It’s the first full offseason as Phillies president of baseball operations for Dave Dombrowski — he joined the team in mid-December last year — and he kicked things off be speaking rather candidly about his club’s needs while addressing reporters at this week’s GM Meetings in California. Notably, Dombrowski indicated that he’s received a budget from owner John Middleton that he does not “find restrictive” (Twitter link via Matt Gelb of The Athletic) and that he’s already begun to map out his offseason priorities.
“If I had to say one thing, I’d probably say I’d like to have somebody that can close a game for us, and count on it,” Dombrowski said while also labeling left field and center field as “complete necessities” (link via NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury). The veteran baseball ops leader has myriad avenues to pursue upgrades at all three of those spots, though he did note a “preference” not to surrender a draft pick when signing a free agent this winter. That’s far from a hard declaration that the Phils will be out on the likes of Raisel Iglesias, Michael Conforto, Nick Castellanos and Chris Taylor, but the fact that all four of those players received a QO has to factor into the calculus when contemplating them as a fit for the Phils.
Speculatively looking to some higher-end free agents who did not receive a qualifying offer, Starling Marte makes a good bit of sense in center field, while the left field market could include Kris Bryant (a close friend of Bryce Harper), Kyle Schwarber, Avisail Garcia, Mark Canha and others. In the bullpen, Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Kendall Graveman are among the top relievers who didn’t receive qualifying offers. This year’s saves leader, Mark Melancon, is also a free agent.
Of course, names like Graveman and, in particular, Melancon are somewhat questionable fits given the Phillies’ woeful infield defense in 2021. Improving the glovework around the infield ought to be a major priority for Dombrowski as well — particularly given the presence of so many ground-ball pitchers in the rotation mix (e.g. Kyle Gibson, Ranger Suarez and even ace Zack Wheeler). The Phillies ranked as one of the worst defensive units in MLB last season, which has been a recurring theme in recent years.
That segues nicely into other potential area of need for the Phillies: shortstop. While it wasn’t specifically highlighted by Dombrowski, Salisbury notes that the Phils are indeed looking for an upgrade at that position. That comes as little surprise after Dombrowski already made clear that veteran Didi Gregorius is not guaranteed the starting job next year — even in spite of the $14.5MM he’s owed in 2022 (the second season of a two-year contract). The Phils could certainly jump into the free-agent market at shortstop, but doing so would impact their ability to fill the top needs listed by their second-year president. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal suggests it may be something they pursue more opportunistically, in the event that a high-end shortstop’s market doesn’t materialize as hoped.
One potential in-house alternative to Gregorius comes in the form of 2019 first-rounder Bryson Stott, whom Dombrowski praised at length during yesterday’s chat with the Phillies beat (link via Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer). Phils fans, in particular, will want to check out the full slate of Dombrowski’s quotes to draw their own conclusions, but he explained that he’s already told Stott to come to Spring Training “with the mindset of trying to win a job” rather than simply being happy to be there. No promises have been made to Stott, but Dombrowski acknowledged that his presence impacts the manner in which the Phils will approach the free-agent market for shortstops.
Stott, who turned 24 shortly after the season ended, soared from Class-A to Triple-A (10 games) in 2021, hitting a combined .299/.390/.486 with 16 home runs, 26 doubles, a pair of triples, 10 steals (in 14 tries), a 22.2% strikeout rate and a 13.3% walk rate across three levels. The No. 14 overall selection in 2019 also played in this year’s Arizona Fall League and turned in a hearty .299/.446/.403 line in 92 plate appearances.
Stott could theoretically move to another spot (e.g. second base, third base) if the Phils add a shortstop or if Gregorius looks resurgent in Spring Training following an offseason elbow surgery. However, the combined presence of Stott, Gregorius, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, veteran second baseman Jean Segura and young third baseman Alec Bohm (who finished third in 2020 Rookie of the Year voting before struggling in 2021) gives the Phils more options in the infield than in the outfield or at the back of the bullpen.
The Phillies currently project to carry a payroll of about $171MM, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez — a lofty number but one that also sits well shy of last year’s approximately $205MM mark. Philadelphia also avoided paying the luxury tax in 2021, which could make crossing the threshold more palatable in 2022. Then again, it’s hard to glean anything about teams’ comfort level with respect to the luxury tax, as the structure of that system will be one of the most critical factors during the ongoing collective bargaining negotiations.