Oh, the Phillies. After another offseason where the team planned to take an aggressive free-agent approach, it appears Philadelphia will be heading for another disappointing season. While the team has bought improvements to its core, the roster is filled with question marks.
The Pitching Staff
The Phillies’ most significant need was a complete rebuild of the rotation. Outside of Aaron Nola, the pitching was abysmal last season. Zack Wheeler was a great signing, but it leaves three out of five starting slots open for names that don’t inspire confidence. It is difficult to see Jake Arrieta returning to his old form. Before undergoing season-ending surgery, he had a 4.64 ERA, which was the worst mark of his career since 2013. He’s underperformed each of the last two seasons on continues to age as a pitcher. The Phillies still have names like Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez, but besides Nola, no Phillies starter had an ERA below 4.00 last season.
After the rotation, the bullpen also has its issues. Late-inning options like Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez, and Ranger Suarez look stable, but arm injuries have taken a toll on the rest of the staff. Beyond those three, Adam Morgan (flexor strain) and Seranthony Dominguez (UCL tear) could be options should they recover from elbow injuries. The investment in David Robertson hasn’t been successful so far due to injuries. In free agency, few reliable options are on the market as replacements. Are fans supposed to trust the core to be dependable enough come playoff-chase time?
The Struggle With Drafting
When evaluating help coming from the minor league system, fans can look at other teams. For instance, the Atlanta Braves’ farm system has a ton of value to trade away for MLB-ready talent. It’s why, even when Josh Donaldson leaves, the team can still acquire a major name when they need it.
In comparison to the rival Braves, who do the Phillies have? Alec Bohm, Spencer Howard, and Bryson Scott. Bohm, a third baseman who will likely find time in the majors, will most likely be an “X-Factor” in 2020. Philadelphia didn’t grab Josh Donaldson, so in the short-term, third base is a problem depending on how Bohm performs to start the season. Spencer Howard is another starter who has a chance to claim a back-end rotation spot in 2020. While both could be interesting, it only adds to the Phillies list of “if’s” the team needs to hit on for success.
The team could also make a move with these prospects similar to what they did with Jorge Alfaro and Sixto Sanchez last season (both traded for JT Realmuto). However, there haven’t been any reports that the team is pursuing any major trade candidates.
Drafting matters. The Phillies gave up two top prospects to get Realmuto, while outfielder Adam Haseley cracked the majors last season. That leaves their farm system in a bad spot. Given that they’ve spent big in each of the last three offseasons, the Phillies have lost out on both draft spots and slot bonus money to invest in prospects. Sure, draft picks may not produce right away, but they help produce MLB talent one way or another. The Phillies have been atrocious at draft managing and now have to either spend big on free agents or pray to finish over third place with what they have.
The Luxury Tax
Because the Phillies don’t have the prospects to make trades, their only chance at the playoffs was to spend big on free agency. John Middleton has consistently claimed he wants to do so. And while the tam’s payroll has ballooned to just over $171 million, the team hasn’t managed to reach the playoffs. The team jumped into large contracts again this offseason with Wheeler and infielder Didi Gregorius. But since then: crickets. If they’re pushing for a World Series ring, a championship, they need to spend big – something they haven’t been incredibly successful at.
If No Changes are Made…
The Vegas odds set the Phillies at 85.5 wins for the upcoming season. Atlanta is projected at 90.5, Washington at 89.5, New York Mets at 86.5. That puts the Phillies fourth in the East, only in front of the Marlins (64.5 wins). Though the Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran, they still look to contend for a wild card spot. The Nationals thrived on their strong pitching staff and still have major pieces in place. Compared to the Phillies, the other three have fewer concerns surrounding their squads. Hiring Joe Girardi could benefit the team compared to Gabe Kapler, but roster moves need to be made if they want to make the playoffs. A third or fourth in the NL East with 84-87 wins is a very accurate estimate of this team. While it looks good on paper, it may not be good enough to contend.
I usually tend to be more optimistic, especially when talking about Philly sports, but the Phillies have angered me this offseason. If John Middleton claims he’s going to get this team to where it needs to be, more changes need to happen. To his benefit, Girardi is a better manager, and Wheeler and Gregorius were strong signings. However, they are still far from a playoff team. It may be time to go over the luxury tax if Middleton is dead-set on reaching the playoffs.
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