Did the Phillies Add Enough Firepower During the Offseason to Compete in the NL East?
The big breakthrough was scheduled for 2019 – to the extent championship runs are schedulable.
The Phillies won MLB’s Hot Stove Class of ‘19.
First came Jean Segura (INF), the versatile two-time All-Star infielder. Then came a former NL MVP in Andrew McCutcheon (OF).
JT Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball, was tacked on next. Finally, principal owner John Middleton and GM Matt Klentak pulled Bryce Harper (OF) from their hat on March 2 when the club was 10 days into its Grapefruit League schedule.
But the run never happened. Philadelphia finished fourth in the NL East with an 81-81 record. Manager Gabe Kapler was shown the door shortly after the season ended.
Back to the Table
Last season proved to be a litmus test for the Phils. The club’s holes were exposed in a number of directions, all of which indicated necessary moves during the current offseason.
Chief among these needs was a manager and coaching staff.
Enter new skipper Joe Girardi. The former Yankees boss is the anti-Kapler in many ways. He comes packed with postseason experience–including defeating the Phillies in the 2009 World Series–and mixes sabermetrics with good ol’ fashioned baseball instinct.
Girardi brings with him a highly-touted coaching corp featuring pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach, Joe Dillon.
The Big Pieces
Fans hoping for a Bryce Harper level signing were disappointed. While there were plenty of blockbusters on the market this offseason, Philly failed to land anyone named Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, or Anthony Rendon.
A ballyhooed reunion with Cole Hamels also failed to materialize.
And that’s okay. This is a club well-positioned to strengthen gaps with strategic value acquisitions.
Zack Wheeler was the grand prize signing. He arrives in Philadelphia on a five-year, $118 million contract.
The 29-year-old righty was 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 195.1 innings with the Mets in 2019. He also posted a 4.1 WAR, which happens to be better than any pitcher on the Phils’/l staff a season ago.
Wheeler gives the club a third quality starter to bolster Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. If Zac Elfin and Vince Velazquez find their groove as the projected backend of the rotation, the starting pitching is looking good.
The Phillies’ second marquee free agent signing was Didi Gregorius (INF) to a one-year, $14 million deal. The former Yankee served under Girardi from 2015 to 2017. Gregorius missed 80 games last season due to elbow surgery.
The club is rolling the dice in hopes Gregorius returns to form, especially offensively. The 29-year-old nailed 20 or more home runs in each season between 2016 and 2018.
Other New Faces
Philadelphia made a handful of additions to round out the supporting cast.
Free agent Josh Harrison (INF) a two-time All-Star with the Pirates, was signed to a minor league deal in November. He has a spring training invite and should compete for a big club roster spot.
Nick Martini (OF) was claimed off waivers from the Reds in January and named to the 40-man roster.
Francisco Liriano (LHP), Neil Walker (INF), Bud Norris (RHP), Mikie Mahtook (OF), Matt Szczur (OF), and Drew Storen (RHP) were inked to minor league contracts. All of them have experience in the majors and could see playing time with the Phils.
A Tough NL East
The Phillies face an uphill battle in the division.
Philadelphia is one of three division teams in the top six teams in the odds to win the World Series in 2020 along with the Nationals and Braves. It’s clear insiders are already predicting the NL East to be baseball’s toughest division.
The Phils’ mega deals of the 2018-19 offseason combined with recent finesse moves and new management put Girardi and company in a solid position to claim the NL East title.
Will There Be More Moves?
The 2020 Luxury Tax Threshold is $208 million. The front office has suggested the club will not surpass it. Philadelphia currently carries a projected luxury tax payroll of around $202.5 million. It’s likely the team is finished with its offseason transactions.
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