The Phillies remained in playoff contention until the final week of the season but ultimately came up short, missing the postseason for the tenth consecutive year. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski conducted his end-of-season press conference this afternoon (video provided by 97.3 FM ESPN) and offered some insight into the front office’s plans for returning to contention next year.
Dombrowski suggested the team was prioritizing lineup help, pointing to their need to complement Bryce Harper in the middle of the order and for more production from the leadoff spot. (Phillies leadoff hitters had a .236/.302/.404 cumulative slash line that ranked third-worst in the league by measure of wRC+). One potential position at which the Phils could look to upgrade is shortstop, where incumbent Didi Gregorius struggled to a .209/.270/.370 line over 408 plate appearances.
When asked whether Gregorius would return as the club’s top shortstop option, Dombrowski was noncommittal. “It very well could be him. But he knows, we’ve had a discussion with him that he needs to be better. And we’re in a position where we also are going to be open-minded to what’s going to take place at shortstop next year. It could be internal, could be him if he comes back. …. Maybe it is him. He’ll come in (next season) in shape, but he’s not guaranteed — and he’s been told — that he’s for sure the shortstop. It doesn’t mean he can’t play other positions for us too, and maybe we’ll have a DH that’ll be a part of our club too.”
Gregorius is guaranteed $14.5MM next season under the terms of last winter’s two-year free agent deal. In addition to his offensive struggles, Gregorius rated as eleven runs below average by measure of Defensive Runs Saved. Dombrowski alluded to the 31-year-old’s issues with the glove, a microcosm of a team-wide issue for the Phils throughout the past few seasons.
Bryson Stott, the Phillies first-round pick out of UNLV in 2019, has spent the bulk of his minor league career at shortstop. The 24-year-old hit a solid .301/.368/.481 with ten home runs over 351 plate appearances at Double-A Reading, earning a late-season bump to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Dombrowski said Stott could factor into the shortstop mix next season, but it’s also easy to connect the Phils to the star-studded upcoming free agent class at the position.
Dombrowski suggested the Phillies didn’t feel adding a star player was inherently necessary, pointing to Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola as among the club’s impact players. That’s indeed an enviable core, but this offseason presents a unique opportunity to land a potential marquee shortstop. The Phillies have made big free agent splashes in each of the past three winters — signing Harper, Wheeler and Realmuto in succession. Those players have hefty contracts on the books through at least 2024, but the Philadelphia organization has long been one of the game’s biggest spenders.
In the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, the Phillies already have north of $142MM in both actual payroll and luxury tax commitments on the books for next season. That’s before accounting for arbitration raises for Hoskins and Zach Eflin that’ll likely tack on another $12-15MM. The Phils entered the 2021 campaign with an estimated payroll just north of $191MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts, although they did take on some additional salary midseason by acquiring Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy at the trade deadline.
It’s possible the Phils could invest heavily at the top of the shortstop market, although that’d leave them without much more breathing room to address other potential areas of need like center field, third base and the bullpen before approaching this year’s spending level. That’d be less of a concern were owner John Middleton is willing to sign off on further spending, though, and Dombrowski suggested Middleton had expressed openness to exceeding the luxury tax threshold this past trade deadline to accommodate a potential impact addition. Ultimately, the Phils did not surpass the CBT threshold, and next year’s tax threshold remains unknown, subject to the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations.
It remains to be seen in which specific direction the Phils will go, but Dombrowski’s long been known as one of the league’s most aggressive executives. There was never any expectation the club would have any interest in taking a step back, but Dombrowski’s presser only served to confirm the Phillies are again looking to address weak points on the roster and build around their high-end core.