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Now what?

It was a great run, but now it is over. What is the team supposed to do now?

MLB: World Series-Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The run to the World Series was magical. The comeback against St. Louis, the entire stadium frightening the Braves roster, the home run that went 488 feet in San Diego and the Harper Homer, all of them moments fans will never forget as time moves on. It did not end the way that anyone wanted it to end, but still, looking back on the 2022 season, there shouldn’t be anything but excitement at what they did to get to that point as well as for what’s to come.

But that now shifts us all into another, completely different gear. The question has to be asked:

Now what do they do?

Assigning blame for the World Series failures

It is sort of a sad thing that in order to get the general mood of the fanbase, one has to somehow take the temperature of those on social media. Like it or not, Twitter is a tool for instantly getting one’s reactions to the moment at hand. Usually, the gut reaction of a person is the one he/she sticks with in arguments, but it can also lead to heat of the moment insanity. Who among us hasn’t tweeted, posted, etc. something that, had we had a little time to cool down, we wish we hadn’t said.

When game six was winding down, the focus of the fans shifted from “are they going to be able to come back?” to “who can I blame for the team losing?” It’s a dangerous thing to assign blame to any one individual, but that is what fans do. In any kind of a loss, there needs to be a scapegoat, right or wrong, for people to get angry at. There seemed to be a general consensus around three people on the Phillies in particular that people were narrowing their gaze on:

  • Rob Thomson, for making the decision to pull Zack Wheeler, still effective at the time, from the game at only 70 pitches thrown in favor of Jose Alvarado to face Yordan Alvarez
  • Rhys Hoskins, not just for fieldling blunders, but for also seeing his bat, so famous in the city for its massive swings between hot and cold streaks, enter one of his seemingly patented “1 for 20 with 12 strikeouts” stretches that frustrates people ever so.
  • Nick Castellanos, for simply not producing how the people had envisioned it when he signed here in late March and for ending the final game of the series in much the same way he played the latter half of the season: chasing a pitch out of the strikezone only to feebly make an out.

While Thomson’s decision at least has some merit to why he did it, most people are putting together some kind of trade package that would move one or both of Hoskins and Castellanos in the hopes of making the team better in 2023.

The problem with assigning blame to any one person for the loss in the World Series ignores several factors. First, it was an entire offensive outage that was the main issue with the Phillies losing, not just one or two players. Nine hits in three games ain’t gonna get it done. I understand the need to have someone to blame for not getting the trophy back to Philadelphia, but there isn’t really anyone on the team that can escape some kind of responsibility for the losses. There were some solid performances individual spots, but in longer series, the teams with the most depth is usually going to win out.

Second, we can (and probably will) debate the merits of moving on from Hoskins and/or Castellanos, but to see both of them go is probably one of the longer shots that could happen this offseason. It’s just not going to happen. Had there been some kind of gifted offensive dynamo from the minor leagues ready to burst on the scene for the Phillies in 2023, the fact is that the team is still mostly in the “buy the bats” phase of their roster construction. The top prospects, at least the ones closest to the majors, are pitchers. No one is close to threatening for playing time on the offensive side of the roster. Moving on from both of these guys is just not going to happen.

Assigning blame to someone for the World Series loss might be a temporary salve for some fans. It will help them cope with the perceived failures in a way that gets them through, but it’s not really constructive. It was a team loss to a better team, plain and simple.

Addressing the impending offseason moves

That all being said, the way the World Series played out, it probably behooves the team to shake things up a bit with the offense. It wouldn’t be smart business base one’s plan for roster construction in 2023 on one six game series in 2022, but there were some flaws in the lineup that need to be addressed.

“Boom or bust” was the motto we’ve gotten accustomed to seeing with this team all year long. Hitting home runs was promised us with the signings of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, and, well, at least one of them delivered on his potential. The rest of the lineup did more or less exactly what we pegged them to do.

  • Bryce Harper was going to do Bryce Harper things (power, patience, the most feared hitter in the lineup)
  • J.T. Realmuto, though a slow starter, was going to have his typical year where he showed why he’s the best catcher still in the game
  • Rhys Hoskins would be scorching hot and ice cold
  • Jean Segura would be the line drive machine that the team could point to as their “batting average guy”

Sure there were questions about Alec Bohm and whoever else was in center field, but we kind of knew what we were getting. As the playoffs went deeper and deeper, there were many people talking about how maybe Dave Dombrowski had built the offense best suited for deep runs in October - the ability to work the count for walks and the ability to hit for power. Nowhere did that feel more evident than in their dismantling of the Braves and Padres where the lineup felt deep in each game, someone else ready to step into the role of hero for that day.

Then they faced the Astros.

“Good pitching beats good hitting” is the typical mantra of the day and that was on full display during the World Series. After the team tore into Lance McCullers, no one really was able to get anything going for the offense. When they needed someone to get a hit, or something as simple as making contact, the flaws in the lineup reared their ugly head. They simply could not do it because they aren’t built to do that. They’re built to hit the baseball a really long way, sacrificing some contact in order to do so.

Now, with the offseason here, one can ask the fair question: should they continue with this approach? It’s going to have to be looked at in a very serious manner. They’re probably going to run it back with most of their lineup, but there are some places where they can upgrade. Do they bring back Jean Segura and roll with him and Bryson Stott up the middle? Is Hoskins and his anticipated $12 million salary on the chopping block, that money and roster spot better able to be utilized in a different way? These are going to be the hardest questions the team needs to answer this offseason.

What do you do about the kids?

The starting rotation is the strength of this team. Being led by two worthy Cy Young candidates is a great place to start a pitching staff, but as we all saw in the postseason, there needs to be more. The issue is, who is there to grab on the free agent market?

Dombrowski has been pretty consistent with his idea of “star hunting” when it comes to free agents. If he is going to spend money, it’s going to be at the top of the market. He can add depth around the edges for a few bucks here and there, but he usually sets his sights on the very top of the market if he can. Were he to do with starting pitching, that list would really only include two names - Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodon. No doubt both would be impactful for the Phillies, but if you look at what Dombrowski has positioned the team to do, he may not be going after either of them. He might be looking within.

At the end of the season, Mick Abel, Griff McGarry and Andrew Painter were all given significant innings at high levels for their age (McGarry in AAA, Abel and Painter in AA). Those kinds of aggressive promotions signaled that the team absolutely has them in their plans for 2023. How they go about doing so is still to be determined, but if the team has plans for them to make the starting rotation as early as April, it may allow them to allocate more money towards other holes. Would the team be better off signing Trea Turner or Xander Bogaerts or Carlos Correa and riding with one or two of the kids in the rotation? That seems to be the big question that will have a domino effect on the rest of the offseason planning. Without knowing what kind of limitations on spending John Middleton has imposed, we simply don’t know. Should the front office believe the kids are ready, not just for the majors, but for large workloads in the majors, that might free up money for the team to pursue top end offensive bats for the lineup.

Could they still sign one of the big pitchers in free agency and still use the kids? Absolutely. In fact, it might even be the proper way to move forward so as not to put them under any unnecessary set of expectations moving forward. Still, what they plan on doing with that trio of prospects is probably going to be very informative about how they plan on addressing the free agent market at large.

It was a great run, a successful run no matter how you look at it. But now the bar has been set. Yes they dodged two of the best teams in the National League, but they have also shown that they can get to the World Series with the roster that they have. Improvements can be made, that we know. It will be interesting to see how those improvements are made. I know I’m ready.