A battle for third place? Phillies’ moves so far lack bite needed to compete for NL East title

When the new CBA was agreed upon, the Phillies looked to be in prime position for improvements. The first luxury tax limit went from ~$212M to $230M. Owner John Middleton has shown an unwillingness to spend into the luxury tax, so this increase could be huge.

So far, however, the Phillies moves have been far less than earth shattering. As of midday Monday, the Phillies have spent at least $12M on three players: relievers Jeurys Familia and Brad Hand, along with old friend (I use this term incredibly sarcastically) Odubel Herrera. These are moves that Phillies’ fans have seen for the last three seasons, ones that barely move the needle.

A needle that needs to move a lot, especially considering who you share the division with. The Braves are coming off a World Series title and the Mets are going to have a 2022 payroll close to $300M. Let’s look at these moves from a purely baseball perspective.

From 2014 to 2016, Familia was a dominant closer, racking up 99 saves for the Mets while having an ERA of below three. Since then, the wheels have fallen off for Familia a bit. While he still has the high strikeout numbers, his walk rate has been increasing. Last year’s rate of 4.1 BB/9 was the lowest it has been in three seasons.

Not only is he walking more people, but he has also become more home run prone. His home run rate of 1.5 HR/9 was the highest mark Familia has posted since his sophomore season. The two worst things to see from aging relievers are HR/9 and BB/9 both go up. With close to 500 career innings under his belt, Familia isn’t getting any younger. With some help, maybe he can regain his prime form.

If anything, this seems like an even replacement for Archie Bradley.

Of the three moves the team has made so far, Brad Hand might have the most upside. 2021 was a weird year for Hand, as he split it between three teams. In the NL, where he played for the Nationals and the Mets, he threw 56 innings with a 3.38 ERA. Between his NL stops, however, he pitched 8.2 forgettable innings with the Blue Jays. In that time, he served up seven home runs and batters posted an OPS of 1.012 against him.

The team was in desperate need of a second lefty to go with Jose Alvarado. Brad Hand seems like a logical choice to add to the back end of your bullpen. His peripherals last year were awful, but he has the track record of performing. To me, this is equitable to the Familia move. Moves that a team who finished 25th in bullpen ERA need to make but feel rather unexciting.

For as bland as the two relievers feel, bringing back Herrera feels like a slap in the face. We all know the player he is. On the field, Herrera is not a fundamentally smart baseball player. Whether its diving for an uncatchable ball in the seventh inning of a one run game or hitting a single that ricochets off the wall, he makes too many mental mistakes. Yet, he plays a premium position that cannot afford mental mistakes.

What makes matters worse is Herrera seems to be one of Joe Girardi’s guys. Even though he posted a .287 OBP in the leadoff spot, Girardi kept running him out there, even against lefties. The 2022 plan looks to include a platoon in CF between Herrera and Matt Vierling. However, based on his usage last year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Herrera got most of the playing time.

From an on-field perspective, these seem like moves average teams make to stay average. The combination of Familia and Hand are replacements for the aforementioned Bradley and Hector Neris. Frankly, I don’t see much improvement either way. After these deals, the 2022 bullpen spots are almost all accounted for, with one or two spots being up for grabs. Pair them with closer Corey Knebel, who’s only thrown 39 innings the last three years, and the bullpen still feels shaky.

We all know what Herrera does (mostly doesn’t) bring and I can tell you that no fan of this team jumped out of their seats when they saw the news. Seeing the production that the Phillies had in CF in 2021, I just don’t see how DD is fine to run it back. I understand that there may not be many options on the market, but surely, you can find a more adequate outfielder somewhere.

Off the field, two of the three signings have had serious allegations of domestic violence against them. Both Herrera and Familia have served suspensions based on league findings surrounding the incidents. There is no need to go further into the incidents, but it is impossible to discuss either player without mentioning them.

It is hard for any fan to root for bad people. For a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since my freshman year of high school, you want as many good vibes as you can get. These aren’t the vibes that you want starting off the year. The lockout has been over for almost a week, but I am dreaded following the Phillies more and more.

There has to be a big move in the works, one to fill the hole the in leftfield and the middle of the Phillies’ order. The three most likely names are Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Schwarber.

The Phillies have to sign one of the three, and even then, still might have a hard time winning the division.

The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-866-723-3014. The hotline is free, confidential, and available 24-7. You can donate to the organization that runs the hotline and access safety planning resources at www.womenagainstabuse.org.

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