Sure, the 2020 season just ended for the Philadelphia Phillies less than 24 hours ago. And yes, there are many questions to be answered over the coming off-season in regards to a number of positions. But it’s not too early to examine what we can be fairly certain about next year.
One of the biggest questions may be resolved in the next few days. That involves the “who” of who will be making those decisions. Will general manager Matt Klentak be back? What about club president Andy MacPhail? If not, a new executive or two coming in will need to make big decisions quickly.
The questions are big ones involving two key everyday positions players, catcher J.T. Realmuto and shortstop Didi Gregorius. There is also a bullpen that needs to be refashioned, if not totally rebuilt. And the club really could use another proven, winning, veteran starting pitcher. All that, and the bench is going to need some shoring up as well.
Realmuto was obtained in a preseason 2019 trade in which the Phillies surrendered one of the top prospects in the game, pitcher Sixto Sanchez. It was known at the time that Realmuto, widely recognized as the best catcher in baseball, had only two guaranteed years on his contract. It was also assumed by most Phillies fans that the team would be negotiating a contract extension that would keep him here for years to come. That has not happened, and the 29-year-old backstop will become a free agent in early November.
Gregorius was signed last winter to a one-year contract on which he was going to try to prove that he was healthy after 2018 Tommy John surgery cost him chunks of the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. The 30-year-old was not only healthy, he was also productive offensively and played an outstanding defensive shortstop.
So, with both players headed to free agency, Phillies fans cannot count on either returning next year. One might. Both might. Unfortunately, there is a chance that neither might be back.
Who will be back in uniform for the Phillies when the 2021 season gets underway?
Around the infield the Phillies will presumably be getting a healthy Rhys Hoskins back at first base. Scott Kingery and Jean Segura will return to play second base and shortstop. Unless, of course, the club re-signs Gregorius, in which case the other two will battle for playing time. Alec Bohm will surely be the starting third baseman.
Across the outfield the Phillies will have Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley/Roman Quinn, and Andrew McCutchen back next year. All are under contract and each ended the season healthy. While the Phillies might like to upgrade in center field with a more proven veteran, that might be tough when considering the other more pressing needs.
Bench and reserve-type players who appeared with the club in 2020 and who remain under contract into next season include catcher Andrew Knapp, infielder Ronald Torreyes, and outfielders Kyle Garlick and Mickey Moniak. The bench mix and depth will be influenced by what the Phillies choose to do at shortstop.
If there is a universal DH, it’s hard to imagine that they won’t try to bring in an established hitter, someone in the Jay Bruce mold. In fact, depending on the price, maybe even Bruce himself.
The starting pitching rotation will include Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, and Spencer Howard. The Phillies simply cannot count on Vince Velasquez again. He is either trade fodder or needs to be fully converted to the bullpen from the outset. The club really could use a proven veteran mid-rotation type addition.
Now, that bullpen. Hector Neris and Adam Morgan each have a year remaining on their deals – Neris via a team option that is likely to be exercised – and will be back. Whether Neris is the closer is another question altogether. There is an even more affordable option on veteran righty David Phelps. Don’t be surprised to see him return as well.
Don’t be surprised to see Heath Hembree, who was awful after being obtained in trade from Boston, return as well. The 31-year-old righty also has another year of control and was a solid big-league reliever for five years before imploding on arrival in Philly. Also obtained late and under control is David Hale, but he is more of a swingman and Triple-A depth arm.
Youngsters who contributed to the 2020 bullpen at one point or another who should have a good chance at joining the regular bullpen rotation for Joe Girardi next year include lefties JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez and righties Connor Brogdon and Ramon Rosso. Any number of other young arms could emerge as well with a strong spring training.
How does a Phillies 2021 bullpen of right-handers Velasquez, Neris, Phelps, Hembree, and Brogdon and southpaws Morgan, Romero, and Suarez make you feel? That is a very real possibility – and it’s not necessarily a bad group. A proven, shutdown closer along with that group would be nice. But who, and how much can you allot for that spot? Just might not be practical or possible.
That’s a first look at the 2021 Philadelphia Phillies, along with the biggest questions to be answered this coming off-season. We’ll be covering it all as the fall and winter move along here at The Bell.