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February 01, 2021

MLB Rumor Roundup: Analyzing the Phillies' recent moves and what they have left

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dave-dombrowski_013121_usat Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

The Phillies have been hard at work over the past week improving their roster — or, at least getting it back to where it was in 2020 as they appear set to run it back this year despite failing to make the playoffs for eight straight seasons. 

While on the surface, that may look like the definition of insanity, there's reason to believe the team will be improved this season, even if the majority of the players are the same.

For starters, the Phillies finished in the Top 5 in baseball in runs scored last year. They had a solid, if not spectacular, starting rotation that should be slightly improved in 2021 (more on that in a bit). And arguably their biggest addition (not counting players they re-signed like J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius) was reliever Archie Bradley, who coupled with a few other additions to the bullpen should help correct what wound up being the worst relief unit in baseball history. They also have a new general manager in Sam Fuld and president of baseball operations in Dave Dombrowski who should be capable of adding a key piece here and there if necessary at the trade deadline. 

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they still find themselves with the second worst odds of any team in their division (+480 to win the NL East, +3000 to win the World Series), according to TheLines.com. So they either have some people to prove wrong or some more moves to make before officially becoming contenders. 

That being said, perhaps some of the sports books are just slow to realize how improved the Phillies are as opposed to this time last week. Since, they've added Realmuto, Gregorius and Matt Moore and, while this isn't necessarily a direct indication of future success, have now spent more this offseason than almost any other team in baseball. 

It was a busy week for the Phillies — and one that likely left fans feeling a lot better about the state of the team heading as the calendar turns to February — so let's recap some of the latest news and rumors surrounding not only the moves the Phillies just made, but the moves they might have left to make as well. 

A lefty starter? Is that even allowed?

Jim Salisbury | NBC Sports Philadelphia

The move that flew the furthest under the radar was likely the addition of Matt Moore, who signed a one-year deal in Philly and will likely earn a spot in Joe Girardi's rotation, giving the team something they didn't have in 2020: a left-handed starter. 

According to sources, the Phils have an agreement to sign lefty free agent Matt Moore. Once he passes a physical, Moore will receive a major-league contract. His 2021 salary will be $3 million, according to The Athletic. The major-league deal indicates that the Phillies are confident that Moore will be in their starting rotation in 2021. The team did not have a lefty make a start last season.

Moore, 31, pitched in Japan last year. He was an All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013 but struggled in the majors with San Francisco and Texas in 2017 and 2018. A knee injury limited him to just two starts with Detroit in 2019. He made 15 starts in Japan last season and recorded a 2.65 ERA and a 1.118 WHIP in 85 innings.  [NBC Sports]

The Phillies also added a pair of veteran righties in Bryan Mitchell and Ivan Nova, both of whom will compete for spots in big-league camp, and the latter of whom could even compete for a spot in the starting rotation. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin are locked into their spots atop the rotation, and if Moore is penciled in as a starter (as Salisbury suggests), then that leaves just one spot for Spencer Howard, Vince Velasquez, Nova, or anyone else hoping to earn a starting job. 

If we had to handicap it, it would seem like the best idea would be to give to job to Howard and allow the pitching prospect to continue to grow in the big leagues, as they did last season. Velasquez has past experience in the bullpen — and even some success — so it wouldn't be shocking to see the veteran pitcher back there in 2021. 

Making some room

Matt Rappa | That Ball's Outta Here

In order to make room for all those additions, the Phillies had to free up some room on their 40-man roster. That included designating Ian Hamilton for assignment and trading infielder Kyle Holder to the Reds for cash. They also parted ways with Cole Irvin, who at one time appeared to be on track to a long and successful career in the Phillies rotation. That never materialized, and with the addition of Moore, it appears the team felt confident in moving on from a guy who would have at the very least given them some left-handed depth. Of course, his struggles in the major leagues also likely made him more expendable...

Once thought to be a left-handed mainstay in the Phillies rotation for years to come, the Phillies dealt Cole Irvin to the Oakland Athletics for cash considerations on Saturday to create another 40-man roster spot. Irvin thrived in the minors, particularly with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Spanning 43 combined appearances and 41 starts betyween 2018-19, he went 20-5 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.165 WHIP, and 196-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio through 255 innings. His success never translated over to the majors, however, where he went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA spanning 19 appearances and 45 1/3 innings between 2019-20.  [TBOH]

What about center?

