On Friday, the Phillies announced the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as the first President of Baseball Operations in franchise history. After what seemed like an eternity without leadership and direction, the Phillies finally (whether you agree or not) have some sort of coherent direction for the future of this franchise.
Dombrowski was made available to the media via Zoom on Friday and was asked everything from how the Phillies intend to deal with JT Realmuto’s to his approach to making decisions with analytics in mind. There was a lot of information discussed on Friday and most of it was applicable to what we could see from the team in the current months. Out of all the information Dombrowski passed along, four things really stick out in my mind.
Many of the fans of the Phillies really wanted to know what Dombrowski’s plans were for the team. The Phillies are coming off their second disappointing season in a row and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2011. More troublesome for the organization is that there is a lack of star power in the farm system. While their system isn’t as bad as some in the local media would lead you to believe, the team still doesn’t have many high quality pieces (Mick Abel, with minor league action, will be a STAR). When asked if the team is looking to rebuild this offseason, Dombrowski preferred to use the word ‘retool’. Dombrowski has been in charge of both a rebuild (Detroit) and a retool (Boston) in his career, and has had some serious success in each.
The Phillies are in a much different spot than Boston was when DD began his retooling there. Boston had an incredibly strong farm system, which allowed him to make moves for Chris Sale, a move that many people consider an overpay right now. While he gave up a lot for Sale, DD realized that Chris Sale fit the Red Sox’s timeline better than the four players he gave up, including Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. One of the more telling quotes from the entire press conference was when he said, “I don’t think anyone thinks we’re a player away.” Dombrowski understands that the Phillies are in a much different (and arguably worse) than the Red Sox were in 2016.
While many fans are probably clamoring for more wholesale changes, I think Dombrowski made it pretty clear that he is going to retool what he currently has. A team built around the core of Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Alec Bohm seems to be the best way to go about this ‘retool’, so we will see what kind of moves DD can make to make that possible.
JT is still the No. 1 target
All this offseason, the No. 1 target for the Phillies faithful has been their All-Star backstop. Prior to the pandemic, Realmuto had plans of resetting the catcher’s market and hopefully signing the most lucrative contract for a catcher in MLB history. Now, while Realmuto will not have a shortage of suitors around the league, only a handful of teams will be willing to offer him the money that he wants. With the Mets going out and signing James McCann to a four-year deal, the Phillies are in the driver’s seat for these negotiations. I have always been confident in the fact that Realmuto will end up back with the Phillies, and Dombrowksi didn’t make me feel any different.
From his first few days with the team, it was clear that mutual interest existed between the player and the team to get a deal done. I know from sources that the team was close to a five-year, $125 million extension back in April for Realmuto, but COVID-19 really threw a wrench into that. While he couldn’t say for certain if they would be able to resign Realmuto while filling all their other holes, Dombrowski did have some things to say about him. “I don’t know that because I really haven’t gotten into specifics,” Dombrowski said. “I do know everybody in the organization loves J.T. So, I think there’s a unanimous feeling they’d like to bring him back.”
This was always going to be a waiting game for the team. Now, with the pandemic slowing the free agent market to a crawl, the waiting might be a little longer than most fans had hoped. I still think this gets done close to what was offered in April, but the final decision will come down to ownership.
Can the team spend that much? Absolutely. Will they? Time will tell.
Bullpen is a priority
If you watched even a single Phillies game this season, you can understand how dire the Phillies bullpen situation was this season. Finishing the season with an ERA over 7.00, the Phillies bullpen was historically bad. It was a culmination of years of bargain bin shopping by Matt Klentak that led to the disastrous performance. Dombrowski made it clear that he intends to be very aggressive in finding arms for the bullpen and will not leave a single stone unturned in his pursuit.
While the previous regime were not believers in a established and defined closer, DD said that a reliable closer was the most important part of the bullpen.
“In general, most good clubs have a guy who closes the game and I still believe in that,” he said. “I do think you need more depth (of relievers) than you used to. The negative part is that our bullpen needs a lot of fixing. We have some holes. The positive part is that it’s an opportunity and hopefully people are choosing us because there’s opportunity here. So we need to be aggressive. We need multiple people out there to try to help us. We have some young arms that are developing that may fit out there. But we’ll be in a position where I’m sure we’ll be very aggressive in adding arms.”
There are certainly a number of dependable closer options on the market. Whether it is Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, or Kirby Yates, the Phillies will certainly have a few names to choose from for their open closer spot. Out of all the options, I think Brad Hand is the best option for this team. Not only does he fill the closer need, but he also fills a need for a lefty in the bullpen. Multiple moves will be made to sure up the bullpen after last season, and Dombrowski made it clear that bullpen depth is a important sticking point for this offseason for the Phils.
Payroll will be cut
While I just spent time talking about how the Phillies should resign J.T. Realmuto and will allocate funds to the bullpen, ownership, including managing partner John Middleton, have made it clear that they will be force to cut payroll this season due to the financial uncertainty facing the team next season. Last season, the Phillies operated with a would-be full season payroll of $207 million. At the moment, according to estimates from the always reliable Baseball Reference, the Phillies have approximately $138 million committed to next year’s team. In a normal year, the team would have close to $70 million to spend on filling their holes. This year, the Phillies will not be spending all of that money. Depending on how ownership feels, I don’t think a 20 percent cut to the payroll is out of the question. Based on a 20 percent cut, the team would have closer to $56 million to spend.
While $56 million is still a lot of money, the Phillies are going to have to be smart with how they allocate those funds going forward. Like DD said, this team isn’t one player away. There are holes up and down this franchise, which means the limited amount of funds will only make it more difficult to fill them all. Outside of bullpen help, they will need someone to play shortstop for them and I don’t think that person will be Jean Segura moving forward. I could see Segura being moved for a similar type piece (contract and skill-wise) in a position of need paired with a move to sign a free agent like Marcus Semien or Andrelton Simmons. Dombrowski couldn’t commit either way to JT because of the limited budget that he will be working with.
Planning and budgeting for these types of moves will take some time, so I would imagine a little more of the same for the time being. Dombrowski doesn’t expect to come in here and make big moves from the jump, as he will need some time to learn about the organizations’ strengths and weaknesses. What he does expect is to win, and win in 2021.
“We have flexibility of finances, but when I say that, I don’t think it’s an unlimited amount of funds. You always realize there is some type of budget attached to that. We will work within that. We want to win this year. We will do what we can. We have a great manager and he has won. I think it’s more important, too, that we build an organization that can be competitive year in and year out, so that will really be the focus in addition to trying to win.“
Tell me if you have heard this from me before, but this is a crucial offseason for the Phillies. The coming weeks will have a huge impact on the future direction of this franchise.
Let’s hope that Dombrowksi is the right man to steer us on course.