It’s been a quiet offseason in Philadelphia to this point — well, as quiet as is possible for a team that doled out a $172MM contract. The Phils struck early and decisively to keep longtime rotation anchor Aaron Nola on a new seven-year deal worth that sum, but it’s been largely silent since that time. Philadelphia made an offer to Yoshinobu Yamamoto before he signed with the Dodgers, and the team is also said to have interest in extending Zack Wheeler before he reaches free agency next winter.
Other than that, there’s been borderline silence out of Philadelphia. Even in terms of minor league free agency, the Phils have added hard-throwing righty Jose Ruiz and… that’s it. There’s obviously a good bit of offseason left to unfold, but for a team coming off consecutive NLCS berths and with clear World Series aspirations, it’s been a bit surprising. Their only signings beyond Nola and Ruiz have been low-cost deals to avoid arbitration with backup outfielder/first baseman Jake Cave ($1MM), swingman Dylan Covey ($850K) and backup catcher Garrett Stubbs ($850K).
That said, it’s clear that the Phillies aren’t yet finished with their offseason dealings. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said as much last week, telling Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer that his team is “not just satisfied” and is still working to improve. Where could the Phillies search for upgrades in an unusually quiet offseason by their standards? Let’s take a look:
The Phils have a need in the ’pen after seeing Craig Kimbrel depart and piecing together much of the relief corps via minor league free agency a year ago. Dombrowski’s low-cost pickup of Jeff Hoffman proved to be a masterstroke, but bullpen-mate Andrew Bellatti’s dismal 2023 campaign illustrates the perils of simply assuming that a breakout performance from a minor league free-agent pickup in the ’pen will carry over to the following season. Hoffman was genuinely dominant for the Phils, but his track record is limited.
Rob Thomson’s bullpen figures to be anchored by Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, Hoffman, Matt Strahm and Gregory Soto. Bellatti is still on hand, and the aforementioned Covey can provide long relief and serve as a spot starter. Dombrowski spoke highly of rookie Orion Kerkering when chatting with Lauber and even noted that he’s turned down trade offers for the promising 22-year-old.
The Inquirer’s Alex Coffey reported in December that making some kind of bullpen addition is in the Phillies’ plans. Jayson Stark of The Athletic suggested not long before that report that the Phils aren’t likely to pursue a pure closer, so don’t expect a Josh Hader splash at Citizens Bank Park. If the Phils are comfortable making a long-term move, they could look to righties Jordan Hicks or Robert Stephenson. But Dombrowski has erred toward short-term additions in recent offseasons, signing Matt Strahm (two years, $15MM), Kimbrel (one year, $10MM) and Corey Knebel (one year, $10MM). If he follows a similar path, names like Aroldis Chapman, Ryne Stanek and old friends Hector Neris and Michael Fulmer could be in play.
Stark wrote back in November that the Phillies were planning to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder to their corner outfield mix. That new addition could serve as a platoonmate for Brandon Marsh in left field or perhaps handle left field on a full-time basis if Marsh were to slide into a timeshare with Johan Rojas in center field. A handful of notable names have come off the board, including Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Hunter Renfroe and most recently Teoscar Hernandez. However, the Phils never seemed likely to play at the Gurriel/Hernandez level anyhow, given the presence of Marsh, Rojas, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber.
There’s no shortage of free agents who could fill a part-time corner role. Candidates for that type of job include Enrique Hernandez, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk and switch-hitters Aaron Hicks, and Robbie Grossman. If the Phils are content to push Marsh and Rojas into a platoon to open the season, they could look to Adam Duvall or versatile Whit Merrifield to hold down a more regular role in left.
The bench, in general
A more speculative need here, but the Philadelphia bench doesn’t look like that of a repeat NLCS club with World Series aspirations. Stubbs hit .204/.274/.283 in 125 plate appearances last year — the polar opposite of a .264/.350/.462 slash he posted in a near-identical sample the preceding season. Cave hit just .212/.272/.348. Both have already been signed to the cheap 2024 deals I referenced earlier, but Stubbs has an option remaining and Cave would surely clear waivers and could be stashed in Triple-A as depth, should the Phils make a more substantial addition.
