It is difficult to put into words what fans should feel at the conclusion of the Phillies 2020 season. With so much to look forward to going into this year, even all things COVID-19 considered, the ball club’s chances appeared promising.
But here we are in October with championship series in both leagues under way and the Phillies are still in what appears to be a rebuild mode. The existential dread is real. If you feel as if you are at a loss or confused as to what the Phillies are doing, well, I assure you that you’re not alone.
2019 was stressful enough to go through as a fan, but in the end there was plenty to look forward to for Phillies fans with a managerial change, the signing of a big free agent starting pitcher, and the promise of better overall health in a new season. Going into 2020, all seemed for the better. This was supposed to be a great year.
Now following a ninth consecutive non-winning season, Matt Klentak has stepped down as general manager. There were some bright spots in the former GM’s career. He made a nice trade for Jay Bruce in 2019. His addition of Brad Miller last season can’t be ignored either, especially considering Miller was basically paid peanuts and family passes to Dollar Dog Night in exchange for a relatively impressive sleeper bat.
Bryce Harper? Klentak at least helped with that huge deal, even if it was only dotting i’s and crossing t’s on the contract. Klentak also made some aggressive moves in 2020 to bring in bullpen arms mid-season and then prior to the trade deadline.
That work simply wasn’t enough. Replacing many of the existing bullpen arms with new ones made absolutely no impact. Honestly, I’m at a bit of a loss here. I truly don’t know what more could have been done. What a terrible gamble to take and lose on – bring in all new arms in deals that seemed like they would help only to see it all backfire, with most of those new arms actually hurting the team even more.
We can’t say for sure how the J.T. Realmuto trade, which cost top prospect arm Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro, will turn out over the long run. But that swap is looking more and more like a Klentak flop. The final answer won’t come until Sanchez has time in the league to grow and/or Realmuto walks away to another team in free agency. At the moment, it’s not looking good.
As the Phillies prepare for what now promises to be an interesting and pivotal off-season, there are now a number of unanswered questions looming. The Phillies have more holes to fill than most could have imagined at this point.
Managing partner John Middleton is being intentionally cryptic in his responses to questioning by the media, claiming uncertainty regarding fan attendance and the ensuing revenue hit as a financial hurdle to be considered.
I get that, but last week Pennsylvania loosened restrictions and will allow up to 7,500 fans in attendance at sports and concerts. With five months until March, that tells me we may see 50% capacity, or more, by the start of the 2021 season. In all likelihood that will only improve as time goes on. With the Phillies considered a large-market team, the money should be there to salvage what’s left of the Realmuto trade by signing the guy, and piece together a bullpen. The only way to buy insurance on losing Sixto Sanchez is to make sure Realmuto doesn’t walk. Meanwhile, the Yankees, Braves, and Mets are all rumored to be interested in his services.
If somehow the Phillies do manage to get Realmuto resigned and bolster the bullpen, that’s still only 25% of our woes for next year. They will also have to figure out what to do at shortstop. Didi Gregorious made an absolutely fantastic case to stick around, but he is also a free agent. Again, Middleton will fall back on financials.
Jake Arrieta, and David Robertson are both free agents. This is mostly good, because together they will free up roughly $50 million per year in salary. But that also means a spot in the rotation is open which Arrieta filled for most of the last three years. The Phillies need to wisely spend that money.
One bit of really good news to take away from the 2020 season is that it appears as though our third base hole has been filled, hopefully for years to come. Alec Bohm is for real. He hit to a .338/400/.481 slash line with 15 exta-base hits, 23 RBIs, and 24 runs scored over 180 plate appearances while playing well at both third and first base.
Zach Eflin quietly had a career year in the rotation’s four-spot. With a healthy Ranger Suarez and Spencer Howard, it’s entirely possible the Phillies will have a good enough rotation to win without more expensive additions from outside.
Speaking of returning players, should we be concerned with Scott Kingery? He had a bad season, slowed and possibly completely affected by a bout with the coronavirus. Kingery’s swing was exhausting to watch at the plate. His defense was almost embarrassing wherever he played. For someone who was a minor league Gold Glover, it’s disconcerting. Will Kingery bounce back with a full off-season of rest and recovery? It’s a key question.
The jury is also still out on Rhys Hoskins. He began the season very clearly still in a major hitting slump. Then Hoskins started heating up right around the time Harper went into his own slump. Bryce evenentually hit himself out of it, but then Hoskins went down for the season with a pretty serious injury. As an optimist, I feel good about his returning next year and becoming productive, but expect him to miss some, if not all, of spring training, and his season could begin late.
On top of all this, club president Andy MacPhail remains as the Phillies search for new leadership and a new direction. It would not be at all suprising to see him take the Klentak route, accepting some other non-decision making role with the organization while his contract runs out its final year in 2021. One can’t help but wonder if Klentak stepped down because he truly felt like he was the problem, or if he was forced to do so by MacPhail and Middleton.
Phillies fans will be happy when MacPhail goes, but Middleton has given us no reason to be hopeful beyond that. Only the people sitting in those meeting rooms know the truth behind who is really in control. I always believe where there’s smoke, there’s fire. There seems to be just enough information out there pointing at the multi-billionaire Middleton as being financially overly cautious.
There is no way to overlook the fact that the Phillies have their work cut out for them this off-season. Strap in for the long haul on this one, boys and girls. It promises to be a wild ride.