Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

The Phillies held 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the NLCS, but dropped Games 6 and 7 at home to fall short of another World Series appearance.  There is no doubt the Phils will reload for another championship run in 2024, yet they’ll have to address the possible departure of two long-time franchise staples.

Guaranteed Contracts

Trea Turner, SS: $272.73M through 2033

Bryce Harper, 1B/OF: $196M through 2031

Nick Castellanos, OF: $60M through 2026

Taijuan Walker, SP: $54M through 2026

J.T. Realmuto, C: $47.75M through 2025

Kyle Schwarber, OF: $40M through 2025

Zack Wheeler, SP: $23.5M through 2024

Jose Alvarado, RP: $18.5M through 2025 (includes $500K buyout of $9M club option for 2026)

Matt Strahm, RP: $7.5M through 2024

Seranthony Dominguez, RP: $4.75M through 2024 (includes $500K buyout of $8M club option for 2025)

Total 2024 commitments: $179.9M
Total long-term commitments: $724.73M

Option Decisions

Scott Kingery, IF/OF: $13M club option for 2024 ($1M buyout; Phillies also hold $29M worth of club options on Kingery for the 2025-26 seasons)

Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2024 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

Only four of the 40 players drafted by the Phillies in the 2014 draft ended up reaching the majors, with Austin Davis making 136 appearances (50 for Philadelphia) and Brandon Leibrandt pitching in five games with the Marlins in 2020.  Fortunately for the Phils, their other two selections paid bigger dividends, as seventh overall pick Aaron Nola debuted barely a year after his draft date and became a front-of-the-rotation cornerstone.  Rhys Hoskins didn’t reach the Show until 2017, but he finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in his debut season and provided six seasons of solid (126 wRC+) offense as the team’s regular first baseman, after an ill-advised experiment as a left fielder early in his career.

Both players are now set to hit the open market, and for Hoskins, he didn’t even get to properly enjoy what might be a final year in the City of Brotherly Love.  A torn left ACL during spring training cost Hoskins his entire season, and his subsequent efforts to possibly make it back for some DH duty during the World Series were cut short when the Phillies were ousted by the Diamondbacks in the NLCS.

One of Dave Dombrowski’s first major moves after being hired as president of baseball operations in late 2020 was to re-sign J.T. Realmuto in free agency during the 2020-21 offseason.  So, Dombrowski and the Philadelphia organization in general aren’t afraid to bring back their own guys, even at a high price tag driven by the open market.  Re-signing Realmuto cost five years and $115.5M, and it looks like it’ll take way more to bring Nola back into the fold, as reports have suggested that the two sides were far apart in previous extension talks.  The Phillies were reportedly looking to retain Nola for four or five more seasons, but the right-hander and his camp was aiming for an eight-year pact worth more than $200M.

Nola is going to be one of the top pitchers available this winter, and even with the price of pitching always high on the free agent market, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to approach the $200M threshold.  Nola doesn’t turn 31 until June and he has a long track record of durability, plus 2022 was arguably the best season of his career.  However, Nola was more good than great in 2023, as an inflated home run rate led to a 4.46 ERA over 193 2/3 innings, and his 25.5% strikeout rate was his lowest since 2016.

The Phillies will make re-signing Nola “our priority,” according to Dombrowski, so a reunion might well be coming.  Or, if the club has doubts about Nola’s production beyond his mid-30’s, the team might feel its free agent dollars are best spent elsewhere.  The question then becomes whether or not Philadelphia might make another rotation splash, especially with some other long-term questions surrounding Zack Wheeler’s future.

The 2024 rotation currently lines up as Wheeler, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Wallker, Cristopher Sanchez, and potentially Matt Strahm as the fifth starter.  Strahm looked quite good as a fill-in starter early in the season before being moved back to the bullpen and continuing to excel in relief work.  Philadelphia could explore stretching out Strahm in Spring Training to give him a fuller look as a starting pitcher and let him compete for any possible open rotation job.  Top prospect Mick Abel figures to make his MLB debut sometime in 2024, and another top minor leaguer in Andrew Painter is likely out of next season’s plans entirely since he underwent Tommy John surgery last July.

It is perhaps worth mentioning the hard feelings that seem to have emerged with Walker and club management, as the right-hander has shown some public displeasure on social media over not being used during the playoffs. This doesn’t necessarily suggest that Walker will be traded or anything, and a deal might be hard to find anyway.  Walker had a modest 4.38 ERA and some very lackluster secondary numbers over 172 2/3 innings in 2023, and he still has $54M remaining on a contract signed just last winter.  Cooler heads might very well prevail over the course of the offseason, but this could perhaps be an under-the-radar situation to monitor on the trade front.

Of course, trading a starter isn’t likely to happen until the Phillies have figured out how to replace Nola.  If the righty doesn’t re-sign, the Phils could explore signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Blake Snell, or Jordan Montgomery as the team’s next long-term ace.  Wheeler is set for free agency himself next winter, and will still command another big payday beyond his age-34 season if he keeps pitching as well as he did in 2023.  The Phillies figure to discuss an extension with Wheeler this winter, and if he is amenable to a relatively short-term pact given his age, perhaps he might be the one who ends up with a new deal of four or five seasons.

Philadelphia doesn’t have the deepest farm system in the world, but with the team in clear win-now mode, Dombrowski could again dip into the minor league ranks to explore adding another arm. Tyler Glasnow, Corbin Burnes, or Shane Bieber are all one-year rentals and would be available at the right (hefty) price, while the more controllable starters on the trade market would come at an even steeper cost of talent.

