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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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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.

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In some ways, anything like this is folly when a team has already hired Dave Dombrowski as President of Baseball. The Phillies clearly aren’t going to wait around for Theo Epstein to finish his year with a Eurorail pass as he takes up poetry or dyes his hair purple or whatever means of self-discovery he has planned for his year off. The Phillies likely won’t embark on some multi-year reshaping either, based on Dombrowski’s history. Maybe Dombrowski wants to try something new, but considering what the Phillies have already invested and their lack of prospects, they’re not itching to take any steps backward either.

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And nor should they. While spending three straight years in the absolute pit of the middle suggests an incurable inertia, you could also make the argument that it means they’re also not that far away. The more you go all out and still end up as far from the horizon as you were, the more it feels intractable. But the Phillies aren’t there yet.

So what faces Dombrowski and the Fightin’s? There are a couple of obvious problems. The glaring one, with the gas leak and flames shooting out of the doorway, is the bullpen. This pretty much tells you everything you need to know about 2020:

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Over a full baseball season, that would be 37 losses. That’s NC-17. The pen wasn’t healthy, but even if it had been, it was filled with far too many relievers over 30 who, when they got really volatile, walked way too many hitters. Most of that unit has been culled, but at the moment this is who’s listed as the Philly pen on RosterResource from FanGraphs:

From these minor leaguers, the higher-ups expected one mid-rotation piece and –if lucky– a five-slot hurler or setup man. Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez turned out to be those two. With progress, Eflin could even be a two-slot arm, and Velasquez is a candidate for a “seventh or eighth inning” role.

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Many locals bemoan the trade of Sixto Sanchez for Realmuto because they consider the flamethrower to be an ace. Realistically, Sanchez may not make the Miami Marlins roster in spring training. Translation: He only baffles clubs in his first start against them.

Sanchez, 22:

First starts: 6 Gms., 37 Inn., 12 R, 12 ER, 3-1, a 2.92 ERA with 35 SO and 7 BB.
Other starts: 3 Gms., 10 Inn., 13 R, 13 ER, 0-2, an 11.70 ERA with 6 SO and 9 BB.
The Fightins hoped Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, and two starters from their restructuring deals would pan out. Then, the farm system and free agency would plug the holes in the offense and overall pitching.

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For ‘20, the New York Yankees spent $324 million for Gerrit Cole as the final piece for a World Series victory, then they would take a one-year hit with the Luxury Tax penalty before sliding under the CBT for ‘21. Well, it worked on paper after 103 triumphs in ‘19, didn’t it?

In 2018, the Phillies were a surprising 80-82 after a 66-win 2017. But 2019’s relief corps had eight injured relievers, and only Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez were healthy. And why was 2020’s pen without Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez and Victor Arano? Surgery or the coronavirus!

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Hector Neris, Connor Brogdon, Ranger Suarez, David Hale, Victor Arano, Ian Hamilton, Johan Quezada, and Cole Irvin. That’s a whole lot of not much.

The Dombrowski method says throw $10-12 million a year at Liam Hendriks and call it a day. And the Phillies very well might, and should, do that. Yes, Hendriks is over 30 as well, and his past two years of dominance are largely based on a jump in velocity that won’t hold forever. Still, a three-year deal probably gets you at least two years of massive improvement at the sharp end of the pen.

That doesn’t mean the Phillies should stop there. They should have a ton of cash to spend, but might be pulling the same bullshit act that you see other big market teams not named the Dodgers are pulling after one season of losses. While they’ve denied that Zack Wheeler is on the block after that rumor spilled out of the generally waste-filled “Buster Olney Container,” the fact that it appeared at all is worrying for Phillies fans. Still, even with estimated arbitration costs, they’re on the hook for about $140 million. For this team, even facing the prospect of part or all of another season without fans, that should be manageable. Now’s a good time to remind everyone of the Phillies’ TV contract.

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So buying another reliever off the market, especially a devalued one, shouldn’t be beyond them and Dombrowski. Brad Hand passed through waivers owed only $10 million, which isn’t a ton for a reliever that has had an ERA over 3.00 once in the past five seasons (and the FIP to match). With every team passing on him through waivers, they must feel that they can get him for just one or two years for less as a free agent. $7 million? Less? The addition of Hendriks and Hand for less than $20 million solves a lot of problems in 2021.

But teams that pour a lot of resources into the pen tend to get burned. It’s a bullpen, it’s unpredictable, and previously dominant relievers end up sitting on the mound, staring at the ground and sucking their thumb in July for no discernable reason. So let’s get a little creative.