Running opposite to the embarrassment that has been unfolding all offseason in the NL Central, the NL East looks to be quite exciting ahead of the 2021 MLB season. The latest news on that front was the Phillies agreeing to a five-year, $115.5 million deal with catcher J.T. Realmuto on Tuesday afternoon.
For the Phillies to retain arguably the best catcher in baseball, it's definitely commendable and a big positive for the franchise moving forward. Is it enough, though? Let's run through Philadelphia's division rivals:
- The Marlins are coming off a shocking run to the NLDS, during which they acquired Starling Marte as an offensive centerpiece. They already had a young and promising rotation and they've spent the offseason bolstering the bullpen.
- The Nationals have added Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber to the middle of their batting order while grabbing Brad Hand for late-inning duties. Jon Lester joins the back of the rotation behind their trio of aces.
- The Mets traded for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco while also signing free agent catcher James McCann. They likely aren't done, either.
- The Braves were already one of the best teams in baseball and they added Charlie Morton to the rotation, not to mention Drew Smyly for added depth. Mike Soroka will return from his torn Achilles at some point, too.
And now we look at the Phillies, who ended last season at a streaky and underwhleming 28-32. Retaining Realmuto was a big deal, as noted, but they already missed the playoffs with him on the roster in each of the last two seasons. They have improved the bullpen, most notably by signing Archie Bradley, but otherwise it's mostly the same group as last year.
That is to say, with stiff competition in the NL East, retaining Realmuto was the necessary move. Given that the Phillies haven't made the postseason since 2011 -- that despite making big commitments to Zack Wheeler, Bryce Harper and now Realmuto -- they need to remain aggressive.
What could be on tap? Here are three more areas Dave Dombrowski needs to address in his first months on the job.
It's possible the Phillies could pursue a second baseman and slot Jean Segura back at short, but that would be a mistake. The Phillies ranked dead last in baseball last season in defensive efficiency and offense should take a back seat (they were fourth in the NL in runs, fifth in average and sixth in OPS). There were three prominent shortstops in free agency that would've made sense here at the time the Realmuto news broke. In the ensuing few hours, however, Marcus Semien signed with the Blue Jays and Andrelton Simmons went to the Twins. I liked Simmons the best here because he's the best defensive option there is at shortstop. Alas, that ship has sailed. There is a good option remaining, but they can't miss.
Now it looks like it's bringing back Didi Gregorius or bust. Sir Didi showed his offensive prowess in his 60 games with the Phils last season. He hit .284/.339/.488 (119 OPS+) with 10 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 40 RBI and 34 runs. He's a perfectly acceptable defender at shortstop and is a plus on offense, so he's a fit here.
If the Phillies miss on Gregorius, it looks like they'd need to go with Segura at shortstop and Scott Kingery at second base in an everyday role.
2. Mid-rotation depth
The Phillies are blessed with a pair of aces atop the rotation in Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Behind them, it gets a bit murky.
Zach Eflin has shown enough these last few years to be counted on for a full-time rotation spot, though we'd probably feel better with him as a four than a three, no? Vince Velasquez can't be counted on in a rotation in this division. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard arrived on the scene last year and struggled a bit, but it was his first time through and do we really want to draw broad-sweeping conclusions in the pandemic season anyway? Adonis Medina (formerly a top-100 prospect) made his debut in late September and could also figure into plans.
As things stand, it's Nola, Wheeler, Eflin and some combination of Velasquez, Howard and Medina, in all likelihood.
We'd sure feel a lot more confident in a team's chances of contending in the NL East if we could slot someone between the top two and Eflin. The Phillies have recently been connected to free agent right-handers Anibal Sanchez and Julio Teheran in rumors, so we know they are looking for depth.
Something like throwing Odorizzi in the three slot while giving the Phillies the ability to see what they have with Howard in the five spot (Nola, Wheeler, Odorizzi, Eflin, Howard) would be a very good position for the club heading into the season in terms of both depth and ceiling.
3. More bullpen help
To call the Phillies' bullpen in 2020 a mess would be far too kind. They posted a 7.06 ERA as a group with 12 blown saves and 14 blown losses. Adding Bradley helps and Hector Neris is likely to bounce back. Lefty Jose Alvarado was acquired from the Rays in December and his ability to miss bats suggests there's potential for a big year.
If I'm Dombrowski, though, I'm not settling with the current crop of relievers after the 2020 catastrophe, even with all the mitigating circumstances behind the short and odd season.
Perhaps some of the bigger names available, such as Alex Colome or the apparently-rebuilt Trevor Rosenthal fit in the Phillies' budget after the Realmuto -- and hopefully a shortstop and starter -- signing(s), but there are a host of relievers available in free agency who could be of help. Tyler Clippard? Tony Watson? Jeremy Jeffress?
And then on down to the so-called scrap heap, the Phillies should be acquiring all kinds of bullpen depth to see who sticks.
The Realmuto signing was a big win for the Phillies. In order to convert offseason wins into regular-season success, they shouldn't stop now. There's more work to be done on this roster.