As I write this, it is January 11. The Phillies regular season has been over for more than three months and free agency has been in full swing for more than two. They spent the first month getting their front office in order and, since then, have added two relief pitchers: Jose Alvarado and Sam Coonrod.
Phils fans have not been wowed.
This has all happened as new ownership took over the New York Mets, who have since traded for the best shortstop in baseball (Francisco Lindor), one of the best starting pitchers in the game (Carlos Carrasco) and added the second-best catcher on the free agent market (James McCann). Reports indicate they are not done. The Washington Nationals signed Kyle Schwarber to play left field in 2021 and the Atlanta Braves inked Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly to fill in the middle and back end of their rotation.
The team acts as if they are stuck in neutral, reducing payroll, while their chief competitors in the NL East strive to improve. But although there are just six weeks until teams report for spring training (provided COVID-19 doesn’t disrupt those plans), virtually every big name free agent remains on the board.
So have we been too quick to criticize? Plenty of options remain for the Phillies to improve at all of their positions of need: catcher, shortstop, bullpen, starting rotation and center field.
No, the Phillies are more than one player away, but that’s why big league teams are allowed to add more than one player per off-season. Shouldn’t the Phils be given a little grace until they definitely prove they were not interested in breaking the second-longest playoff drought in MLB?
Consider J.T. Realmuto languishing on the free agent market. When the Mets signed McCann, the Phillies’ biggest competition for his services was suddenly out of the picture. Other teams could jump into the mix, but Middleton and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski appear to be in a solid position to re-sign the best catcher in baseball. Shouldn’t they be given the chance to fail before a total evisceration online?
Consider Didi Gregorius remains on the market, while one-year stopgap options like Freddy Galvis and Andrelton Simmons are there for the taking. Both could probably be signed to one-year deals. Who knows, maybe Gregorius signs a one-year deal too.
Consider left-handed starters James Paxton, Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, J.A. Happ, and Gio Gonzalez are still out there. Any one of them would be a helpful No. 4 or 5 starter and push Vince Velasquez into the role to which he’s best suited — a long-reliever, spot starter, No. 6 arm.
In fact, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi says the Phillies are pursuing and upgrade: former Nationals and Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.
Sanchez was flat-out awful in last year’s pandemic-shortened season. He gave up more earned runs than anyone in the NL (39), posted a 6.62 ERA, with a 1.660 WHIP. However, in the Nationals’ championship season of 2019, he made 30 starts with a 3.85 ERA, 4.44 FIP, and 3.7 bWAR. If true, the Phils would be banking on last year’s weird season being the main reason for Sanchez’ struggles. I’d prefer one of the left-handed options, to be honest, but this would be better than Velasquez starting every fifth day.
Consider a number of top bullpen arms who could be signed at any moment. Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Archie Bradley, Shane Greene, Alex Colome, Trevor Rosenthal, and Mark Melancon would all provide solid upgrades and dependability, and many will probably sign cheap one or two-year deals.
Consider Jackie Bradley Jr. could sign with his former boss, Dombrowski, and provide a solid bat in center field with elite defense.
Shouldn’t the Phils be given the opportunity to let the off-season play out before fans pull the pitch forks and flaming torches from their closets?
It’s understandable fans are frustrated. It’s hard to watch your team’s chief rivals get better while your ownership group talks of taking a “gap year” this season. On paper, the Phillies are no better than the fourth-best team in their division and, depending on what you think of the Miami Marlins, the last place team. But there are so many free agents out there that it’s possible the team could add a number of productive players over the next few weeks while maintaining a tighter payroll.
It’s possible the Phillies will improve and, until they screw it up, maybe should be given the chance to before they’re tarred and feathered.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I talked a lot about that as well as the controversial trade for Sam Coonrod, the need for the Phillies to invest in Scott Kingery, and thoughts on Joe Girardi’s first season as skipper.
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