2020 was a year to forget for many people, especially for Phillies fans.
A year that started out so hopeful with the hiring of Joe Girardi and signing of Zack Wheeler ended up being more close to a year we have come to expect; disappointment culminating in being left out of the postseason. More changes were in store for the team, as changes in the baseball operations department, led by the hirings of Dave Domborwski as president and Sam Fuld as GM, were only recently just made.
While the moves being made are certainly encouraging, there is plenty of work still waiting to be done. Managing partner John Middleton has made it clear that he wants to win and win now, so this team will have to retool their roster to answer some of the question marks that remain.
As we head into 2021, here are four things to hope for in the new year.
The is, above all, the most important question that needs to be addressed.
We all know the story. Two seasons ago, the Phillies traded their No. 1 prospect, Sixto Sanchez, to acquire the all-league catcher. A contract extension prior to Realmuto was preferable and even expected at some points, but fast forward to now, and J.T. is on the open market with no guarantee that he will be back.
Just last week, Dombrowski said that line of communication between the team and the player are open.
“Realmuto’s agent actually called me yesterday — Jeff Berry,” Dombrowski said. “It really was not a negotiation. It was a welcome to the Phillies organization. I’ve known Jeff Berry for a long time and I talked to him and he welcomed me aboard and we talked about how my family was and we talked about how his family was and we said we would stay in contact. I expressed to him again how much we would love to have J.T. on board and that’s where it really ended at that point.”
As Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia mentions, taking 10 days to congratulate a longtime friend is a bit odd, making it seem like there was more to the conversation than DD is letting on.
To me, J.T.’s best chance to make the most money this offseason is from the Phillies. While the common thread of this offseason has been the Phillies don’t have any money, that couldn’t further from the truth. The Phillies have about $70 million to spend before they approach the luxury tax. Even with the impending payroll cut, there is still plenty of money to give Realmuto the contract he is looking for and, frankly, has earned.
The Mets were definitely worrisome, but they seem to be valuing adding a player like George Springer more, so they decided to sign James McCann instead of waiting. While teams like the Nationals and the Blue Jays have reportedly shown interest (I mean, any team would be crazy not to show interest), ultimately, I have been confident that this gets done the whole time, and nothing that has transpired has changed my opinion.
Let’s hope it is sooner rather than later, though. Otherwise, the fan base may go crazy.
More Relief Help
The Phillies first roster move of real meaning happened yesterday, when the team acquired LHP Jose Alvarado from the Rays as a way to help sure up the bullpen. Alvarado has experience in many late inning relief roles, including closing, at a high level and his presence should immediately help a crew that posted an ERA above 7.00 in 2020.
That being said, a team that finished a season with a bullpen ERA of over 7.00 will need more than one arm to turnaround the ship.
Alvarado is exactly the type of lottery ticket the Phillies should be looking at when overhauling the bullpen. That being said, he has shown some inconsistency in the Majors, so Alvarado should be thought of as a complimentary piece to another move. Dombrowski mentioned that he was going to be aggressive in finding and building bullpen depth, and the trade yesterday proves as much. He got a very intriguing arm on the cheap due to cost saving measures.
I fully expect at least one other move, if not multiple, to address the elephant in the room. Realistically, the Phillies should be inclined to sign one of the big name closers like Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand, while continuing to look for pitchers similar to Alvarado to compliment them.
The team does have some interesting young arms in Connor Brogdon, Kyle Dohy, and Zack Warren to throw into the mix as well. Some of you are probably wondering about JoJo Romero, but reports seem to indicate he is going to be stretched back out as a starter this year.
Whoever it is, the team certainly knows that they can’t have a repeat of last season if they expect to compete in 2021, so more relief help should be on the way in the upcoming year.
Help Up the Middle
Realmuto isn’t the only big name free agent the Phillies have a decision to make on.
Didi Gregorius had a good bounce back season in 2020 for the Fightins’, but with Realmuto being a more important free agent for this team, it has just been assumed that Gregorius would be heading elsewhere in 2021. As of now, the shortstop for the 2021 Phillies would be none other than Mean Jean Segura, but I don’t think many fans would be excited about that. The 2020-2021 crop of shortstops is underwhelming to say the least, as there isn’t much depth behind Sir Didi.
With that being said, it is entirely possible that the Phillies bolster the middle of the field through other means.
While centerfield is not a desperate need for this team, rumors about Jackie Bradley, Jr. coming to the team started soon after they made the Dombrowski hiring official. DD is quite familiar with JBJ from his time in Boston, and I think Bradley would fit quite nicely in this ballpark.
Many fans, including myself, would love to see Adam Haseley get a crack at the starting job, Haseley is not a Dombrowski guy. It is entirely possible that DD feels an upgrade out there would help the team.
While JBJ is not a world beater at the plate, his defense would be an immediate upgrade. Defense has been a cause for concern for recent Phillies teams, and the best way to sure that up is to sure up the middle of the field. It will be interesting to see what Dombrowski and Fuld’s approach to the middle of the field is. The team could use a shortstop, but there won’t be an option available that excites them as much as JBJ does in CF.
If the Phillies do end up signing JBJ, I would venture to guess that would take them out of the market for a shortstop and vice versa.
Work The Margins
When Dombrowski was first hired, many of the Phillies faithful were worried. In his previous two stops (Detroit and Boston), DD was notorious for making huge splashes on the trade market. Whether it was for Miguel Cabrera or Chris Sale, if there is a player that DD has wanted, he has usually found a way to go get him.
The problem is, when comparing the state of the Phillies’ farm system compared to that of Boston and even Detroit’s at the time DD took over, you’ll see that the Phillies don’t have the same amount of young talent to give up. While it is not as bad as some people are led to believe, the system doesn’t have the type of players that make big trades like that conducive to winning. Out of the entire system, with Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard graduating, only a few show true superstar potential, led by 2020 First Round pick Mick Abel.
2020-’21 is and will continue to be a crazy offseason.
As seen in trades, like the Yu Darvish/Victor Caratini one, and roster moves, like the Indians waiving Brad Hand to save $10 million, teams are trying harder than ever this year to save money, no matter what the cost.
There is bound to be more opportunities out there to acquire talent at below market value, and those are the trades that the Phillies should be looking for left and right. While the Phillies do lack the elite prospect talent that teams like the Padres and the Dodgers have accrued, they still have some good depth in areas (catcher, left handed reliever, backend rotation/swingman) to be able to swing deals for players.
To me, sports will always come down to how well you work the margins. Superstar players do not fall into your lap very easily, so the moves made without superstars involved are always more important. Just look at the Rays.
The Phillies have tried their best in recent memory to take flyers on players that fit the mold, but haven’t had success. The financial crunch this offseason will be a devil’s playground for teams who work well in the margins. More players will be available with that in mind, so more moves like the Alvarado deal should be anticipated.
2020 could be the perfect year to retool with that in mind, and the Phillies will need to take advantage of them. The more moves like this that the team hits on, the better the Phillies will be.
In theory, it is easy. A lot of things are easy in theory, though.