Everyone has a plan for the Phillies. At the top of the list of things to fix is of course the player development system. It’s gotten so bad even the MVP
of the league of the team is speaking up about how badly it needs to be fixed. However, that isn’t what gets the team wins in 2022. Getting the player development system back on track to producing quality major league talent is key, but the people are looking for wins on the field. What is the best way to do that?
There’s also another question that needs to be asked: what is the most realistic course of action for the team? While we would like them to spend a ton of money on free agents, Dombrowski was pretty clear during his press conference about how he doesn’t believe always spending at the top is going to work. They’re going to look at all avenues of acquiring talent, so if they’re going to add payroll, my gut reaction is that it’ll look like this:
- one big ticket item
- a few smaller items
- one big trade
John Middleton likes to be in the headlines and grabbing one of the premier free agents on the market is a great way to do so. Do I think it’s likely they go after one of the big names? I’d give it a 60/40 shot “no”, but you never can tell with him.
We’ve spoken before about how the team should be using its financial might to absorb contracts in order to add more talent to the system, so perhaps this is the offseason to do so, grabbing some other team’s bad contract and taking a prospect off their hands as part of the transaction. Maybe they’re going to add more big contracts in an attempt to patch holes on the roster simply by spending money. However they decide to do it, they’ll need help. So, here is my thoughts on what I’d like to see the team do.
Before you go any further, it should be noted that this is what I’d like to see them doing to get better in 2022, not necessarily what I think they’ll do.
What did this lineup look like when the season ended? Well, it was mighty different from the one that Joe Girardi used on Opening Day, but since we know that most of these players won’t be back, let’s just substitute names where we know they need to be substituted.
End of 2021 roster
Improve the leather
At his end of season press conference, Dave Dombrowski spoke often about the need for the defense to get better. It’s one of the reasons why Didi Gregorius has been told he isn’t guaranteed to be the starting shortstop. The issue that they can’t improve the infield defense without removing a player vital to the offense. We’ll get to the shortstop position in a few minutes, but the rest of the infield looks pretty much set. They’re going to give Alec Bohm every chance to be the regular third baseman and since he’s already in Clearwater working on improving his defense, we can assume he’ll get to the point he’s the regular option. Jean Segura had himself a very good year with the glove, so he isn’t going anywhere and since we’re making this plan under the current rules. Rhys Hoskins needs to be the first baseman without a DH in the National League.
So, to improve defensively, they have to look at the outfield. Bryce Harper isn’t going anywhere and left field is pretty far down the defensive spectrum, so they’ll look at that position as one more offensively minded. That leaves center field. Odubel Herrera in 2021 was actually quite good with the glove, but it’s likely the team will want to move on from the headache he has been of late. But they also want to make sure that they don’t take a hit in the defense Herrera was giving them, so they’re going to need to grab someone who can make up for it.
Trading for Kevin Kiermaier would help solve this.
Now, before you howl in derision, hear me out.
Offensively, Herrera and Kiermaier are similar: low batting average and on-base percentage, a sprinkle of power and too many strikeouts. Defensively, Kiermaier has it all over Herrera, even accounting for how good Herrera has been. Kiermaier has been at, or near the top of, the leaderboard in OAA for center fielders. He’d be a player that would improve not only the center field position, he could help make up for the defense on his left and right. As good as Harper was at the plate, the metrics that we see for defense aren’t exactly fans of him. Andrew McCutchen was showing the after effects of the knee injury he suffered these past two seasons, seeing his range decline to almost untenable ranges. So, even though McCutchen is likely done in Philadelphia, the amount of ground Kiermaier can cover will help whoever is in left field on Opening Day.
Kiermaier and Herrera make roughly the same amount of money, so any savings they might have by declining the option on Herrera would be sucked up by a Kiermaier deal. But this is the nuance of this thing. Tampa Bay is usually trying to stay below a certain payroll spot and so long as there is no salary floor in place, they’re going to continue to operate a payroll on the lower end. So getting rid of Kiermaier’s $12.5 million salary might be something they are interested in doing, especially since they have replacements in Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot already there. Of course, if the Phillies are going to commit to taking on that kind of salary, they would want something back to tag along with Kiermaier.
This is where the team’s ability to absorb money from teams that don’t want to spend it could help them. Taking back Kiermaier and his full salary might mean they can also pry loose one of the Rays’ top prospects. We aren’t talking about someone in the Wander Franco realm, but if the Phillies are going to take that money, someone in the Rays’ #8-12 range of their prospect list would fit the bill. That can all be negotiated, of course, but the basic premise is there. Take on money as long as they can get something else in return as well. Plus, adding someone like Kiermaier will help this team improve an aspect of their team they want to get better at.
The big one
You can almost guarantee this team is going to spend money on at least one big free agent acquisition. John Middleton likes being in the headlines and for the past three offseasons, he has had the Phillies dominate certain parts of the free agency headlines. They’re in a unique position where a place on the diamond they want to improve, shortstop, just so happens to be stocked with high quality options this offseason. So if they’re going to spend money on one of them, now is the time. And what they need most offensively (on-base ability, power from the left side) combined with what they need defensively (solid and steady defense up the middle) happens to be boxes that can be checked off with one signing.
Sign Corey Seager.
Why Seager over the other available options?
First, age is an important consideration. He’ll play most of the next season at age 28, landing him just behind Carlos Correa as far as youngest available option. That age would mean they could use some guaranteed money and spread it out over a larger number of years, a la Bryce Harper, to help him achieve a possible goal he has of getting a lot of guaranteed money committed, but also helping the team have some financial flexibility to continue improving the team. They wouldn’t have to feel as guilty about giving a guy like Seager 7-8 years on a contract since he’d only be in the 35-36 range at the end of it, not the prime of his career, but still not unproductive.
