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February 03, 2021

How long, exactly, is the Phillies current window to contend?

Are the Phillies pulling a fast one on all of us?

As many feared the worst about a franchise that has seen nearly a decade go by since they last appeared in a playoff game, the Phillies front office — led by veteran team builder Dave Dombrowski — has put together team that actually has the potential to have a little longevity. 

The team on paper looks to have few weaknesses and a lot more depth than the that collapsed a season ago. With no major contracts set to expire in the next season or two, and impact players firmly under team control for multiple years, the Phillies have the chance, if they so choose, to keep this band together for a very long time to come.

PositionPlayer (age) Years left*
RFBryce Harper (28)11
3BAlec Bohm (24)6
SPSpencer Howard (24) 6
CJ.T. Realmuto (30)5
IF/OFScott Kingery (27)5
SPZack Wheeler (31)4
RPSeranthony Dominguez (26)4
SPAaron Nola (27)3
2BJean Segura (31)3
1BRhys Hoskins (28)3
SSDidi Gregorius (31)2
LFAndrew McCutchen (34)2
SPZack Eflin (27)2

*contains all types team control, including team options and arbitration eligibility.

The team's only real personnel decisions following the 2021 season will be on some pitchers — Vince Velasquez, Archie Bradley, Hector Neris, Matt Moore and others — and on Andrew McCutchen, who has an option for 2022 but can be cut loose to save the team $12 million. 

Aside from that, it seems like the Phillies, for better or worse, are pretty much priced into having this exact same team on the field again for 2022. A year after that, Didi Gregorius and Zach Eflin are up for free agency. 

It's not until 2024 that the Phillies will really have one of their core players reach free agency, and hopes are that if Aaron Nola pitches like an ace, the Phils will wrap him up before he hits the open market. 

There are obviously two issues facing the Phillies' competitive window and the first one is bluntly obvious — they have to play well. If the roster as assembled fails to play to its potential, the Phillies are in deep trouble. But last year's shortened season showed it was really the fault of the bullpen and injuries that they weren't postseason participants.

An expanded postseason with multiple wild card spots — as appears to be in the cards for 2021, is a big boost to the Phillies, as the NL East is loaded with the Mets, Braves and Nationals all adding pieces this offseason to get better. A potential designated hitter also will help them succeed, giving more opportunities for their stacked lineup to get at bats.

Let's assume for a moment the Phils are moderately successful for the next few seasons. The issue then becomes the farm system. With the average age of this team among the 10 youngest in 2020 (28.9), that number will obviously only get older and older as this core continues to play in Philly. And the franchise has one of the worst farm systems in baseball (ranked 24th of 30 by B/R). They had one single member in The Athletic's Top 100, and Howard (ranked 62nd) is likely to be a full-time big leaguer if not in 2021 then certainly by 2022. 

The Phillies need to not only draft better, but also find a way to develop their homegrown players into contributors that can fill in for Jean Segura, McCutchen, Gregorius and others as they get older and eventually leave the club. 

Here's the Phillies current best prospect at each position. The FV ranking is each player's future value, according to metrics compiled by The scale runs from 80-to-20, and relatively rates a player based on their potential WAR as a pro:

PositionPlayerAge, levelFV rank
PFrancisco Morales21, Single-A 45
PMick Abel 19, none45+
CRafael Marchan21, MLB45
1BJhailyn Ortiz22, Single-A40
2BLuis Garcia20, Single-A 45
SSBryson Stott23, Single-A 45+
3BCasey Martin21, Rookie 40+
OFMickey Moniak22, MLB45
OFSimon Muzziotti22, Single-A45

The Phillies don't have a single player who rates above a 45+ (which is essentially between 45-49). For context, FanGraphs says that there are 115 prospects that are ranked at a 50 or higher. There is not a lot of talent waiting in the wings, and while the scouting FV ranks are nothing but speculation, it would be nice to have some exciting pieces in the pipeline instead of hoping someone unexpectedly emerges as a future contributor. Using the metric above, the Phillies farm system ranks fifth from the bottom of 30 MLB teams.

The Phillies have a team right now that has the potential to make the playoffs, as constructed. They're adding smart pieces like Chase Anderson and Matt Moore, each who'll compete for a starting slot in 2021. But there's a cliff the team is risking falling off of if they aren't able to somehow address their god awful farm system as soon as possible.

The window for competing is three years, and potentially longer if they can extend Nola and if their core players age gracefully (a big if). But if they don't begin to also prioritize the future, this team is also risking being old and washed up before they have a chance at a championship.

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