Monthly Archives: January 2021

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J.T. Realmuto has delivered All-Star caliber production in two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, and yet, the franchise hasn’t been able to post a winning record, let alone snap a lengthy postseason drought.

Certainly, the Phillies would be a worse team in 2021 if they don’t bring back Realmuto. But what are the Phillies if they re-sign Realmuto, while cutting costs elsewhere on the rest of the roster in a division with four other legitimate postseason contenders?

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The Atlanta Braves have won three consecutive National League East titles, and as long as they have Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies signed to team-friendly deals, they probably aren’t going anywhere.

The New York Mets have long been one of the sport’s laughingstocks, but you do get the sense that new owner Steve Cohen may change the culture in Queens. Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman will rejoin a rotation that already included two-time National League Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. Carlos Carrasco will come to New York now as part of the deal that landed the team superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor Thursday. Lindor will be added into a lineup with Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil and Dom Smith, among others. And hey, quietly, Edwin Díaz was quietly excellent in his second season with the Mets after a disastrous first campaign. Something always seems to go wrong with the Mets, but they really feel like a playoff-caliber roster, perhaps one that will compete for the division title over the next few seasons.

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The Washington Nationals find themselves at something of a crossroads, but still employ Juan Soto and Trea Turner. They’re also just a couple seasons removed from winning a World Series, of course.

The Miami Marlins, once the doormats of the National League East, appeared to see the tide turn in 2020. Not only did the Marlins sneak into the playoffs with an expanded field this past season, but they won a series over the Chicago Cubs. Former Phillies top prospect Sixto Sánchez highlights a bounty of young pitchers that the Marlins have in their organization. You’ve already seen Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez at the major league level, and Edward Cabrera and Max Meyer are among those on the way. The Marlins will always be at a financial disadvantage in the National League East, but the incredible job they’ve done developing homegrown pitching should keep them in contention over the next half decade.

And then there’s the Phillies.

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There’s a lot to like about the top half of the Phillies roster. Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are players that any team would covet. The Phillies have spoken highly of Zach Eflin – who had something of a breakout campaign in 2020 – this winter. This isn’t a situation like 2014 where there’s absolutely nothing to be excited about with the franchise.

At last, the stove is heating up.

It took 69 days, but the Phillies finally hired a new head of baseball operations last week. Dave Dombrowski isn’t any executive, either. He’s the only general manager to build World Series teams in three cities.

“Everywhere he goes, he’s there to compete and win,” agent Scott Boras said. “And he has done so.”

Dombrowski insists the Phillies require “a retool, not a rebuild.” But his offseason to-do list is lengthy, and not just because he’s starting late. If the Phillies are going to end a nine-year playoff drought, they need almost an entirely new bullpen and perhaps a new catcher and shortstop, too.

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“There won’t be a lot of sleep involved the next couple of weeks,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve already received, I bet you, from at least half the general managers in Major League Baseball, ‘Welcome back. Congratulations. Let’s talk.’ ”

Yes, let’s.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies offseason, but we will be on a two-week hiatus because of the coming holidays. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.

— Scott Lauber ([email protected])

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Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin had a 3.65 ERA, 41 strikeouts and six walks in 37 innings over his final six starts last season.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies counting on big things from Zach Eflin
Not long after Dombrowski rolled up his sleeves, charged up his phone and got to work, he identified what he believes to be an area of strength on the Phillies roster.

“When you talk about Nola, Wheeler and Eflin,” he said, “that’s a good place to start.”

But the Phillies employed all six players mentioned above in 2020 and went 28-32. They also had Didi Gregorius, and mum has been the word on a potential reunion with a player that homered 10 times and drove in 40 runs this past season. A historically-bad bullpen is almost certainly due for positive regression, especially if a young arm like Connor Brogdon emerges as reliable option in high-leverage situations. But will the Phillies have a bullpen on par with the Braves or Mets in 2021? Probably not. Unless they’re confident that one of Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn or Mickey Moniak will emerge as a starting-caliber option next year, the Phillies also don’t have an internal answer in center field.

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So what are the Phillies if they re-sign Realmuto but don’t make one or two other major moves this offseason? Probably a .500 team, give or take a few games. Teams that are retooling – hinting they are a year or two away – aren’t typically ones that sign catchers entering their age-30 season to five or six-season deals.

The Phillies unquestionably will be a worse team with anyone other than Realmuto as their starting catcher in 2021, especially with ESPN‘s Jeff Passan noting earlier this offseason that the Phillies probably won’t reinvest the money that would be spent on Realmuto on anyone else this winter if he departs.

