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February 12, 2021

Phillies show self-awareness, fan service with moves this offseason

The Phillies didn't expect to have such a long offseason. With a team built to compete in playoff games — not collapse in September — owner John Middleton was left this fall wondering why his stupid money hadn't bought a winner yet.

And somewhat quietly, the Phillies put together a fantastic winter by doing two important but relatively rare things: they had excellent self-awareness of their short-comings and they gave the fans what they wanted.

Not surprisingly, the two influences proved to point toward the exact same courses of action. Here's why the Phillies are on the right track:

"Fire" Matt Klentak

Phillies fans wanted this, and they got it. After Klentak helped to coordinate the signing of Bryce Harper and the trade for J.T. Realmuto, it became fairly obvious that his skills in the offseason didn't translate to the regular season, as a lack of depth and a troubling theme of mostly ineffective in-season transactions led to their downfall three seasons in a row.

Klentak wasn't actually fired — he was technically re-assigned — but he and Andy MacPhail were replaced by the team of Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld. Dombrowski has a track record of making big, splashy and usually effective moves to help good teams get better. Fuld is young and will represent the analytical side as GM to Dombrowski's president of baseball ops. The duo has put together an updated version of last year's underachieving team.


Whether or not it was Klentak's fault that the Phillies were unable to extend J.T. Realmuto last offseason or this season, the new regime made sure to handle this one, inking the All-Star catcher to a five-year, $115.5 million deal that makes him the highest paid catcher in history. 

How much of this signing can be credited to fans (and players) putting pressure on the team to make good on its trade a few years ago that sent top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to the Marlins? It's hard to say, particularly as this signing was an extremely logical baseball move. Whatever the reasoning, they sealed the deal and Philly is set at catcher for the next half decade.

Starting pitching depth

A lot of this was the fault of COVID-19, shortening the 2020 season to 60 games, wrecking havoc on the schedule and cancelling the minor league season. But all 30 teams had to deal with it in some way, and the Phillies were unprepared and unlucky, having to use 10 different starting pitchers while dealing with injuries and a bevy of double headers.

If the Phillies had a serviceable sixth starter, we might not even be having this conversation. And the front office knew that had to be a priority — particularly with question marks ahead in 2021. They have added quite a bit of depth to the starting pitching rotation, which will be rich with competition in spring training:

Aaron NolaAce
Zack WheelerAce
Zach EflinNo. 3
Spencer HowardCompetition
 Vince VelasquezCompetition
Matt MooreCompetition
Chase AndersonCompetition
Ivan NovaCompetition

In addition, Philly will have a bunch of young arms competing for bullpen spots who also can start — like Mauricio Llovera, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez.

Turnover and re-build bullpen

Here's a look at the Phillies 10 most used relievers in 2020 — the year they had the worst bullpen in all of baseball (and probably of all time) — and the 10 top arms competing to make the pen out of spring training in 2021.

Tommy HunterJose Alvarado
Blake ParkerArchie Bradley
Connor BrogdenConnor Brogden
Brandon WorkmanHector Rondon
Heath HembreeRanger Suarez
Hector NerisHector Neris
David HaleDavid Hale
Adam Morgan Neftali Feliz
JoJo RomeroBrandon Kintzler
Ramon RussoSamuel Coonrad

As of right now, just three returning pitchers from the worst bullpen in baseball are expected to be in the pen on opening day. Rosso, Romero and other prospects like Suarez Medina and others were forced to pitch in the pen instead of developing in Triple-A last year. With veterans brought in to right the ship, that should't happen so much in 2021.

In fact, of 29 pitchers who appeared in relief last season, just eight remain with the organization. Improving the bullpen is a priority, and turning over more than 72% of it certainly shows that the Phillies are not messing around there.

Continuing to spend "stupid money"

There was a time this past winter during which Phillies fans were extremely bummed out. It seemed like yesterday that Middleton was saying he'd spend "stupid money" to win, but thanks to the pandemic and some bad luck, it looked like the team might actually be speeding toward a rebuild. Then Dombrowski took over, and the Phillies proceeded to spend the following in free agency:

PlayerTotal committed
J.T. Realmuto$115.5 million
Didi Gregorius$28 million
Archie Bradley$6 million
Chase Anderson$4 million
Brad Miller$3.5 million
Matt Moore$3 million

This, in addition to minor league contracts to guys like Kintzler, Nova, Matt Joyce and others. The Phillies will wind up spending more than $160 million in all this offseason, among the most in baseball. They are expected to be just below the $210 million luxury tax. 

Bonus: Bamboo is back

Two seasons ago, the Phillies acquired utility infielder Brad Miller from the Yankees for basically nothing. He almost single-handedly carried them to the playoffs (okay, we are exaggerating a little).

It had something to do with bamboo?

It's unclear whether fans were barking at the Phillies to bring him back or not, but it was reported Thursday that he'll return to the Phillies for 2021.

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