A Phillies Eulogy, in Advance of the Funeral

Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It’s all over but the shouting.

The Phillies lost to the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, 7-2. It reduced the Braves’ magic number to one. All they have to do is win one more game or the Phillies lose one more game, and they’ll win the NL East crown.

It was a decent push for the Phillies (81-77), but certainly not good enough. There was plenty of frustration throughout the season, but the reality is, the Phillies’ hands were tied around every corner. And even if they managed to get the knots out over the course of the next block, they would be re-tied together again as soon as they reached the corner.

That’s because the biggest problem, we learned, with the organization this season, is a woeful lack of depth.

Former GM Matt Klentak and President Andy McPhail left this team’s cupboard so bare and so bereft of talent that it would take 3-4 years of excellent drafting – where you hit on a couple players in each draft – just to make up for their prolonged ineptitude.

Consider, the Phillies didn’t have one pitcher in the minor leagues who they felt they could bring up to become even a part-time starter at the major league level after an injury to Zach Eflin left them shorthanded.

The guy who was supposed to be that answer, Spencer Howard, continued to miss the mark with every opportunity to pitch. He wore down too easily. He couldn’t give you more than 3 or 4 innings and was eventually shipped to Texas at the trade deadline for Kyle Gibson, Ian Kennedy, and Hans Crouse, who got one start himself down the stretch, and made it through three high-wire act innings.

The veterans the Phillies were hoping could provide that rotational depth, frankly all sucked. Chase Anderson was terrible and was released in August. Vince Velasquez was terrible, was released by the Phillies, signed with the San Diego Padres, and then couldn’t even help the Phillies there in one start against the Braves where he coughed up most of an early lead.

Oh, and Matt Moore was terrible, landed on the IL with a sudden back injury, that became a 60-day injury overnight, and he was gone too.

Who was left to make starts? Christopher Sanchez? Adonis Medina? Crouse?

It’s embarrassing really that the Phillies had to rely on bullpen games every fifth day for more than a month in the middle of a pennant race because of this lack of depth at the minor league level.

That’s why the most impressive moves new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld have been making this year involve the development staff. The Phillies minor leagues have been a cesspool for the better part of a decade, and until that changes, it’s going to be hard for the Phillies to compete.

That is unless John Middleton allows them to exceed the luxury tax

The only way to be competitive without a good minor league system is to spend, spend, spend. That includes on depth. As such, the Phillies, who have gaping holes all over the roster, are going to have to exceed the luxury tax if they want to be better than they were this year.

This all falls on the shoulders of principle owner John Middleton. He has been willing to open the checkbook to sign Bryce Harper, and Zack Wheeler and J.T. Realmuto, but he has to be willing to go even further until the minor league system has had a chance to flourish under new leadership.

Otherwise, John, you aren’t getting your damn trophy back.

So, it should be interesting to see what the owner has to say next week once the season is officially over. Will he loosen the purse strings again so Dombrowski and Fuld can go out and upgrade shortstop, or third base, or left field, or centerfield, or the rotation, or find a real closer?  Or are they going to be forced to go shopping in the bargain bins again and hope to find a diamond in the rough?

Can’t blame these guys

The Phillies were basically carried all season by two players – Bryce Harper, who should win the NL MVP award, and Zack Wheeler, who will likely be a Cy Young finalist.

Both players proved they were worth every penny of Middleton’s money. Harper is in his prime, but showed a new maturity and patience at the plate that he didn’t have previously. If he can carry that into the offseason and make it a staple to his approach at the plate moving forward, there could be more MVP Award in his future.

Wheeler became a bona fide Major League ace with the way he pitched this season. The Phillies have to be comfortable with him at the top of the rotation moving forward.

These guys were really good too – and we’ll see them next season

Jean Segura had a heck of a year. He’s going to finish in the top 10 in the NL in hitting, he became a bit more patient at the plate, which was noticeable in his boosted on-base percentage, and he played excellent defense at second base.

Rhys Hoskins was solid and reliable at the plate and really was the best insurance for Harper in the lineup right up until he had an abdominal injury that wiped out the last six weeks of the season for him. He would benefit the most from a universal DH next season.