Second, his left handed power bat is something that the team could truly use. Last year, the only “power bat” they had from the left side was Bryce Harper since Didi Gregorius fell flat on his face. Naturally, one tends to think that lefties struggle against same sided pitching, but Seager in his career has fared rather well against southpaws, posting a .281/.339/.465 (116 wRC+) line against them over his career. With Realmuto, Hoskins and Bohm in the heart of the lineup, they could use a left handed bat to help Harper balance things out a bit, something Seager could provide.
Depth, depth and more depth
It’s a concept that has eluded the Phillies recently. Tasked with covering the minimum of five games in a rotation, the team was only able to field three competent starting pitchers before they had to use bullpen games to cover the remaining two. When players went down to either injury or ineffectiveness, the team was forced to rely on subpar offensive players to cover the spot in the order, rendering the offense impotent outside of a few select bats. It’s this lack of depth that caused the team to come up short in their quest for the playoffs, a stain on both the player development program that couldn’t produce minor league reinforcements and on the scouting staff that thought certain minor league signings were worthwhile and would pan out.
With that in mind, the team needs to go about restocking the depth on the roster if they hope to compete deep into October. It sounds like a broken record, but look at the teams that are still in the playoffs. Each of them has a roster full of competency that can help weather the storms of injuries and slumps. There is very much a “next man up” philosophy with each team that helps them get through the long season with lineups that are near unrelenting on their pressure. The Phillies’ starting rotation, if everyone stays healthy, looks like it could be a strength yet again, being stocked with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Zach Eflin and Kyle Gibson. Could they use a few more arms to help? Of course, but for the most part, the depth that is needed is needed in the lineup and in the bullpen.
Players like Jonathan Villar make a ton of sense for this team as someone who can move around the infield as needed. He can substitute at different spots for long periods of time should an injury occur or ineffectiveness set in. If the team does not want to go after a big name free agent at shortstop, Villar could make some sense there in a pinch (though long term, he wouldn’t be an answer). In his past two full seasons (not counting 2020), he has posted wRC+ numbers of 107 and 105. That’s more than adequate for someone who wouldn’t be asked to play full-time if everything shakes out. Would Villar want a deal for longer than 2 years? Probably, but if the team can get him to accept a two-year deal, he makes a lot of sense.
In left field, were I in charge, I’d give it to Matt Vierling and see what happens. Depth is an issue for them and simply handing the job to Vierling without any kind of viable backup seems dangerous, so we need to account for this as well. Scanning a list of possible free agents this offseason, what the team should be looking for is a player who can handle both outfield and infield duties. With all of the double switching that the manager likes to do, it makes sense to always have someone who can move around the field. A player like Chris Taylor from the Dodgers fits this bill, but if we are going to sign Corey Seager in this fantasy land, Taylor might be a little too expensive. We need to be looking more at a player like Leury Garcia or Josh Harrison to fit this bill. Both of them can handle spots like left and right field, as well as come onto the dirt and grab ground balls at third and second base. They aren’t the types of guys you want getting a lot of at bats, but they can be plenty effective with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-350 plate appearances. Personally, Garcia’s ability to switch hit and be able to handle shortstop are reasons to prefer him over Harrison, so he’ll the nod. This can also be a spot for someone like Mickey Moniak, but hey - you don’t really think Girardi will go that far, do you?
When it comes to the bullpen, this team needs to sign as many arms as possible. Sure, re-signing Hector Neris should be a priority, but adding a closer-esque arm like Corey Knebel would benefit them. Knebel has had closing experience and isn’t one of the top tier closer arms on the market. He’d command something like a 3 year/$30 million deal, but with the bullpen being such a shambles the past few seasons, locking in someone that can truly be a shutdown closer like Knebel would help stabilize the backend of the team’s biggest weakness since 2019.
So, if we were to make all the changes necessary, plus account for some roster assumptions/promotions from the minor leagues, this is what the Opening Day roster could look like in 2022:
Potential 2022 roster
This is a lineup that is deeper and, if the right relievers are chosen to fill out the back end of the bullpen, a pitching staff that is deeper as well. There might not be much in the way of minor league help available should the injuries get bad but at least with this roster the way it is constructed, there are players available just in case.
Some things to note:
- I’m just not sure that trading Didi Gregorius makes much sense. Yes having him and Jonathan Villar seems a little redundant, but as we saw last year, injuries and ineffectiveness can spring up and bite this team at the drop of a hat. Should something happen to Jean Segura or Alec Bohm or any of the other infielders, those two can step into the spots vacated and give the team quality at bats. Plus, with all the salary that Gregorius is due, unless there is a team that really believes he’ll bounce back, it’s tough to find someone who is willing to take on his contract.
- Playing time here could be an issue. The problem the Phillies have had so far is that a lot of their positions are filled by immovable players. Where else is someone like Rhys Hoskins going to play other than first base? Same for Harper. Trying to add players that can move around the diamond and in the outfield gives them the flexibility to work matchups as much in their favor as they can make it. Have a pitcher coming to town that someone like Villar torches? Put him out there in place of someone else. It serves a dual purpose of giving him at bats against someone he would be successful against plus gives that regular, say Jean Segura, a day or two off his feet.
I’m not completely naïve that I believe that all of this would happen. After all, I’m playing with Monopoly money here, especially with the Seager signing. But if we’re looking at realistic ways that this team can improve, I like this plan a lot.
How about you?