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November 29, 2022

Ranking the Phillies' biggest offseason needs

The Phillies were two wins from their third ever World Series championship this fall and the front office is hoping that they are two players (or so) away from being able to bring home the trophy in 2023.

Team president Dave Dombrowski spoke earlier in November about how he intends to add an infielder and a starting pitcher — and those are likely the two biggest needs on the current roster. But which is more important to address? And are there any other things this roster is missing?

Here's how we would prioritize the needs of the 2023 Phillies:

1. Starting pitching

This has to be the biggest concern for the team moving forward. The contrast between the Phillies' starting pitchers and those of their postseason opponents was starkly different. Philadelphia had three guys they trusted to start, and three guys who could physically pitch deeper than four innings into a game. And as everyone saw, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez eventually collapsed under the weight of all of the important innings they were asked to pitch.

The Astros, who won the World Series largely thanks to their patience and pitching depth, were a model of what the Phils should aspire to have on their roster. 

Houston had seven pitchers start at least eight games during the 2022 regular season. All seven had ERAs under 3.75. Philly also had seven starters make at least eight starts. Just three of those guys had ERAs under 3.75. 

It's also noteworthy — not necessarily for roster-building purposes — that the Astros let their starters pitch on extra rest the second most of any team in baseball last season. Perhaps managing workloads, and having extra arms to fill in who can give you quality starts is the secret sauce. Getting deep into games in October is the key to playoff success.

Houston had 94 quality starts in total in 2022, and Philly's NLCS opponent the Padres had 84. The Phillies had a respectable 75 — but it's abundantly clear the Phillies need to have a stable of pitchers who can go deep into playoff games.

Free agency is one way they surely will attack this — but the team needs to throw caution to the wind and be aggressive with their top pitching prospects Mick Abel, Andrew Painter and Griff McGarry. All three should be given the chance to earn a role on the staff in spring training. One of the three should break camp with the big league club. And the other two should be in Triple-A, ready to make the jump.

If the Phillies had one more reliable starter in the playoffs this October and November, they very well could have been marching down Broad Street.

2. A star infielder

Even with Bryce Harper slated to miss the first few months of 2023 thanks to his Tommy John surgery, the Phillies' offense is a secondary concern. If the Phillies decided to, say, go all in on adding ace pitchers and went cheap with their open infield slot — the worst they could do would be bring back Jean Segura, or give Edmundo Sosa a chance at second base. 

Adding more offense is a luxury, but it's one the Phillies can afford and should definitely pursue, as the arms race in the NL East is not likely to just dissipate. The Braves and Mets will be making free-agent pursuits too.

The Phillies seem unlikely to rest on their laurels on offense due to these factors. There are four stud shortstops currently available in free agency: Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson. The lineup would be absolutely stacked if they add another All-Star caliber bat. And it wouldn't hurt either that each of those four infielders can handle their glove pretty well too. 

Here's a fun exercise. If the Phils add Turner, they could have the following lineup (with a healthy Harper):

  1. Trea Turner, SS
  2. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
  3. Bryce Harper, RF
  4. Kyle Schwarber, DH
  5. J.T. Realmuto, C
  6. Nick Castellanos, LF
  7. Alec Bohm. 3B
  8. Bryson Stott, 2B
  9. Brandon Marsh, CF
Good luck getting through that order, Astros.

3. Reloading the bullpen

Here's a look at how the Phillies' bullpen fared during the regular season, as the club barely inched into the playoffs with 87 wins:

CategoryStatMLB rank
Bullpen ERA4.2723rd
Innings pitched531.229th
HR allowed4927th

Of the 14 teams to qualify for the postseason in 2022, the Phillies had the worst bullpen ERA — by almost a half run. They were the only team in the playoffs with an ERA above 4.00. Their bullpen WHIP was 28th of 30 teams last season, and the pen's 28-28 record was the worst of any of the 14 teams in the tournament.

The pen was actually pretty good in the playoffs, making a few high-profile mistakes but holding down the fort pretty well throughout the 17 extra games the team played. 

Wholesale change is likely coming to the bullpen in 2023, with as few as three relievers returning. Picking the right veteran arms to create a bullpen is no easy task, but it could be the difference between a true World Series contender or a pretender in 2023. No pressure, Dave.

4. A fifth outfielder

The outfield is going to be kind of confusing and in flux due to Harper's injury. The team will almost surely start the year with Marsh in center, and one of Schwarber or Castellanos in a corner spot. The question is how the Phillies approach the DH role. If they choose to use the other of Schwarber/Castellanos as the DH, it means they'll need someone to play in the outfield. Will that be Matt Vierling? Or is the drop-off in his offense enough to inspire the Phillies to find a free-agent outfielder?

If the Phillies elect to go with Darick Hall at DH, it means they have their outfield set. If they go with Hoskins as the designated hitter, they'll need to use a fifth infielder — potentially Sosa — with Bohm moved to first base. 

A lot of these decisions are up in the air, but it would probably be a nice pickup to get a bench outfielder with some pop to his bat and who can field his position cleanly.

5. More bench depth

Oh, wouldn't it be nice to be a team whose top priority is just rounding out their bench? The Phillies seem likely to bring back backup catcher Garrett Stubbs as Realmuto's understudy. Vierling, Sosa and Nick Maton are probably going to be on the bench as well. For the last slot, will they go with an outfielder? With a DH? Or will the team elect to go with another jack-of-all-trades type of utility man to round out the bench?

In the playoffs, the Phillies were able to stay healthy and rarely used their bench pieces at all. With the universal DH, pinch-hitting is more rare now. This is a low-level concern, but injuries do happen and having fill-ins just in case is still important.

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