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Mock Off-Season 1.0: Remain a Title Contender

The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off their second straight top-four appearance. The goal is to put themselves in position again to compete for a championship.

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MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

For the second season in a row, the Philadelphia Phillies were one of the last four teams remaining in October. Maybe that’s a poor spin after a disappointing final two games at home but the big-picture success was there.

As Dave Dombrowski heads into his fourth off-season as Phillies President of Baseball Operations, it might be the toughest yet.

There isn’t an objective decision to take the team to a new level, or no replacing Jean Segura with Trea Turner type of move. This off-season is more about keeping the team in contender status than trying to reach new lengths.

This will not only be my mock for the Phillies off-season but a guide into what the challenges are for the club this time around.

Financial Flexibility

The Phillies have signed Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Trea Turner, and Taijuan Walker for a combined 551 million dollars over the past two off-seasons but it’s starting to catch up.

According to Cots Contracts, the Phillies’ 40-man roster payroll is at 229.8 million dollars (including arbitration players), with a little over seven million left until they cross the first Competitive Balance Tax (CBT) Threshold.

That won’t be the one we need to focus on or even the second one at $257 million. It’s the third threshold at $277 million that gets tricky.

If the Phillies pass that threshold, their first-round pick will be moved back ten spots in the draft, and given their past, it’s safe to say they don’t want to cross that threshold unless there’s a very good reason to.

They’ve been reluctant to give up draft picks in the past. They passed on pitchers like Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi for Taijuan Walker last off-season to avoid giving away more draft picks after signing Trea Turner.

So, I’ll play it safe and say they have about 47 million dollars to play with this off-season.

Bryce Harper’s Future

Dave Dombrowski said, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Harper’s defensive future and it will be Harper’s call on where he will play.

You, I, or even the Phillies have no idea what Harper is going to pick so it’s best to just go off what works best for this specific mock.

Arbitration/Scott Kingery’s Buyout

According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Phillies have eight different players who will be arbitration-eligible this off-season. Using MLBTR’s projected salaries in arbitration, here are the following players I would bring back for 2024:

  • Jeff Hoffman: $2.1 million
  • Ranger Suárez: $4.7 million
  • Gregory Soto: $4.9 million
  • Edmundo Sosa: $1.7 million
  • Alec Bohm $4.9 million
  • Garrett Stubbs $900k

The Phillies could settle for different amounts with everyone before arbitration but the differences are probably small and there’s no point in arguing over it.

This leaves Jake Cave and Dylan Covey as my non-tenders. Cave showed some flashes in August but a .620 OPS overall just doesn’t cut it.

Dylan Covey would probably take the league minimum but he carries no minor-league options and the team already has Nick Nelson as a capable long-man.

There are obvious reasons to keep players like Bohm, Soto, Suárez, and Hoffman so I’ll just argue about Sosa and Stubbs.

Edmundo Sosa was quietly a valuable contributor in the back half of the season, putting up a .831 OPS over the final three months of the season. The bench is already a weak point for them so going into the off-season with another hole to fill seems unproductive.

He doesn’t have minor-league options so there’s a chance the Phillies offer him less to save a little cash but nothing significant.

Garrett Stubbs is a non-tender candidate for them but it would be nice to keep the guy around. He brought impactful energy to the clubhouse and knows how to party, all I need out of a backup catcher.

What’s left now is Scott Kingery’s team option. Back in March of 2018, the Phillies and Kingery agreed to a six-year contract extension with three club options. The first of which is this off-season for $13 million with a one million dollar buyout.

The Phillies declined his option on Friday.

So, after all of that, the Phillies are sitting with about $48 million before the third threshold.

Qualifying Offers (QO)

The Qualifying Offer is a way for teams to recoup draft picks in case a player leaves in free agency. It’s also sort of like the franchise tag in the NFL, where the player can sign it and take a one-year contract.

Teams can only offer the QO before free agency officially begins, which is five days after the World Series has ended. The player then has ten days to decide whether he will accept or decline the QO.

The Phillies’ situation with the QO gets weird. If they sign a QO player in free agency, they will have to sacrifice their second and fifth-round picks along with one million dollars in their international bonus pool.

If Aaron Nola signs somewhere else, the Phillies only receive a fourth-round pick because they went over the CBT last season.

This year’s QO is set at $20.325 million, it only changes our budget if they accept the offer.

The Phillies will have four key players hitting free agency with Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Craig Kimbrel, and Michael Lorenzen, on top of who’s been non-tendered.

Kimbrel has received the QO already in his career so it cannot be offered again and Lorenzen was acquired mid-season so he cannot receive one.

