In 2023, they came within one win of returning to the Fall Classic.
The 2024 Phillies, a team that will likely carry a payroll north of $250 million into the season, is already World Series caliber. They have star players in the lineup, younger role players who improved year-to-year, and a starting rotation that remains one of the best and deepest in the league. They feature a bullpen that has its ups and downs (like every other MLB bullpen) but is considered one of the stronger units in baseball.
So it’s not surprising when Dave Dombrowski essentially admits the Phillies aren’t going to go high on the hog this week at the Winter Meetings.
It’s not the splashiest offseason; the Phillies have not spoken to San Diego about a Juan Soto trade, according to multiple major-league sources. They are not bidding in the highest range for Yoshinobu Yamamoto. They are not targeting other top-flight pitchers such as Blake Snell and Josh Hader. They are content to see the biggest pieces come off the board and then add complementary players when prices drop. The onus will be on everyone — players and coaches — returning from a successful team. - Matt Gelb, The Athletic
There’s no doubt the addition of Juan Soto would be a tremendous boon for the lineup. Signing Yamamoto would give the Phils the best rotation in baseball. Trading for Emmanuel Clase would propel the ‘pen to the best in baseball. And just for the record...
#Angels GM Perry Minasian: “Mike Trout is not getting traded. 100 percent.”— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) December 5, 2023
I would wholeheartedly endorse any of those moves, as well as a number of other big-money splash acquisitions Dombrowski could make, but there are other teams in pursuit of these players who need them more and are willing to pay more/give up more in order to acquire them.
Those teams are farther away from a championship than the Phillies are.
Some fans are upset about the idea of the Phils “running it back,” and I understand that sentiment to a point. In each of the last two years, the offense stalled in the postseason at the exact wrong times. Over the final three games of the World Series against Houston and in the final two games of the NLCS, Phillies hitters became a collection of undisciplined hyper-spazzy-free swingers, but if you replayed Games 6 and 7 another 10 times, my guess is the Phillies win one of those games in virtually every scenario.
Success is not linear. Many teams have knocked on the door only to finally kick it down after years of trying. Look at the 1976-80 Phillies. Three straight division titles without a World Series, then a 4th place finish in 1979 before winning it all in 1980. The 2008 Phillies won it all, while the 2009-11 teams, all better on paper than the champs, fell short.
But why not just go trade for/sign these players anyway? Why not give yourself a better chance to win? Why not make the big splash? Again, I would LOVE to trade for Soto or sign Yamamoto, but there are reasons.
Soto will earn more than $30 million this season in arbitration, and a long-term contract would likely give him an AAV of that much over at least a dozen seasons. The Phillies already have huge long-term commitments to Bryce Harper and Trea Turner. Can they afford a third? The Phils also must come to an agreement with Zack Wheeler on an extension this off-season. Signing Yamamoto to a $300 million contract would almost certainly preclude that from happening in the wake of the Aaron Nola contract.
The Phillies are about $20 million under the second luxury tax at the moment. Signing one of those players puts them over that number and about $10 million under the third, a luxury tax tier that comes with steep losses in international bonus pool money, compounding tax problems and draft pick compensation. Even for an owner like John Middleton, there is a limit on what he’s willing to do.
Regardless, running back most of the 2023 Phillies would be fine. It ain’t a bugle waking you up in the morning, but it’s fine. Barring something unforeseen, Bryce Harper will be healthy from the beginning of the year. Trea Turner won’t take four months and a manufactured standing ovation to get warmed up. Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm and Brandon Marsh should continue to progress. The rest of the lineup is young enough to continue chugging, even if Kyle Schwarber’s power surge doesn’t hit until June and Nick Castellanos’ inconsistency drives you crazy. The rotation is good and deep. The bullpen has a bunch of hard throwers with postseason experience.
The Phillies are going to make moves. They’re going to get another outfielder (Tommy Pham? Lourdes Gurriel?), sign a replacement for Craig Kimbrel (Jordan Hicks?) and pick up some bench help. Maybe Johan Rojas takes a leap in ‘24. If the opportunity is there to grab a more impactful player who is lingering on the vine or trade for a player a team simply cannot bring back, Dombrowski and Middleton will be ready to swoop in.
In the meantime, try not to fret about a team that won 90 games last season and nearly returned to their second straight World Series running it back. Continuity is not a bad thing.
We can hope for a big swing from the Phillies, but sometimes championships are won around the edges.