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It’s not time to panic about the Phillies yet

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With a few additions, this Phillies team can still compete.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins
Rhys Hoskins, pictured here either celebrating a win or doing his own version of the chicken dance from Arrested Development.
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, many Phillies fans went into a tailspin after a pathetic 11-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. You couldn’t go on Twitter or read The Good Phight’s comment section without seeing calls for Dave Dombrowski to start a second rebuild. Our Supreme Blog Lord, Ethan Witte, wrote a very level-headed piece where he acknowledged that entering another rebuild phase, or at least retooling for 2022, was a legitimate possibility.

However, there was a third option that Ethan wrote about, and it is that one for which I am here to offer a passionate defense: staying the course and waiting for reinforcements.

Yes, the Phillies have holes. And yes, the Phillies have played a lot of stinky baseball up to this point. But the Phillies have also shown the ability to play some really good baseball, and all of their holes are perfectly fillable.

The core

The Phillies have a really strong core. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Zach Eflin are a playoff caliber 1-2-3 punch, and Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, and J.T. Realmuto are a playoff caliber middle of the order. Those top six players can compete with the top six players on any other team in the National League.

The Phillies have a strong collection of secondary players too. Depending on what metrics you look at, Jean Segura, Brad Miller, and Odubel Herrera are all average to above average hitters. Andrew McCutchen has had his ups and downs, but it’s evened out to slightly above average production (104 wRC+) and some of his underlying numbers suggest he should be even better going forward (.350 xwOBA). That means the Phillies have very solid 1 through 7 hitters, and if either Didi Gregorius or Alec Bohm can start to figure things out, the Phillies should have one of the best lineups, top to bottom, in the league.

On the pitching side of things, Spencer Howard looks like he’ll be able to help the Phillies for as long as he is allowed to pitch. Ranger Suarez has performed admirably as a multi-inning relief weapon. Depending on which metric you look at, Hector Neris and Sam Coonrod have been, at worst, good relievers, and at best, elite relievers. Connor Brogdon and José Alvarado have been good enough to help the team too.

The Phillies don’t need any superstars to get to the postseason (although I wouldn’t say no to a Max Scherzer trade). All they really need are some serviceable players to fill out the roster, so that they aren’t giving meaningful innings or plate appearances to below replacement-level players.

The holes

The most impactful addition would be a reliable starting pitcher that the Phillies can pencil into the rotation behind (or in front of) Zach Eflin. This pitcher could take Velasquez’s spot in the rotation for now (maybe Velasquez could piggyback with Spencer Howard), and then Velasquez could rejoin the rotation once Howard reaches his innings limit. This new starting pitcher would also be very important if they Phillies do actually get to the postseason, because as it stands right now, Vince Velasquez could be starting for the Phillies in a playoff game. It’s still a bit too early to really speculate about who the Phillies could acquire to fill their holes, but a Sonny Gray-type is what I’m picturing.

The Phillies could also use another above-average hitter. They don’t have one particular position this new player could fill, but it would be very helpful to have another trustworthy bat on the roster, because the quality of hitters on this team really drops off once you get past the best seven or eight of them. Joe Girardi would have to get creative to find playing time for everyone, but it should be possible. I’m picturing the kind of addition like Corey Dickerson was in 2019... is Joey Gallo a possibility?

Lastly, the Phillies could use a few more reliable relievers. Brandon Kintzler, David Hale, and Chase Anderson are all mop-up guys at this point, and they should not all be in the bullpen at the same time. Ideally, none of them should be there. Just by replacing them with replacement-level pitchers, the Phillies would get better, and hopefully Dombrowski can find some guys who are a little bit better than replacement level. Raisel Iglesias is one intriguing name who might be on the trading block.

Filling the holes

The Phillies’ farm system is not deep, but the prospect cost for the types of players I’ve described won’t be astronomical, especially if the Phillies are willing to take on payroll.

That, of course, is a big if. According to Fangraphs, the Phillies are only $5.25 million under the first luxury tax threshold, and as we all know, the Phillies have been unwilling to surpass that threshold in the past.

However, in February 2020, Andy MacPhail said that Phillies ownership would be willing to spend past the luxury tax in order to reach the playoffs. With Citizen’s Bank Park returning to full capacity on Friday and Dave Dombrowski (known for being able to convince ownership to spend) at the helm, it seems like this summer is the perfect time for the Phillies to finally surpass the luxury tax threshold.

Moreover, if the Phillies don’t make the necessary acquisitions, they’re wasting a prime season of Wheeler, Harper, and Realmuto. Those three are making a combined $70 million this year, and they’ll be making a lot more in future seasons (when they’ll probably be less valuable players). In order to get the most value out of their current core, this is the most logical time for the Phillies to spend a bit more money.

There’s no need for Phillies fans to panic just yet, and there’s certainly no need to call for a rebuild. If Dave Dombrowski can pull off the right moves, the Philadelphia Phillies still have a shot to make this a meaningful season.