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February 01, 2021

Phillies running it back, but think it'll be different this time

Last season was weird.

From fans clinging to metal bars behind Ashburn Alley to COVID cancelations and seven-inning double headers to the abbreviated 60-game season and expanded playoffs, it's hard to really make too many definitive conclusions about anything related to the sport of baseball from last summer.

So, maybe it shouldn't be all that surprising that the Phillies became the second highest-spending team of the winter in order to bring the gang back together, even after a disappointing 28-32 season in 2020.

You can thank the owners for that.

"I think a lot of that can be attributed to John Middleton and the Buck family, who wanted to step up and do things to make us better as a ball cub," Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "There are still a lot of uncertainties going forward and a lot of them are COVID-related."

There is no definitive start date for the 2021 season, though as of right now pitchers and catchers are slated to report on February 17. There is no reformed season length, the player's union reportedly rejected a plan that would decrease the slate of games from 162 to 154. No one has any idea when COVID will be under control enough to allow pro sports franchises to sell out stadiums again. And there is, as of yet, no decision on keeping the DH in the National League, as there was last year.

What is certain is that the Phillies will want to see more from their 2020 team — 60 games wasn't enough. So $152.5 million later, the Phillies are ready to run it back (with a little tweaking, of course). 

Everyone who tweeted #SignJT, good job. The #SignDidi folks helped too.

"'Let's go,' with a lot of exclamation points," Realmuto said, sharing the content of Bryce Harper's first text to the catcher after signing a five-year, $115.5 million extension last week. "He was really excited. I'm grateful to have teammates like that, and the fanbase we have."

The Phillies also made a splash giving Didi Gregorius a $28 million deal over two seasons. A press conference on that is expected sometime later on.

With rumors swirling in December that the Phillies were looking to cut costs and start a rebuild, the emergence of a team that really could compete in 2021 is a great and somewhat unexpected development, and one that may have swayed Realmuto's decision to return.

"[Dombrowski] talked to me about John [Middleton] and their thoughts where they saw the organization going," Realmuto recounted. "Some of the stuff in the media wasn't quite as accurate. He laid rest to that stuff, that the organization is in a position to try and win. John wants this Phillies team to try and be one of the best teams ever. That gave me the confidence he wants to get back to the postseason."

As was discussed frequently in 2020, there is a reason baseball is the sport with the longest season. A 60-game season is just a blip, and the Phillies clearly did not play up to their potential or talent. If they hit like they did last year, they'll surely be in the mix come October.

CategoryStat2020 rank
Runs per game5.105th
Home runs8211th
Stolen bases358th
Batting average.2578th
On base %.3423rd

The Phillies had some of the best total production in terms of WAR by position of any team in 2020 as well. They had six different positions in the line up contribute a top 12 number (according to

Position2020 WAR

There were 16 playoff teams last year, and yet the Phillies were not among them. 

Fans of the Phillies will never again minimize the importance of having a good bullpen — and with a lot of turnover in the 'pen, the Phillies are hoping the return of the same offense will get them to playing meaningful baseball in October for the first time since 2011.

Bullpen win %.36029th
Bullpen ERA7.06Worst
Bullpen IP186.0Fewest
Bullpen WHIP1.790Worst
Bullpen BAA.315Worst

"We have a long road ahead of us," Realmuto said. "We have to make adjustments, but we have to get better at defense and pitching. There's a lot of improvements we can make, [but] the talent is there."

"We didn't strike a lot of guys out and late in the games guys were putting the ball into play more than they should have. That being said, we gave up a lot more soft contact hits than any other team in the league."

The Phillies have already brought in Archie Bradley for $6 million and have moved on from nearly a dozen arms that were parts of the bullpen problem a year ago. And, according to Dombrowski, even with such little wiggle room below the luxury tax line, they aren't yet finished tinkering with the roster.

"Right now there's still a lot of free agents out there," he said. "I think you're still looking at value. There are a couple of pending things we haven't announced... 

"We're in a position where pitching remains priority to us but as you continue to move on you continue to fine-tune in other ways. We had a gaping hole at catcher, that changed. We added a shortstop... We also continue to look at our bench."

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