Backed by the big bucks of new owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson, who is finally unleashed from the shackles of his previous owners, the Wilpons, New York swung the trade of the off-season Thursday when they acquired stud shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Corrasco from Cleveland in exchange for Amed Rosario and three prospects. Last month, they signed catcher James McCann to a four-year deal and are rumored to be in the mix for free agent outfielder George Springer, Liam Hendricks, the best closer on the market, and potentially a trade for outfielder/third baseman Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs.
So far this off-season, the Phillies dealt for Jose Alvarado, a hard-throwing left-handed reliever who has promise but whose last good season was three years ago. For a franchise with a nine-year playoff drought that is the second-longest in Major League Baseball, it’s been a quiet winter.
When new team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski took over back in December, he admitted the team was not just “one player away,” and that is true. The Phils have a number of holes to fill and, it’s clear right now, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets have separated themselves from the rest of the division. But let’s not forget that, coming into the off-season, the Mets weren’t one player away either.
Despite their third straight late-season descent into darkness, the Phillies finished third in the NL East with a 28-32 record last season. New York was two games worse, at 26-34. One could argue the Phils were actually closer to contention than the Mets, although a two-game separation is hardly a grand difference, but the two teams were at least close to equal footing and both teams had numerous holes to fill.
The Mets are filling them with quality baseball players while the Phillies sit and watch.
To be fair to Dombrowski and new general manager Sam Fuld, they’ve only been on the job for a few weeks and virtually every top free agent is still available, but the acquisition of Lindor, who struggled in the pandemic-shortened season last year but has never had an fWAR below 4.0 and posted a 7.6 fWAR in 2018, improves the Mets’ chances of winning the East dramatically. They also added Carrasco, a 5-win pitcher two years ago who in 12 starts last season posted a 2.91 ERA and a 3.59 FIP.
What’s scarier is that New York continues to look for ways to improve.
Alderson asked what the appetite is for another major addition: "We're always hungry."— Tim Britton (@TimBritton) January 7, 2021
The Phillies used to talk and act this way. They used to be hungry. They talked a big game after they lost to the Yankees after the 2009 World Series (“I want my bleeping trophy back”) and they talked about spending “stupid money” just two off-seasons ago. The Mets and Phils conduct business in the same environment, and while Cohen is the wealthiest owner in the Majors, John Middleton’s $3 billion net worth isn’t too shabby, either.
No, the Phils are not one player away. The good news is they aren’t restricted to spending money on just one player. They could add J.T. Realmuto to be their catcher. They could bring back Didi Gregorius. They could add a mid-rotation starter like James Paxton or Cole Hamels. They could add Hendricks and another reliever like Trevor Rosenthal. They could sign Jackie Bradley Jr. to play center field.
There are many things they could do if they wanted to, and perhaps they will, although the rhetoric coming from the ball club this off-season sheds doubt on that possibility. Maybe they will surprise everyone and, upon seeing what the Mets are doing, find some cash buried inside their Corinthian leather sofas somewhere that will enable them to acquire players who can actually put the Phils back in the postseason for the first time in a decade.
The last playoff game that featured the Phillies resulted in Ryan Howard being slumped to the ground, his Achilles in tatters, and Roy Halladay languishing in the clubhouse with a back injury that would essentially end his career. Fans deserve to have some new memories on which to build, and the players are out there to make it happen.
No doubt the sledding inside the division got a lot tougher on Thursday, and it doesn’t figure to get any easier. But the Phillies could be doing what the Mets are doing.
If they wanted to.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I talked with Phillies beat reporter Matt Breen about the Lindor trade, the Phils’ inactivity and the chances the team does end up signing J.T. Realmuto.