Pache and Edmundo Sosa represent a pair of strong defensive options for the outfield and infield, respectively, but neither has much of a bat (Pache’s solid 2023 showing in a tiny sample of 95 plate appearances notwithstanding). There’s some versatility here, with Pache being a plus defender at any outfield slot and Sosa capable at any of shortstop, second base and third base. But this is a weak group in terms of offensive potential, and a long-term injury to a regular would further expose that reality.
One possible scenario that could alter this mix would be to sign a full-time third baseman and push Alec Bohm into a reserve role. While the 27-year-old former No. 3 overall pick popped 20 home runs and finished third on the club with 97 runs plated, there’s some reason to be skeptical of his ability to continue that level of run production. Bohm has excellent bat-to-ball skills and roughly average power, but the overwhelming bulk of his damage was done against lefties. He torched southpaws at a .303/.335/.594 clip (142 wRC+) but was effectively a singles hitter against righties (.263/.324/.377, 92 wRC+). His career splits paint a similar picture: .314/.362/.530 against lefties but .262/.311/.358 against righties.
If Bohm were a plus or even average defender, that offensive profile would carry him just fine. However, Bohm has been dinged for -46 Defensive Runs Saved and -11 Outs Above Average at third base in his career. He might be a better fit at first base, but that belongs to Bryce Harper now.
Bohm clearly has a big league-caliber bat, but it’s easy to argue that he’s best deployed in a more limited role, given the shaky glove and punchless output against right-handed opposition. He’s only in his first year of arbitration and projected to earn $4.4MM (hat tip to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), so he’s plenty affordable in that role. But as he inches through arbitration, the price could begin to outpace his value if he racks up counting stats in an everyday role and doesn’t make substantive gains against right-handed pitching.
The Bohm scenario, to reiterate, is speculative in nature and not something to which Dombrowski has publicly alluded. But the third base market has names like Justin Turner, Matt Chapman and Gio Urshela in free agency, while there are several teams (Reds, Twins, Cardinals, Orioles) who have some infield surpluses that could present trade possibilities. There’s no glaring hole in the lineup here — as one might expect from a back-to-back LCS participant — but a more specialized role for Bohm could improve the roster in multiple ways. Alternatively, the Phils could add a third baseman and see if Bohm could fill that right-handed-hitting void in left field. The defense might not be pretty, but that’s already true as it is at third base.
One current hangup, at least as pertains to Dombrowski’s quest to add more rotation depth, is that free agents look at the Phillies’ roster and don’t see an opportunity for a guaranteed rotation spot with Nola, Wheeler, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sanchez all locked in. Dombrowski noted to Lauber that he’s hopeful of eventually adding some veteran arms who’ll be willing to start the year in Triple-A and serve as rotation depth, but most pitchers of that ilk are still hoping for concrete spots with other teams who have more acute rotation needs.
The Phillies could very arguably benefit from signing an established veteran to a short-term (possibly one-year) pact and plugging him into the fifth spot in the rotation. However, Sanchez is out of minor league options, so he can’t simply be sent down to the minors. And, after he impressed with a 3.44 ERA, 24.2% strikeout rate and pristine 4% walk rate in 99 1/3 innings last year, he’s certainly earned a look. Dombrowski said as much earlier in the winter, noting in an appearance on MLB Network that if the club succeeded in re-signing Nola, the rotation would be “set” — largely because of a desire to take a full-season look at Sanchez after that impressive 2023 showing. That didn’t stop the Phillies from making an offer to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but he was viewed as something of an exception, given his age and upside.
The free-agent market should feature several recognizable names who’ll end up signing non-guaranteed deals. Predicting exactly who’ll be squeezed out of a big league deal requires some degree of guesswork, but rebound candidates like Johnny Cueto, Zach Davies, Jake Odorizzi, Brad Keller and Yonny Chirinos come to mind as plausible possibilities.