The bullpen also needs some attention, as Craig Kimbrel is set to return to the open market after his one year as the Phillies’ closer.  Kimbrel pitched well for much of the season, but a pair of high-profile blowups during the NLCS cost Philadelphia two games and his closer’s role for the rest of the series. While a small sample size, it does continue Kimbrel’s somewhat inconsistent play over the last three seasons, and the Phillies might not want to take a chance again if they have doubts over Kimbrel’s ability to perform in the playoff spotlight.

Jose Alvarado is the obvious internal name to become closer if Kimbrel isn’t re-signed, and if Orion Kerkering is ready for a bigger role in his first full MLB season, the Phillies might look towards only more mid-tier names in their offseason bullpen shopping.  Of course, with the team’s propensity for big-ticket moves, there will probably be some level of speculation linking Josh Hader to the Phils until Hader eventually picks his next team.

While Kimbrel, Hoskins, Nola, and Michael Lorenzen represent a decent chunk of money coming off the books, the Phillies already have (as per Roster Resource) roughly $212.3M in actual dollars and a $228M luxury tax number attached to their 2024 payroll.  Last season’s Opening Day payroll sat close to the $243M mark, and with a tax number around $263M — above the second tax tier, but under the $273M threshold that would’ve triggered a ten-position drop for Philadelphia’s first pick in the 2024 draft.

It isn’t known exactly where managing partner John Middleton might draw the line on spending, but Middleton clearly has no issue in committing big money to keep the Phillies in contention.  After the last two seasons’ worth of close calls, Middleton might be even more willing to spend to add the final pieces to the championship puzzle.

To this end, the Phillies will at least check in on Shohei Ohtani out of pure due diligence if nothing else.  Obviously such a signing would be an imperfect fit within the Phils’ lineup, as Ohtani in the DH slot would lock in Bryce Harper at first base and Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos into corner outfield duty.  But, since the Phillies are one of the organizations with deep enough pockets to meet Ohtani’s record-setting asking price, they make sense as a potential suitor for the two-way star this winter.

Accommodating Ohtani might be a reason for the Phillies to cost themselves some positional flexibility, yet doing the same to re-sign Hoskins might be another matter. Hoskins is likely to just sign a one-year deal this winter as he attempts to prove himself healthy and worthy of a longer-term contract next offseason, so re-signing Hoskins wouldn’t represent a huge investment for Philadelphia. The team might even issue Hoskins a qualifying offer, if they’re okay with paying Hoskins $20.5M coming off a torn ACL since it’s hard to imagine the first baseman would turn down such a payday.  With Hoskins so likely to accept a QO, the Phillies might want to hold off on further clogging their first base/DH situation until they get a better read on Ohtani’s market.

Harper’s ability to handle first base gave the Phils more defensive flexibility last year, allowing for Schwarber to DH and for both Brandon Marsh and Johan Rojas to get more looks in the outfield.  Harper may also return to at least part-time work in his old right field position, now that he is further removed from his Tommy John surgery.  In short, keeping a first base-only player like Hoskins would limit what the Phillies could do around the diamond.  Defense continued to be a problem for the Phillies over the course of the 2023 season, and since the everyday lineup is already pretty set, adding a utility type instead of Hoskins would add more overall depth.

The relative stability of the starting lineup presents Dombrowski with an interesting challenge this winter.  Almost every team would love to have a core like Philadelphia’s star-laden lineup, and an argument can easily be made that the Phils should just run things back with the same group in 2024 and hope things can fully click in October.  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” might apply here, except the NLCS might have revealed some cracks in that foundation.

For instance, could the Phillies explore trading either Castellanos or Alec Bohm? Castellanos hit for more power and had a lot more strikeouts in 2023, but the two were similarly productive overall — Bohm had a 105 wRC+ and 1.1 fWAR, while Castellanos had a 109 wRC+ and 1.0 fWAR.  Offense was the backbone of those fWAR numbers, as Castellanos was again very subpar in right field while Bohm actually improved to above-average third base glovework in the views of the UZR/150 and OAA metrics, even if Defensive Runs Saved (-10) continued to dismiss his efforts.

Obviously, trading Bohm would be a lot simpler for the Phils from a salary perspective.  The former third overall pick is just entering his arbitration years and is controlled through 2026, while Castellanos’ contract entitles him to $60M over that same timeframe.  Barring taking on another team’s undesirable contract, the Phillies would have to either eat money in a Castellanos trade or include some significant prospect capital to sweeten the pot, whereas a rival club might think Bohm could fully break out with a change of scenery.

Moving Castellanos would further help the Phillies’ defensive issues, as either Harper could just return to right field and a new first baseman (or a re-signed Hoskins) could join the fold, or Philadelphia could obtain a new corner outfielder altogether.  Likewise, trading Bohm could open up third base for a better defensive option and a more proven hitter.

This is all easier said than done, of course, and team chemistry elements must be considered beyond just a pure baseball fit.  However, Dombrowski has a long history of creative trades, whether it’s trading prospects for proven stars or even dealing an established big league player (i.e. Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes, or Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler) for another that may be a better fit for his team’s needs.  While the pitching staff will be the Phillies’ top priority this winter, not much can be ruled out when Dombrowski is making calls, Middleton is willing to write the checks, and the pressure to win is increasing after two near-misses.

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