But new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski didn’t trade for Realmuto. Sure, as he’s stated on multiple occasions, Dombrowski would love to retain the All-Star catcher. However, if in his early evaluations of the organization he’s determined that the team is probably more likely to be ready to be a force in 2023, should he re-sign Realmuto, who will be a catcher entering his age-32 season at that point? That’s a fair discussion to have.

Even if Lindor re-signs with the Mets and Corey Seager does the same with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Javier Báez, Trevor Story and Carlos Correa are star shortstops that could become free agents next offseason. All three are younger than Realmuto, and play a position that takes less of a toll on you than catching does. Maybe it would be wiser for the Phillies to save the money they could spend on Realmuto this offseason – knowing they may not contend with him while he’s still at his peak – and consider signing one of the major shortstops next offseason.

Couldn’t the Phillies re-sign Realmuto and pursue one of the major shortstops next offseason? Yes, in theory, they could. But there is a reality that owners around the sport are hesitant to spend right now, to the point where it feels pretty unlikely that the Phillies re-sign both Realmuto and Gregorius this winter. If the Phillies are potentially unwilling to spend a combined $170 million (just an estimate) on Realmuto and Gregorius this offseason, does it seem likely they’ll re-sign Realmuto for $125ish million now and then spend $150 million plus on one of the shortstops next offseason? From here, the answer is no.

In many ways, the Realmuto situation is symptomatic of much larger organizational problems. If you’re spending as much as the Phillies are on high-priced veterans, you should have a really good team. The problem is, despite the stated goal of “finding value on the margins” under former general manager Matt Klentak, the Phillies really haven’t done that. Nor have they developed a consistent pipeline of young talent through their minor league system.

And so, the Phillies find themselves in a position where if they re-sign Realmuto, it will be an upset if they win a National League East title before he’s past his peak. Given all the other holes on the roster, who knows if they’d even win a Wild Card spot during however many years Realmuto has left at the height of his powers. But if Realmuto isn’t re-signed, fans will have justifiable anger, and the Phillies may very well finish in last place in the National League East in 2021, going down looking as another year of Harper, Nola and Wheeler is wasted.

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Life as a relief pitcher comes at you fast, especially in the 2020 climate when teams across Major League Baseball are pinching pennies.

Tim Dierkes and Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors recently released their 2020 non-tender candidates, and on the list was a Philadelphia Phillie that may surprise some: reliever Seranthony Dominguez.

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Seranthony Dominguez’s future is unclear. (Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)
Dominguez, still only 25, burst onto the scene in 2018, posting a 2.95 ERA and 2.85 FIP across 53 games for the Phillies. There was a fairly universal belief at the time that Dominguez had a chance to become a stalwart in the bullpen, and potentially the best homegrown reliever in the history of the franchise.

To this point, that’s not how things have panned out.

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Though Dominguez opened the 2019 season at the forefront of Gabe Kapler’s bullpen, he was underwhelming in 27 games, posting a 4.01 ERA. On June 5, 2019, Dominguez left an appearance in San Diego with a UCL injury, and he’s yet to return to a major league mound.

If you need an idea of how long it’s been since Dominguez last pitched for the Phillies, consider this: in the same San Diego series that Dominguez was injured in, Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL, Jay Bruce made his Phillies’ debut and Adam Haseley made his major league debut. Heck, Odubel Herrera’s most recent appearance with the Phillies came within 10 days of Dominguez suffering his initial UCL injury. So it’s been a minute.

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The Phillies have an open mindset in terms of roster retooling this offseason.
Just a couple of days before the turn of the new year, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired an intriguing left-handed reliever as part of a three-way trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In return for trading fellow southpaw Garrett Cleavinger to the Dodgers, the Phillies received Jose Alvarado, while the Dodgers sent the Rays first-base prospect Dillon Paulson and a player-to-be-named later.

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The move marked the first trade made with the Phillies organization by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, as well as general manager Sam Fuld — in an effort to counting retooling a bullpen that saw an all-time second-worst 7.06 ERA this past season.

When asked by Kevin Frandsen in a recent Pine Tar for Breakfast podcast as to where the Phillies will go next, Fuld said the organization will “keep its options open.”

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“It’s hard to say what specifically we’re going to target. We just don’t know,” replied Fuld, who said he believes it is smart to be “nimble.”

“We don’t want to get tunnel vision on a certain type of player, or even a certain type of reliever,” Fuld said. “It’s not like just because we have one lefty that throws 99 that we would turn down another.”

“I think the bullpen will continue to be something we look at.”