The two that are left are Nola and Hoskins. Nola will be a no-brainer as it won’t change anything for his free agency anyway. He’s going to decline it and make a lot more money.

The interesting situation is with Hoskins, $20 million for one season of Hoskins is a good contract, and maybe one is worth going over the $277 million budget. Hoskins tore his ACL last season in Spring Training so he’s probably shopping in the one-year market anyway, there’s a very good chance he accepts it.

The Phillies could go over the threshold if they want to but for the sake of this mock off-season, I will not. The priority needs to be for Nola to return or to add some type of front-line starter. Hoskins at 20 million makes this much harder.

So, Hoskins will not be offered the QO and all of our free agents will hit the open market.

Free Agency/Trades

Aaron Nola: 7 years $203 Million (29 AAV)

Giving a pitcher who’s going to turn 31 next June a seven-year contract is borderline insanity but if there is someone to give it to, it’s Nola.

Since 2018, Nola has been the model of durability with three different 200+ inning seasons and two more that cross 180. The only year he didn’t was when the season was cut to 60 games.

The Phillies have also been very open to giving a player more years to lower their average annual value (AAV). Bryce Harper signed for 13 years and Trea Turner signed for 11. Turner might be more important here given that he will be a Phillie until he’s 41.

According to Bob Nightengale on October 15, Nola was looking for a contract extension for eight years and over 200 million during spring training while the Phillies were looking in the four to five-year range.

This contract certainly isn’t right in the middle between these figures but there’s going to be plenty of suitors for Nola this off-season that drive up his market. This is probably where you have to go if you want to keep him in red pinstripes going forward.

Nola put up one of the worst seasons of his career but still pitched over 190 innings and showed up for them when it mattered.

In his four postseason starts this year, he pitched to a 2.35 ERA, including shutouts against the Marlins and Diamondbacks at home.

Sure, his game-six start wasn’t great but the Phillies only scored one run, and plenty of frontline starters have had bad starts this postseason.

Here are some of the following:

  • Tyler Glasnow: five innings, three earned runs, eight strikeouts, five walks vs Texas
  • Corbin Burnes: four innings, four earned runs, five strikeouts, two walks vs Arizona
  • Framber Valdez: 9.00 ERA in three postseason starts
  • Nathan Eovaldi: 4.2 innings, five earned runs vs Arizona
  • Jordan Montgomery: four innings, four earned runs vs Baltimore

Seven years at 203 million fits both Nola’s demands and the Phillies’ needs in lowering his AAV for CBT purposes.

The options for replacing Nola aren’t great. Pitchers like Blake Snell and Sonny Gray will likely receive QOs and aren’t the same caliber of pitchers as Nola.

Snell is also not nearly as durable as Nola, with only 180 innings pitched twice in his career. He also has serious command problems with five batters walked per nine innings this past season.

Jordan Montgomery has been a good starter for his career but didn’t break out into a game-changer until this past season. He will also have a huge market since he is not eligible for the QO.

The Phillies could look at potential trades for the likes of Corbin Burnes and Tyler Glasnow but that would cost some of their top prospects like Mick Abel and Justin Crawford and the farm system is already shallow enough.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto could be the replacement but he will also command top starting pitcher money without the proven success Nola has in North America.

This seems like a no-brainer.

Trade: Griff McGarry + Gabriel Rincones Jr to Baltimore for Anthony Santander

This move would lock in Bryce Harper at first base for the following season and would sure up the outfield with Brandon Marsh moving back to center field.

Santander was an impact bat for the Baltimore Orioles last season, giving them 28 home runs and a 119 wRC+. He has one year left of team control before hitting free agency and MLBTR projects him to make $12.7 million in arbitration.

He would give the Phillies another middle-of-the-lineup option and one that should be an upgrade over both Alec Bohm and Nick Castellanos. He would fill the right-handed need as a switch hitter with even splits against both righties and lefties.

He also crushes four-seam fastballs with a slugging percentage over .550 in 2023.

The Orioles have two top prospect outfielders in Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, two different top-five picks in back-to-back drafts. Both made their debuts in the show this past season and will probably command more playing time in 2024.

MLB Pipeline ranked the Orioles as the best farm system in all of baseball but if there’s one thing they lack, it’s pitching.

Griff McGarry would give them a high-upside swing with his overpowering stuff and most likely as a reliever. Matt Gelb said in his off-season article that McGarry “will incorporate major mechanical changes” so he can throw more strikes. He walked over seven batters per nine innings this past year across three minor league levels.

The Orioles could use his upside as a future late-inning reliever with Félix Bautista undergoing Tommy John surgery and set to miss all of next season.

