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The Phillies nearly pulled a rabbit out of their hat, going from disappointing start and early-June managerial change to storybook finish and a surprise World Series run that ultimately came up just short. With an 11-year playoff drought now ended and a 2022 World Series berth in their back pockets, they’ll take aim at improving the club and finishing the job in 2023.
Total 2023 commitment: $130.375MM
Total long-term commitment: $497.625MM
Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parenthesis; salary projections via Matt Swartz)
- Exercised $16MM club option on RHP Aaron Nola
- Declined $17MM club option on 2B Jean Segura (paid $1MM buyout)
- RHP Zach Eflin declined $15MM mutual option (received $150K buyout)
Buoyed by a dominant postseason showing from Bryce Harper and — until the World Series — otherworldly starting pitching from co-aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the Phillies came within arm’s reach of their first World Series title since 2009. It wasn’t meant to be, as they ran into a Houston buzzsaw that generally matched their starting pitching prowess and came through with more timely hits late in the series. Now, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld will be on the lookout for reinforcements to get the Phillies back to the Fall Classic in 2023.
The first order of business was largely a formality. When the Phils fired Joe Girardi in early June and elevated veteran bench coach Rob Thomson to the manager’s chair, many were happy for Thomson to finally get a chance at running a team. Few could’ve predicted the epic tear the Phillies would go on following the managerial shift, however. Reaching the postseason — let alone the World Series — seemed like a pipe dream. But that’s exactly how things played out, and Dombrowski, Fuld and owner John Middleton rewarded Thomson to the tune of a two-year contract extension as manager — sans “interim” label — with an option for a third season. Not long after, the Phils extended hitting coach Kevin Long and invited back the entire staff for the 2023 season.
With the field leadership in place, the Phillies will turn their focus to filling out a roster that — as one would expect for a World Series club — isn’t exactly rife with holes. That’s not to say they’ll stand pat — far from it, in all likelihood — but the Phils have a strong foundation in the lineup, rotation and bullpen moving forward.
Starting with the one-through-nine, the Phillies surely feel set in the outfield corners, at designated hitter and at least one middle infield spot. The trio of Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos will hold down the outfield corners and designated hitter, though the manner in which that’ll play out next season is largely dependent on Harper. He’ll undergo elbow surgery this week to address the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, but the extent of the procedure won’t be known until surgeons begin the operation. Imaging hasn’t confirmed whether Harper will need a full ligament replacement (i.e. Tommy John surgery) or “merely” an internal brace procedure. Tommy John surgery would come with a lengthier recovery, but he’ll be back by midseason either way (perhaps earlier, in the event of an internal brace or primary repair operation). Regardless, don’t look for the Phillies to add any corner outfielders or DH-only players of note.
The same is true behind the plate, where J.T. Realmuto turned in a vintage season and can still lay claim to being one of the top catchers — if not the top catcher — in Major League Baseball. The current AAV record holder for catchers ($23.1MM) slashed .276/.342/.478 with 22 homers, 21 steals and premium defense at the sport’s most physically demanding position, taking home his third Silver Slugger and second Gold Glove in the process. He’s a star in every sense of the word and is a lock for primary catching duty again in 2023. Backup Garrett Stubbs was outstanding in 121 plate appearances (.264/.350/.462), so there’s no reason to expect Philadelphia to be in the mix for a backup, either.
In the infield, things get a bit murkier. That might be underselling matters, in fact; the infield mix is arguably quite wide open. Granted, Rhys Hoskins is coming off a .246/.332/.462 slash, 30 homers and a postseason with six home runs — several of which were delivered in clutch spots — but he’s also a year from free agency and generally regarded as a poor defender. With a projected $12.6MM salary for the 2023 season, Hoskins isn’t necessarily a “bargain” anymore, and it’s at least feasible that the Phillies would be open to some kind of swap to improve upon his suspect defense. That’s not to say Hoskins will be aggressively shopped, but the notion of him changing hands at some point isn’t entirely far-fetched. Twenty-seven-year-old Darick Hall is probably ticketed for more DH work early in the year while Harper mends than time at first base, but he’s one alternative if the Phils do get an offer to their liking on Hoskins.
Across the diamond, the Phils received only average offense from 26-year-old Alec Bohm, who also happened to turn in some of the worst defensive grades you’ll see at third base (-17 Defensive Runs Saved, -9 Outs Above Average). Trading Bohm, who’s controllable through 2026, would be selling low, but the Phils could conceivably be open to such a move after two straight years of lackluster offense and quite poor defensive ratings. One alternative would be to slide Bohm across the diamond to first base, hoping the bat will come around and that the glove will play at a less-demanding position, though doing so might necessitate moving on from Hoskins. There’d be DH playing time to go around early in the season, but once Harper is healthy, a roster with him, Schwarber, Castellanos, Hoskins and Bohm is tough to field without making substantial defensive concessions, as the Phils did in 2022.
The corner infield situation is further muddied by the fact that there’s no quality everyday option at third base on the free-agent market. Justin Turner still has more than enough bat, but his defensive grades have tanked and the Dodgers played him at DH more than third base in 2022. Evan Longoria is an option, but age 37, he’s not the star he once was. Jace Peterson quietly brings an OBP-driven, defensive-minded value to the hot corner, but his track record is limited despite his age (33). Brandon Drury had a breakout year between the Reds and Padres, but it’s an open question whether he can sustain it. The trade market will have a few options, but the best-case scenario for the Phils would simply be for Bohm to find a way to improve upon his glovework.