The Phillies have been creative this offseason in adding relievers, most of which have come on minor-league deals with spring training invites. Most recently, they signed right-handed veterans Neftali Feliz and Michael Ynoa to such deals. In early December, the Phillies claimed fellow righty Ian Hamilton off waivers from the Seattle Mariners.

While Alvarado, Feliz, Hamilton, and Ynoa are among the external additions already made this offseason, some relievers from the 2020 bullpen are also being brought back. The Phillies re-signed right-handers David Hale and Hector Neris to one-year contracts. Seranthony Dominguez was also re-signed to a one-year deal, however he is expected to miss most of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery.

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All signs are pointing in the positive direction that the Phillies acknowledge the bullpen needs a serious makeover. But, the Phils also acknowledge they will not just focus in on one area, and will instead be “nimble” in what moves they make.

Time is ticking fast, as pitchers and catchers are set to report to Clearwater, Florida — marking the start of the 2021 baseball season — just next month.

Though it was concerning that Dominguez never returned in 2019, he seemingly went through a normal offseason last winter, and came to spring training hoping to make an impact for Joe Girardi in 2020. Unfortunately for Dominguez, he suffered a setback in his first Grapefruit League appearance, and after attempting to rehab the injury previously, it was determined this time that the Dominican-born righty needed Tommy John surgery.

To make matters worse, Dominguez returned home during the initial COVID-19 shutdown, and did so without having the procedure completed. Dominguez wouldn’t ultimately undergo Tommy John surgery until July 30, 2020, not only ending his 2020 season, but making it very possibly he won’t be able to pitch at all in 2021. If all goes perfectly, Dominguez won’t be able to contribute until August or September of 2021, and as the Phillies learned with David Robertson this past season, there is no guarantee that setbacks don’t occur in recovery from the procedure.

Dominguez is projected by Spotrac to make $900,000 in 2021, his first year of arbitration eligibility. (Dominguez has 2.147 years of service time, meaning he qualifies as a “Super Two” player.) Knowing he may not pitch in 2021, Dominguez’s representatives could settle for a lower amount with the Phillies to avoid the potential of being non-tendered. Then again, it’s been quite a while since Dominguez has appeared in a game and his long-term future in the sport is very much in question. That makes you think Dominguez would be motivated to make as much money as possible while he’s still in the sport.

In any other year, a major-market team like the Phillies wouldn’t think twice about tendering Dominguez a contract, knowing that the possibility exists that they lose an arbitration case and have to pay a little more than they would like to. However, managing partner John Middleton was non-committal about how much the team will be able to spend next season when discussing the matter in October.

“I can’t tell you. Can you tell me what the governor [of Pennsylvania] and the mayor of Philadelphia are going to allow us to have next year in the way of fans? Because if you do, you know something that I don’t,” Middleton said.

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There’s hope that a COVID-19 vaccine could be widely available at some time early next spring, though that’s not yet certain. Currently, there are over 279,000 reported cases of the virus in Pennsylvania. With rates skyrocketing, indoor dining will be banned for the remainder of the calendar year beginning Friday. The limited attendance that had been allowed at Eagles games will be scrapped. So it’s truly hard to know if the Phillies really will host the Atlanta Braves on April 1, 2020, and whether and to what extent fan attendance will be allowed.

In October, Kaleel Weatherly and Ryan Sharrow of Philadelphia Business Journal noted that according to the annual Team Marketing Report, the Phillies lost $186.1 million in 2020 because of fans not being able to attend games. Technically, you can’t lose money that you never had, but how much teams spend in a given year is directly related to how much the organization projects that they will make. Lord willing, 2021 will be a more financially fruitful year for everyone than 2020, but the Phillies are probably smart to assume that they won’t bring in the same amount they would in a normal year.

What wouldn’t be smart would be for an organization desperate for impact relief pitching to make the short-sighted move of non-tendering Dominguez over what will likely amount to a salary of less than $1 million. Dominguez is under team control through 2024, and the possibility exists that he gets healthy and returns to being an impact reliever, perhaps as soon as the waning weeks of the 2021 season.

Of course, the flip side of that is that there’s a very real possibility that for as hard as Dominguez works, his body just doesn’t cooperate and he’s never able to reach his ceiling. Injuries are an unfortunate reality of sports. Even if Dominguez ultimately does return to health, he may not be available until 2022, and if the Phillies are self-imposing a budget because of financial uncertainty in the world, close to $1 million may not be seen as an insignificant amount by the organization’s decisions makers.

