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December 07, 2022

What they're saying about the Phillies: Is this their best lineup ever?

Phillies great Larry Bowa compares the 2023 lineup to the championship teams from 1980 and 2008.

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USATSI_19243350.jpg Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY Sports

Will Trea Turner complete the Phillies' best lineup ever?

The winter meetings came back and Dave Dombrowski went off. 

All-Star and Silver Slugger Trea Turner got an 11-year, $300 million deal to come play shortstop for the Phillies, finally putting months of rumors to bed and a clear leadoff bat at the top of the order

Taijun Walker got a four-year, $72 million deal to round out the starting rotation and give the Phils a solid 1-4 between him, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Ranger Suárez. 

They're even getting more bullpen help in the form of lefty Matt Strahm on a reported two-year, $15 million contract, with the Phillies hoping he can offer more stability – in an area of the team that's never had enough– after a great year in Boston. 

Last year, the Phillies' mission was October and they landed in the World Series. 

Now it's to get back to the end and win, and the Phils' spending has made that crystal clear. 

They're all in. 

Here's what they're saying about the Phils:

The best of all of them?

Alex Coffey | The Philadelphia Inquirer ($)

Larry Bowa's been around the game, and the Phillies, for a long time and has seen plenty of great lineups. 

He was part of the 1980 team that won it all, saw firsthand how punishing the 2008 Phillies were when he was with the Dodgers in the NLCS, and even had a number of good bats at his disposal when he managed the Phils in the early 2000s.

But the lineup these Phillies just assembled? This could be the best of all of them.

Said Bowa, via The Inquirer's Alex Coffey:

“It ranks up there, no question,” he said. “You look at the two teams that won the World Series — the 1980 team and the 2008 team — and they were very deep, also. But this lineup could go head-to-head with those lineups, there’s no doubt about it.”

When Bowa looks back on those two teams, he can clearly see the difference-makers, the players who were acquired within a window of contention and helped push the Phillies to a World Series title. On the 1980 team, it was Pete Rose. On the 2008 team, it was Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. And on the 2023 team, Bowa believes it could be Trea Turner.

Turner, who hit 49 home runs and stole 59 bases over his last two seasons, brings speed and power but also consistency. He is a lifetime .302 hitter, which Bowa believes could take some pressure off the other hitters.

“I think when you look at our lineup, especially when [Bryce] Harper comes back [from Tommy John surgery], you could have two or three of those guys go cold and we have enough offense where other guys could pick them up,” he said. “When a guy hits .300 for most of the year, there’s not too many slumps he goes into. That consistency is huge. This guy is pretty steady. He gives you good at-bats. [The Inquirer, $]

A perfect fit

Brittany Ghiroli | The Athletic ($)

Philly likes tough and make no mistake, Trea Turner is tough. 

During the Nationals' World Series run in 2019, it was known that Turner had suffered and was playing through a broken right index finger. But it turned out his middle finger was broken too. No one knew until teammates Anthony Rendon accidentally let it slip. 

Turner didn't want anyone to know. He wanted to stay on the field. 

Wrote The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli:

Turner and his eight usable fingers were an integral part of the Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship. He adjusted his grip on the bat, used special gloves and never showed anyone in the media his right hand, let alone confirmed the actual extent of his injuries, which were more painful and complicated than most people realized.

Turner didn’t want to talk about any of it. He just wanted to stay on the field and win.

“Pop that motherf—er back in,” he told the Nationals training staff when an 0-1, 92 mph fastball from Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin ran a little too much inside and it felt, initially, like he dislocated something. The line was legendary. It was repeated all year in D.C., half-joking and half as a rallying cry. When you see a guy playing that hurt, it can motivate an entire clubhouse.

So while the initial response to Turner picking the Phillies and their 11-year, $300 million deal at the Grand Hyatt — the Winter Meetings host hotel — was shock, Philadelphia is actually the perfect place for someone like Turner. [The Athletic, $]

Yeah, Philly's gonna love this guy. 


David Laurila | FanGraphs

The Phillies' newest starting pitcher may be right at home too. 

The $72 million over four years awarded to the former Met was a decision by Dombrowski to round out the rotation and push the Phils to the end. 

Walker's decision to sign with Philadelphia though? Of course it was a chance to win, but also pitching coach Caleb Cotham and an emphasis on advanced analytics. 

From David Laurila of FanGraphs

The Phillies are coming off of a World Series appearance, and while that presumably appealed to Walker — who wouldn’t want to play for a team aggressively chasing rings? — so too would the progressive pitching environment he’ll be joining. When Walker was interviewed here at FanGraphs in January 2021, roughly one month before signing as a free agent with the Mets, he spoke of how he’d previously worked out at Driveline, and how, as a pitcher, “you’d clearly prefer that your next team is one that places a high value on technology and data.”

Jeremy Hefner, the Mets’ pitching coach for each of the past three seasons, is analytically-inclined. Philadelphia’s pitching coach is Driveline-educated Caleb Cotham.

The quality of Walker’s arsenal has improved since our conversation. That is especially true for his splitter, which he then likened to a sinker. It now dives: the pitch averaged 32.6 inches of vertical drop last season versus 27.7 in 2021 and 25.5 in ’20. The results were telling: batters hit .195 with a .267 slugging percentage against his splitter. Increased usage of what is now his best pitch played a big part in his success, too. Per Baseball Savant, the righty threw his splitter 689 times last season, nearly double what he did in 2021. Adding to its effectiveness is a sinker-like quality that remains; his average splitter velocity was a firm 88.8 mph. [FanGraphs]

When the rent comes due

Jayson Stark | The Athletic ($)

It isn't lost on anyone, not even the Phillies themselves, that they are spending A LOT of money right now. 

It's understandable. Their window to win is open. They're going for it. 

But is a payroll this bloated sustainable, especially with Aaron Nola's and Rhys Hoskins' contracts up after 2023? 

The Athletic's Jayson Stark posed this question to a few agents to get their read on things. There's some concern, sure, but the overwhelming sense is that 1) The Phils will figure something out long-term, and 2) They don't care, they're trying to win.

Wrote Stark

But agents and teams they’ve spoken with get no sense whatsoever that the Phillies are nervous about how their payroll puzzle will fit together — in the short term or the long term. So let’s ask again: Should they be?

I posed that question to a few bright minds in rival front offices. It was a fascinating exercise.

One general manager had no second thoughts. None. He’s a fan of watching teams in his sport go “all-in” to win when they think it’s their time. So he used the word “awesome” to describe this.

I asked another executive if he thought the Phillies’ payroll structure was workable over the next few years. He, too, shot down concerns.

“All payroll structures are workable,” he said — assuming the owner’s overriding goal in life is to win.

But an executive of a third team was not so euphoric. He started ticking off the names of all those stars listed above.

“That’s a top-heavy roster,” he said. “Holy moly.” [The Athletic, $]

Dombrowski has done this multiple times before though, and to pretty great success. 

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