Tim Kelly | Phillies Nation

One area the Phillies have yet to address — and one they might opt not to address at all — is centerfield. Once rumored to be contenders for free agents like Jackie Bradley Jr., it now appears like the Phillies could go with a platoon in centerfield yet again. 

Over at Phillies Nation, Tim Kelly put together his first Opening Day lineup projection, and he has Scott Kingery penciled in to center. 

No. 8: Scott Kingery, Center Field

If the Phillies do indeed play the Braves on opening day, Max Fried will likely be the starter, which likely rules out Adam Haseley from starting. Matt Gelb of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Phillies “believe that Kingery needs to play his way back into an everyday role,” which he should considering he has struggled mightily in two of his three major league seasons. Still, Girardi seemed hesitant to play Haseley against lefties at all last season, and Roman Quinn hit .213 in 108 at-bats. Who knows what the plan is for Mickey Monaik at this stage. Kingery has, by a sizable amount, the most upside of the center field options currently employed by the Phillies.  [Phillies Nation]

Spending spree

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Remember coming into this offseason worried that the Phillies were going to be cheap and that it was going to hurt them? Well, that turned out to be about as wrong as possible, as only one team has spent more than the Phillies this winter, and that's the Jays, who signed George Springer to a $150 million deal.

They're still about $15 million shy of the luxury tax threshold, and will probably want to save some of that for potential in-season moves. After all, as Seidman rightly points out, that's a lot of money to spend if you don't plan on contending. If they're in the hunt around the trade deadline, it's not a stretch to think they could be far more active than they've been in recent years under previous GM Matt Klentak and president Andy MacPhail. 

The Phillies have committed $152.5 million this offseason to Realmuto, Gregorius, Archie Bradley and Moore. They added about $1 million more by trading for lefty reliever Jose Alvarado. [...]

The numbers that matter toward the luxury tax threshold, however, are the annual average values of these deals. For Realmuto, the figure is $23.1 million. For Gregorius, it is $14 million. From a luxury tax perspective, this puts the Phillies’ 2021 player payroll at just over $195 million. The tax threshold for 2021 is $210 million. A first-time offender, which the Phillies would be if they exceed it, is taxed 20 percent on every dollar over that $210 million, which is calculated at season’s end. 

This is a lot of money to spend on a non-playoff team, which is what the Phillies have been every year since 2012. And with these moves, they need to end that drought in 2021. Signed and in their prime, the Phillies have Bryce Harper, Realmuto, Gregorius, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, along with ascending players like Alec Bohm and Zach Eflin.

They’ve spent over $850 million on players over the last four offseasons.  [NBC Sports]

Looking ahead

Thomas Harrigan | MLB.com

So, what moves could the Phillies realistically still make? Over at MLB.com, Thomas Harrigan listed three that the Phillies could make. Of course, this was before the team signed Didi Gregorius, so one of the most intriguing options he lays out — trading for Trevor Story — no longer makes sense. Neither does trying to sign Jackie Bradley Jr. (which would likely cost them between $8-9 million per year), unless they really don't want to invest any more in their bullpen (which they absolutely should) or they're willing to potentially cross that luxury tax threshold (which, if that's the case, good for them).

But adding bullpen depth is never a bad idea, as we saw first hand last season. Could Jake McGee be an option for the Phillies, who could look to sign high-upside guys in an effort to save a little cash? 

Sign Jake McGee

After posting the worst bullpen ERA (7.06) in the Majors last season, the Phillies have added Archie Bradley, José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod to their relief corps this offseason, but they need more arms and likely have limited resources to put toward the ’pen at this point.

Enter Jake McGee, who was released by the Rockies last July before signing a one-year, $563,500 million contract with the Dodgers. The left-hander went on to record a 2.66 ERA with the second-best K-BB% (38.0) among pitchers who threw at least 20 innings.

With a long list of accomplished relievers remaining on the market, the Phillies may be able to snag McGee for $3 million or so on a one-year deal.  [MLB.com]

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