When Major League Baseball activities resume and we all begin to get on with our lives again, there will be a flurry of roster moves the likes of which we have never seen.
It’ll be the Winter Meetings on acid.
The Phillies are likely to be among the most active teams when that happens, given their needs in the bullpen, the bench, and the outfield.
The outfield, in particular, is of great importance to Dave Dombrowski, given the team’s current big league depth chart.
I like Matt Vierling, but I doubt his ability to play all three outfield positions at the same time should NL MVP Bryce Harper go down.
According to Spotrac, the Phillies have about $35.3 million left in payroll space before they hit a $210 million luxury tax, although given the league has no current Collective Bargaining Agreement, we don’t know what the tax number will be in ‘22. NBC Sports’ Corey Seidman recently broke down the Phils’ salary numbers and found that, after paying for player benefits and leaving themselves wiggle room at the trade deadline, the team has about $32 million to spend if the tax remains the same as it was in 2021.
The Phillies desperately need to add a left fielder and center fielder and much, if not most, of that $32-35 million, will be earmarked to address those two spots. They likely need another reliever or two and adding starting pitching depth wouldn’t be out of line, either. If Dombrowski can get someone to take Didi Gregorius and his $14 million AAV salary off their hands, all the better, but could luck with that.
What they likely won’t be able to address is one of the worst left sides of the infield in baseball last season.
Phils’ shortstops totaled 1.5 fWAR last year, while their third basemen combined for 0.7, giving them a grand total of 2.2 fWAR at shortstop and third. Only the Pirates (0.4), Reds (0.8), Angels (1.0), and Orioles (2.1) got less production from the left side of their infield than the Phils.
Dombrowski’s plan for shortstop appears to be hoping top prospect Bryson Stott wins the job in spring training or hoping that last year’s hideous season by Didi Gregorius (.209/.270/.370 in just 103 games) was a mirage. (By the way, can someone explain why Nick Maton got just six plate appearances over the final three months of the season after posting a 0.5 fWAR in the first half?)
But the Phils may have an actual solution at third base, where Alec Bohm will likely get another chance to play everyday. And that’s why he’s the most important Phillie on the 40-man roster.
The former No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Bohm was expected to be an anchor in the middle of the Phillies lineup last year after hitting .338/.400/.481 with a 137 OPS+ in 44 games in 2020. He finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Along with Rhys Hoskins, Bohm was expected to be one of the few cheap, productive, homegrown players amidst a Phillies lineup filled with expensive veterans.
Unfortunately, Bohm season started horrifically and he finished with -0.2 fWAR (Baseball References’ -1.4 bWAR was much worse) and a slash line of .247/.305/.342. He hit just seven homers in 115 games and was sent to AAA Lehigh Valley on August 22, languishing there until a late September call-up. Not only did he carry a weak stick, but he was a well below average defender, with his -13 Defensive Runs Saved tied with Rafael Devers for the worst in baseball.
If Dombrowski were to seek an upgrade at third base, either by trading for someone like Oakland’s Matt Chapman or Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, and used Bohm as bait in a trade, it would be hard to argue with that strategy. But there’s also reason to hope the 25-year-old can turn it around in 2022 and give the Phils the cheap, young, productive player they so desperately need.
Bohm’s first half was abysmal. After the Phils’ 11-1 loss to the Reds dropped his season slash line to .203/.249/.301, Bohm managed to hit .291 with a .359 on-base percentage from June 1 until he was sent down to the minors. He hit just three home runs in those 58 games, and his slugging numbers never came around. He’s a mostly opposite-field hitter (30.1% Oppo% was 16th among 192 players with at least 500 PAs over the last two years) which is fine if he’s making a ton of contact and hitting over .300, but his poor defense was not off-set by enough power last year.
Bohm hit too many balls on the ground and didn’t elevate anything, a 2.32 GB/FB ratio that was 4th highest in MLB among players with at least 400 PAs. His HR/FB ratio of 11.3% was tied for 126th among 188 players, tied with teammates Odubel Herrera. He was also, according to Fangraphs, the third-worst hitter against fastballs in ‘21, hitting just .177 against them, 12th-worst in MLB among players with at least 50 PAs. In 2020, he hit .244 against fastballs, which isn’t awesome, but wasn’t dreadful, either.
When Bohm does get around on a fastball, or any other pitch, he generally does damage with it. Statcast clocked Bohm’s average exit velocity at 92.0 mph last year, tied for 34th among 404 players with enough at-bats to appear on their list, better than Teoscar Hernandez, Matt Olson, Joey Gallo, Bo Bichette and Freddie Freeman, among others. And yet, his 4.3 barrels per PA% were 257th in MLB, mainly due to a 52.7% ground ball rate, 14th-highest in the league.
Bohm is new hitting coach Kevin Long’s major project this off-season and one would assume the first order of business is to try and exchange some of those hard-hit grounders into hard-hit fly balls that leave the park.
It’s a very big “if,” but if Long can turn Bohm around, the Phillies will have a young, middle-of-the-order bat that will allow them to fill other needs up and down the lineup without also having to invest in a solution at third base, too.
Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler may be more important Phillies, but as we saw last year, even great seasons by superstars need to be supplemented by help elsewhere on the diamond. Bohm provides the biggest upside, and biggest questions, coming into 2022.