Rincones would give them another outfield bat in the minor leagues with potential. His exit velocity numbers indicate real potential in him possibly becoming a future major leaguer.

This trade is sort of trying to emulate when Teoscar Hernández was traded to the Mariners last off-season. Hernández had more success at the time so I tried to somewhat equate the value.

If McGarry is likely going to project as a reliever, the Phillies already possess multiple high-upside arms. Orion Kerkering pitched big postseason innings for them last year and will likely do the same again along with arms in the minors like Andrew Baker and McKinley Moore who have a ton of upside.

The one downside could be Santander needing to re-learn left field. His defensive metrics are significantly worse over there compared to right and it’s probably worth asking Nick Castellanos to re-learn it instead. It’s sort of a mess but worth it for the offensive impact.

This move also likely sends Johan Rojas to the minors since he has all of his minor league options remaining. Rojas showed the star talent defensively but struggled at the plate.

He needed a BABIP over .400 to carry league average numbers and that didn’t carry over into the postseason, batting just .093 with a .163 slugging.

Trade: Ethan Wilson to Pittsburgh for Colin Selby

Dombrowski has not been shy about making moves for high-upside relievers with minor league options. In year one he traded for Sam Coonrod, Nick Nelson in year two, and Yunior Marté in year three.

Colin Selby pitched to a 9.00 ERA in 24 innings for the Pirates and struggled to generate chase but possesses a sinker that averages close to 97 mph.

He also throws a slider that generated a whiff rate of over 41% and a curveball that could be good against lefties.

Selby carries two more minor-league options and has plus stuff from the right side. The Phillies have always looked for ways to acquire bullpen depth and that’s probably not going to stop now.

Trade: Connor Brogdon to the Red Sox for Bobby Dalbec

The Phillies bench needs some work after players like Jake Cave, Darick Hall, Rodolfo Castro, and Josh Harrison gave them little value on the margins.

Dalbec put up the fifth-highest OPS among qualified hitters in the International League. He specifically had a 1.074 OPS against left-handed pitching.

He’s always had raw power that’s needed to be unlocked and maybe that’s here with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long. Long has had success with players like Edmundo Sosa and Cristian Pache this past season.

They wouldn’t get a lot of defensive versatility with Dalbec but they would hopefully figure out a way to unlock his power at the major league level.

Brogdon put together some solid seasons with the Phillies but has fallen out of favor with several other options. The Phillies would still carry plenty of depth with arms like Andrew Bellatti, Marté, McKinley Moore, Luis Ortiz, and the newly acquired Selby.

Both players have one minor league option remaining and fill a hole both teams need.

Minor League Signing: Andrew Stevenson

With the Phillies’ lack of major league quality depth, there is probably an incentive for minor league standouts to sign minor league contracts in hopes of cracking a spot on a title contender.

Andrew Stevenson put together a very good AAA season with a .916 OPS for the St. Paul Saints. He also adds plus speed to the bench and good defense at all three corner outfield positions.

Depth Chart

After about 2300 words, here is my projected roster for the 2023 season:

Starting Pitchers: Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, Cristopher Sánchez

Bullpen: José Alvarado, Seranthony Domínguez, Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm, Orion Kerkering, Yunior Marté/Andrew Bellatti/McKinley Moore/Luis Ortiz/Colin Selby, Nick Nelson

Infielders: Bryce Harper, Bryson Stott, Trea Turner, Alec Bohm, Edmundo Sosa, Bobby Dalbec

Outfielders: Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Santander, Nick Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, Cristian Pache/Andrew Stevenson

Catchers: JT Realmuto, Garrett Stubbs

Why did I not acquire a back-end reliever?

The Phillies had a great bullpen all season and it got even better in the playoffs (besides Kimbrel). They had the lowest ERA out of any bullpen that made it to at least the NLDS.

The Phillies have also spent plenty of resources over the years to make the bullpen elite. Alvarado, Strahm, and Soto will make over $20 million from the left side and there are arms like Hoffman and Domínguez from the right.

Soto and Domínguez specifically should be good for much better seasons in 2024. Soto’s ERA was much higher than stats like his FIP and he possesses elite back-end stuff from the left side.

Domínguez struggled to find his slider for most of the year and will have all off-season to figure out the mechanical adjustments he needs to make.

Orion Kerkering will also get to show off his sweeper for a full season. He was probably a little tired down the stretch after his first-ever professional season. He’s just too good not to pencil in for a spot in the bullpen.

There’s enough established arms, upside, and depth for them to be great next year. If there’s one area they don’t need to touch, it’s the bullpen.