This isn’t a discussion about whether the Phillies should non-tender Dominguez – of course they shouldn’t, and the guess here is that he’ll ultimately remain with the organization in 2021. But is it impossible that Dominguez gets non-tendered this winter in an effort to save money, perhaps with the hope of bringing him back at a lower price but no guarantee of that happening? No, it’s not.

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While a whopping 10 players made their major-league debuts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020, the team probably won’t be relying on that many rookies in 2021.

Still, young players will have to play a role for the Phillies in the upcoming season, just as they do for any team.

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Top prospects that are still rookie eligible such as Mickey Moniak and Adonis Medina are likely to get major-league looks again this season. Players like shortstop Bryson Stott or left-hander Damon Jones could even make their big-league debuts.

But some lesser known prospects could also crack the majors for the Phillies this season as well. If the Phillies need to utilize what minor-league depth they have, there are a few players most likely to make an impact. Phillies Nation examined the three players that could have the best chances of doing so:

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Kyle Dohy, LHP

PHILADELPHIA — Phillies president Andy MacPhail said a few weeks ago that they could move forward without a new head of baseball operations in the short term, because the next several weeks would be mostly internal decisions about their own players.

Friday was one of those days.

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They announced that they placed six players on the 40-man roster, the deadline to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft: left-handers Kyle Dohy, Damon Jones and Bailey Falter; right-hander Francisco Morales; infielder Nick Maton and outfielder Simon Muzziotti.

• Phillies’ Top 30 prospects

Morales is the organization’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He could be a stud in the Phillies’ rotation at some point. He has a fastball that touches 98 mph. He also throws a nasty slider, which got a 30 percent swing-and-miss rate in 2019, and a solid changeup. He is only 21 and has not pitched above Class A Lakewood, so he is probably at least a year away from helping the Phillies in the big leagues, but it looks like the $900,000 they paid him in the 2016-17 international signing period was well spent.

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Muzziotti is the No. 11 prospect in the organization. Maton is No. 13, Jones is No. 15 and Dohy is No. 27.

Top Prospects: Muzziotti, PHI
Apr 2, 2020 · 0:46
Top Prospects: Muzziotti, PHI
Muzziotti is a high-contact hitter who plays an above-average center field, which could have made him intriguing to another team, despite the fact he has not played above Class A Advanced Clearwater. The Phillies placed Maton on their 60-man player pool this summer. He could break into the big leagues next season in a utility role. Jones and Dohy could help the Phillies’ bullpen next season.

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Nick Maton’s two-run home run
Feb 25, 2020 · 0:38
Nick Maton’s two-run home run
The Phillies selected Falter in the fifth round of the 2015 Draft. Falter, 23, went 6-5 with a 3.84 ERA for Double-A Reading in 2019.

The Phillies have 37 players on the 40-man roster.

A left-handed reliever, Dohy appeared to be on the path to major-league promotion early in the 2019 season similar to the one right-hander Seranthony Domínguez took the year prior. Dohy dominated in six appearances and 11 innings in Double-A Reading, and was quickly promoted to Triple-A. But the hard-throwing lefty struggled to adjust to the higher level, and remained there for the rest of the season, posting a 6.19 ERA in 41 appearances with Lehigh Valley.

After the canceled 2020 Minor League Baseball season, Dohy will likely return to Triple-A to start 2021. He was added to the 40-man roster earlier this winter, making the 24-year-old a likely candidate for a promotion if the Phillies need bullpen help during the season.

Cristopher Sánchez, LHP

The Phillies traded for Sánchez ahead of last season when the Tampa Bay Rays chose to not add him to their 40-man roster. And after spending the 2020 season at the team’s alternate training site in Lehigh Valley, Sánchez could be in line to make his major-league debut at some point this season.

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The 24-year-old has a fastball that approaches 100 miles per hour from the left side, as well as experience in both starting and relief roles in the minors. He had a 2.26 ERA in 24 outings — 10 of them starts — across three levels in 2019. Sánchez could serve as a spot starter or an addition to the bullpen if the Phillies need additional pitching depth at the majors in 2021.

Kyle Holder, infielder

Holder, the Phillies’ selection in this winter’s Rule 5 draft, will almost certainly have some kind of major-league role if he stays in the organization. Holder will have to stay on the team’s active roster throughout the upcoming season, or the Phillies would have to offer him back to the New York Yankees.

The 26-year-old reached Double-A in the Yankees organization in 2019, and spent last season at their alternate site. The 2015 first-round pick had a .742 OPS in 112 games in his last minor-league season. Primarily a shortstop, Holder has also played second base and third base. He could be the Phillies utility infielder to begin the 2021 season.