Photo credit: Jose F. Moreno - The Philadelphia Inquirer
Another season and yet another .500ish season from the Phillies. 2021 was emblematic of the recent struggles of the franchise, with top-tier talent that can rival that of any other team in baseball being dragged down by decidedly “meh” production from the rest of the roster. With little help coming internally from the 28th ranked farm system in baseball according to Fangraphs, the Phillies will need to be creative this offseason to return to the ever elusive postseason birth they have been chasing.
The good news for Phanatics is they recently hired well-known go-getter Dave Dombrowski as their GM, so it is highly unlikely this franchise sits on its hands this offseason. The bad news is that this roster has a lot of holes to fill in order to truly be taken seriously as a playoff contender. Fangraphs projects the Phillies to end the season at a payroll of $187 million, not quite scraping the luxury tax threshold, but clearly the ownership group does not mind investing in the team (a welcome sight these days). With club options for Andrew McCutchen ($15m) and Odubel Herrera ($11.5m) already declined, they lose 2/3rds of their starting outfield as well as the likes of Archie Bradley, Brad Miller, Matt Moore, Ian Kennedy, Freddy Galvis, Matt Joyce, Hector Neris, and Vince Velasquez to free agency. Dombrowski definitely has his work cut out for him and undoubtedly some of these players will re-sign, but that list basically entails all of their depth.
With all the aforementioned money coming off the books, the Phillies should take a long look at free agent Kris Bryant. Bryant can play all over the field allowing for the Phillies to keep playing Alec Bohm, which I think would be wise given his potential, while spelling defensive liability Rhys Hoskins at 1st as well as playing the corner outfield slots. The former MVP won’t come cheap, and I expect the Giants to push heavily to resign him, but he and Bryce Harper are lifetime friends, so maybe recruiting can be a factor here. Assuming Bryant costs roughly $27 million a year (his MLB Trade Rumors projection), this puts the Phils at about a $187 million luxury tax payroll (Fangraphs 2022 estimate + arbitration salary raises of $18 million + $27 million for Bryant). That leaves about $20 million(ish) in wiggle room to stay under the salary cap luxury tax threshold.
A trio of Harper/Realmuto/Bryant on offense with a two man punch of Wheeler/Nola is up there with the best teams in baseball. However, depth is what real championship teams have, and that is something the Phillies must accumulate. Let’s start with the gaping hole in CF. The best option here would undoubtedly be Kevin Keirmaier. It’s no secret that the Rays have a vendetta against arbitration raises in the Tampa Bay area, and guess who is due for one this offseason? The gold glove center fielder would fit perfectly for the Phillies who don’t really lack thump but rather lack people to catch balls that are put in play. Dealing prospects to the Rays is almost never a good idea, but they have a perpetual 40-man crunch so whoever would be dealt would not be likely to make an immediate impact for the Phillies anyways, and their time to compete is now.
I know he’s been down this year, but should the cost conscious Brewers make Jackie Bradley Jr. available and eat some of his salary, the Phillies should absolutely be all over that. I know he just had arguably the worst year of his career, but I don’t think anyone believes he’s a true talent 49 wRC+ hitter, and he would provide excellent defense in center as well. Another good option here would be Adolis Garcia, whom the Rangers would be smart to make available and shouldn’t come at too high a cost, as the opposite is true of him than JBJ in that no one believes he’s as good as his 3.3 fWAR in 2021. None of these options would cost much (KK easily being the most costly) and the Phils would be comfortable receiving good defense and roughly 2-3 WAR at the position while only bumping their payroll up about $5 million.
Round out the offseason by signing 2-3 average players (1-3 WAR) and you’d have to feel good about the lineup making it through the season. Options in this area include: Brandon Belt, Kyle Seager, Eduardo Escobar, Starlin Castro, Cesar Hernandez, Wilmer Flores, Andrelton Simmons, and Eddie Rosario.
Assuming health is never something a franchise should do, but the Phillies should be comfortable going into 2022 with a rotation of Wheeler, Nola, Gibson, & Eflin (Eflin should be back in early 2022 following his September knee surgery). Ranger Suarez was a revelation this past year but it would be unwise to expect the same production going forward; ideally the Phils add 2-3 more average-ish arms to round out the rotation. Options of this type in free agency include: Johnny Cueto, Alex Cobb, Zach Davies, Yusei Kikuchi, Jon Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood. Options via trade that could work include Mike Minor and Ryan Yarbrough (another arbitration case in Tampa).
We all know the Phillies bullpen has been laughably bad the past two years but simple regression to the mean should help a lot of that as could some low key signings, but it would be unwise to throw a bunch of money at the bullpen expecting it to fix all of their problems when there are so many other holes to fill on this roster (ask the Rockies how well this plan works). Look for quantity over quality with above-average middle relievers because this bullpen is not just one arm away from being good.
Successful offseasons consist of adapting and having backup plans (especially in this uncertain offseason), but the Phillies aren’t cooked quite yet, and they have the core and financial resources to turn this franchise around, the only question is whether or not they make enough supplemental moves to move into the elite tier of teams.
Theoretical 2022 Lineup:
1) Jean Segura 2B
2) Bryce Harper RF
3) Kris Bryant LF (FA signing, $27 AAV)
4) Rhys Hoskins DH
5) JT Realmuto C
6) Kyle Seager 3B (FA signing, $12 AAV)
7) Alec Bohm 1B
8) Didi Gregorious SS
9) Kevin Kiermaier CF (Trade)
Theoretical 2022 Rotation:
1) Zach Wheeler
2) Aaron Nola
3) Kyle Gibson
4) Mike Minor (trade)
5) Zach Eflin
6) Ranger Suarez
7) Alex Wood (FA signing, $10 AAV)