We’re continuing with our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. We’ve already focused on the Mariners, Tigers, White Sox, Marlins, Rangers, Pirates, Angels and Royals. Now we’re focusing on the Phillies, whose ultra-aggressive 2018-19 offseason didn’t yield the type of results they wanted this year. The club has now gone eight straight seasons without a playoff berth, and its mediocrity over the past two years may well cost manager Gabe Kapler his job. Regardless of what happens with Kapler, general manager Matt Klentak obviously has quite a bit of work to do with the club’s roster this winter. Let’s take a look at a few areas he could address…
1. Repair The Rotation
The Phillies’ weak rotation is one of the obvious reasons for the team’s demise this year. Aside from Aaron Nola, the club hasn’t received particularly strong production from any of the starters it has relied on in 2019. Looking ahead, Nola, the disappointing Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin are either locks or solid bets to occupy rotation spots in 2020, while high-end prospect Spencer Howard could stake a claim to one at some point. Jason Vargas is controllable next year by way of a club option worth $8MM, but the Phillies could instead buy the deadline acquisition out for $2MM after his below-average second-half performance. If that happens, and if the Phillies don’t want to rely on the other shaky in-house options who have failed them this season (Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta, to name a couple), they figure to search elsewhere for help.
The Phillies just allocated an enormous amount of money to their position player cast a year ago, including $330MM on outfielder Bryce Harper, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see owner John Middleton authorize major spending on their rotation during the upcoming offseason. Baseball’s premier pending free agent, Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole, looks like a potential target – one who could cost in the $200MM range or more. Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson and old friend Cole Hamels make for several other soon-to-be free agents who’d help the Phillies’ cause.
2. Upgrade The Bullpen
The Phillies have made multiple ill-fated bullpen signings over the past couple offseasons. They’ve gotten little to nothing from Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter during their soon-to-expire two-year guarantees, while the same will wind up applying to David Robertson. The team awarded the normally durable and excellent Robertson $23MM over two years last winter, but he only threw a handful of innings this season before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in August. As a result of that procedure, Robertson probably won’t pitch in 2020.
While the Phillies have struck out on relief acquisitions lately, that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. It’s obvious their relief corps is in need of aid heading into the offseason, especially with Juan Nicasio (who’s third among their relievers in innings) and Nick Vincent (who has performed well since signing in August) due to hit free agency. Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez comprise the team’s only relievers who have been effective over a solid sample of innings this year, and all three figure to be back in 2020. Philadelphia will also hope for healthy bounce-back seasons from Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano and Adam Morgan, who entered this year looking like building blocks but have since endured disappointing, injury-laden campaigns.
That’s not a group devoid of promise, but it’s also loaded with risk. So, expect the team to continue attempting to bolster its bullpen with more established arms in the offseason, when Will Smith, Aroldis Chapman (if he opts out of his Yankees deal), Will Harris, Chris Martin, Dellin Betances and Drew Pomeranz are among those who could hit the open market.
3. Lock Up J.T. Realmuto
Last offseason’s acquisition of Realmuto has been hugely success for Philly, which saw the 28-year-old continue as the game’s foremost catcher in 2019. While Realmuto is sure to remain a Phillie next year, which will be his final season of arbitration eligibility, his future’s murkier thereafter. Both Realmuto and the Phillies have made it known they’d like to continue their relationship for the foreseeable future, though, making him one of baseball’s prime extension candidates going into the winter. Having traded two quality pitching prospects – including the excellent Sixto Sanchez – as well as major league catcher Jorge Alfaro for short-term control over Realmuto last offseason, the Phillies will be all the more motivated to prevent the star backstop from entering next year without a long-term deal in place.