. Jake Arrieta is a free agent and it would be a shocker for him to come back. Vince Velasquez definitely should not be given a rotation spot and isn’t even necessarily a lock to be on the roster.
All of that means that the Phillies need at least one starting pitcher, preferably two as insurance for if Howard struggles. The starting pitching free agent class is pretty weak overall but does have a host of back end rotation options. Adonis Medina is one internal name who could be given a chance after a strong debut, but he will most likely start as minor league depth.
Figure out the Infield
Didi Gregorious is a free agent which leaves the Phillies without a starting shortstop on paper. Of course, they could resign Gregorious but that is not very likely as of this moment. Scott Kingery is the most likely candidate to occupy the spot but he had his own struggles at the plate in 2020 after returning from a COVID-19 diagnosis. It’s unlikely the Phillies look outside the organization here, so the safe bet is that Kingery is given the nod.
DH or no DH?
One thing that could throw a wrench into the Phillies plans is if MLB decides not to return with a universal DH. It was almost a foregone conclusion the DH was the new normal, but recently commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that there is a possibility it leaves. If it does, that leaves the Phillies with an interesting decision on Alec Bohm.
Bohm isn’t going anywhere. But, having the DH would allow both Bohm and Rhys Hoskins to play at the same time. It would also give the Phillies more flexibility if they decide to look for another bat to replace Gregorious. Bohm looked competent at third after some early struggles. There’s a chance he could stick there if the DH leaves. The Phillies would still most likely have some reservations at putting him there full time though.
Figure out center field
Center field was an underrated problem for the Phillies in 2020. Roman Quinn got the majority of playing time and didn’t do much with it despite playing in 41 of 60 games. Adam Haseley looked good in limited playing time, but for whatever reason manager Joe Girardi and the Phillies refused to play him against left handed pitching.
The Phillies need to upgrade from this platoon in 2021. They need to get more production, whether that be from outside the organization, giving Haseley the full time job, or putting Kingery back there. It was clear this combination simply wasn’t good enough in 2020.