In the middle infield, the Phils are set to bid farewell to Segura after declining his option. Doing so would afford them the flexibility to play young Bryson Stott at either middle-infield slot, perhaps setting the stage for a run at one of the market’s four premier shortstops: Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson. Such an expenditure might sound far-fetched on the surface, with Harper, Wheeler, Realmuto, Castellanos and Schwarber all already commanding salaries of $20MM annually. However, Nola is a free agent following the 2023 season and Wheeler returns to market following the 2024 campaign. That creates both some near-term flexibility and also increases the urgency to win now, when that dynamic one-two punch remains on the roster.
If the Phils don’t plan to pursue one of the “big four” shortstops, there are alternatives at either middle-infield slot. A reunion with Segura at a lesser annual rate certainly seems plausible. Over at shortstop, Elvis Andrus and Jose Iglesias are free agents, while Cleveland’s Amed Rosario is coming off a solid season and seems like a probable trade candidate. The Phils also have deadline pickup Edmundo Sosa if they prefer a defensive-minded approach to shortstop in 2023. The 26-year-old is a plus defender who hit well in St. Louis in 2021, struggled with the Cardinals in 2022, and found himself revitalized with the Phillies following the trade deadline. He’s a likelier bench option, but as far as fallbacks go, the team could do worse than a sure-handed infielder coming off a .254/.320/.381 slash dating back to 2021.
Center field has been the other glaring hole for the Phillies in recent years, but the organization swung a proactive move intended to shore up that spot for years to come back at the trade deadline. Sending top catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe to the Angels, the Phillies acquired former top prospect Brandon Marsh, whom they can control through the 2027 season. Marsh, a 2016 second-round pick who was once viewed as a building block in Anaheim, has struggled with his consistency but shown flashes of immense potential.
The Phillies tweaked Marsh’s stance and swing mechanics (Twitter links via Talkin’ Halos), and the early results were night-and-day. After hitting .226/.284/.353 with the Angels in 2022, Marsh hit .288/.319/.455 as a Phillie and cut his strikeout rate from 36.2% to 29.7%. He hasn’t yet drawn premium defensive marks in center field, but Marsh was heralded as a potential plus defender as a prospect and certainly has the tools to be an everyday center fielder in Philadelphia. He’ll likely get that chance in 2023, due both to his solid finish in 2022 and to the steep price the Phils paid to acquire him.
As far as the pitching staff goes, the foundation is set. Nola is in his walk year, so the possibility of a contract extension to keep him in Philadelphia beyond the 2023 season could very well be broached in Spring Training. Whether he stays or goes, Nola will again join Wheeler in forming one of the game’s great rotation duos. Following them will be lefty Ranger Suarez, who’d cemented himself as a quality big league starter even before elevating his profile with a clutch postseason showing. Dombrowski has already said that the Phillies will likely entrust one rotation spot to a young arm such as Bailey Falter or perhaps even top prospect Andrew Painter.
With Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson and Noah Syndergaard all departing to the free-agent market, that leaves one spot to fill and more than a dozen names to potentially take that role. There’s a larger supply of veteran mid-rotation starters than usual in free agency this offseason, and while a couple names — Tyler Anderson and Martin Perez — are already off the board, Dombrowski will still have quite a list from which to choose. His ties to Justin Verlander from the pair’s Detroit days will no doubt prompt speculation about such a fit, and to the likely surprise of many, the Phillies could probably even offer the Max Scherzer-esque deal Verlander is said to be seeking and still come in just shy of the luxury tax.
Of course, any subsequent moves would put the Phils right back into tax territory, and to this point they haven’t been suggested as a likely player for Verlander. Certainly, the idea of them signing Verlander and a notable shortstop seems far-fetched. However, the point here isn’t so much to illustrate why Verlander singularly is a good fit, but rather to again highlight that even with so many weighty contracts already on the books, the Phillies have the financial capacity to play for pretty much any free agent they like. Alternate names on the rotation market include Jameson Taillon, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Nathan Eovaldi (another former Dombrowski signee) and Andrew Heaney, to name a few. If the goal is to look for one-year solutions rather than multi-year names like those just listed, Corey Kluber becomes an intriguing option.
The bullpen, long seen as the Phillies’ Achilles heel — rhyme unintentional but now firmly staying in place — looks steadier than in years past. Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado were both terrific in 51 innings and could form a strong eighth inning/ninth inning tandem. Minor league signee Andrew Bellatti proved to be a steal, thanks largely to ramped up usage of his slider. Connor Brogdon, 27, improved considerably over his already-strong rookie season in 2021.
There are still holes to fill, of course, and it’s been a bull market for relievers early on. The Phillies will have the ability to jump into the mix for any of the remaining free-agent relievers, be it an established closer like Kenley Jansen or an upside play like Matt Strahm or Carlos Estevez. A reunion with David Robertson seems plausible as well. It seems likely they’ll add at least one reliever, be it via free agency or the trade market. Plugging in a pair of new relief arms, as the Phillies did last year with Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia, shouldn’t be ruled out.
Whether in the middle infield or in the rotation, there’s probably room for the Phillies to make one notable free-agent addition and a handful of supplementary moves and still avoid barreling too deeply into luxury-tax territory. Then again, given that they’re likely enjoying a revenue boon from their World Series run and could be facing the last year with Nola atop the rotation, perhaps the luxury tax will be of little consequence to owner John Middleton. For a team in this position, that’s very arguably the best way to operate, as the foundation of a team that pushed the Astros to six games in the World Series remains firmly in place — but perhaps only for one more season.
Dombrowski has never been one to shy away from major free-agent signings, and having just missed out on his third World Series title with a third different team, there’s good reason for another aggressive winter. The core of this year’s team will be back in 2023 — quite likely with some pricey new teammates.
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