Ranger Suarez was great in whatever role the Phillies asked him to fill, and his best work came as a starting pitcher. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to string together this season’s success through a full season in the rotation next year. If so, the Phillies may have an excellent 2-3 lefty in their rotation for several years to come.

These guys were OK at best, disappointing at worst, but will be back too

Joe Girardi took a lot of criticism as the manager of this team, and sometimes it was deserved. More than often though, it was not. Considering the situation he was in most nights with the players he had available to him, the fact that the Phillies were still in the race up until the season’s final week is more a testament to the work he did running the club and keeping the Clubhouse believing in itself when it was obvious that from a talent standpoint, there was a lot to be desired.

J.T. Realmuto took a step backwards this season. Maybe it was all the injuries he suffered this year, many of which he played through, that hampered him somewhat. But he was inconsistent at the plate and he wasn’t as dominant behind it as he had been in previous seasons. The Phillies would be wise to manage his workload even more next season. He needs more starts at first base and maybe 10 games at DH, if it exists, to really stay fresh.

Aaron Nola was an enigma. There were games when he was lights out fantastic and there were games where he was head-scratchingly bad. Sadly, there were more of the latter than the former. The funny thing is, sometimes he had these wild swings in effectiveness in the same game. Like sometimes he’d be great for the first few innings, and then implode. Or, he’d get roughed up early but then come back and pitch well over the next four innings. A lot of people want to say Nola doesn’t have that gene that makes him a big-time pitcher, but we saw what he could do a few years ago. He still has that stuff in him, so don’t give up on him just yet, but 2022 is sure going to be a make-or-break year for Nola.

Eflin was pitching OK when he went down with his knee injury that sidelined him for the season. Still, the Phillies need him to eat some innings and keep them in games and the bullpen fresh. Eflin is capable of going beyond the new norm of 5 or 6 innings. He just needs to find a way to stay healthy and be that reliable back-end of the rotation guy the Phillies need.

Kyle Gibson wasn’t as good for the Phillies as he was for Texas before the Phils traded for him, but he wasn’t terrible either. He’s under contract for another year. Like Eflin, the Phillies need him to provide innings and protection – keeping them in games – and serve as the back of the rotation guy.

Connor Brogdon is a guy the Phillies like as a long-term piece in their bullpen and potentially a future closer. He was really good at times this year, inconsistent at others, but for his first full season in the majors, you can’t be disappointed with his production.

Sam Coonrod has an electric fastball that can touch 101MPH. Like Brogdon, he had his good outings and his bad ones, and he battled through a couple injuries during the year. the one difference is he’s no longer a younger prospect and jut turned 29 last week. But, he can’t become a free agent until 2026, so the Phillies can give him another look as a middle reliever.

Guys who were good at times, bad at others, overall decent, but likely won’t be back in 2022

Andrew McCutchen gutted it out, but he has nothing left. You have to appreciate his mentality and his leadership qualities, but he’s no more than a fourth outfielder now and maybe a good bat off the bench. If he’s willing to come back in that role – maybe play against lefties or something – fine. Bring him back. Uncle Larry is beloved and would be good for the clubhouse. But short of that, the Cutch era is likely over.

Odubel Herrera turned out to be the best option in centerfield for the Phillies, and although he had stretches of inconsistency at the plate, was mostly fine in the role. The problem is, he doesn’t get on base enough to be a leadoff hitter, and that’s the role the Phillies needed him in most. Bat him seventh or eighth, you probably don’t complain about his production. Bat him No. 1 and he’s not good enough. Never mind the blunders on the bases and the occasional lack of hustle, you can improve on Herrera in the offseason.

Hector Neris might actually come back. He’s a free agent, but turned out to be the Phillies most reliable reliever, as long as he wasn’t asked to close games. The Phillies are going to need to revamp the bullpen again this offseason, but there might be a few guys worth keeping around, and Neris could be one, as long as he’s used in this swing role before the ninth inning. That said, the Phillies have so many holes, that they might need to part ways with Neris to have the room to sign other players. This is definitely the most intriguing will he/won’t he return situation for the Phillies this offseason.

Players who contributed when they were needed but were probably asked to do too much, are free agents, and will be 50/50 at best to come back

Brad Miller did yeoman’s work filling in for Rhys Hoskins at first base the last six weeks of the season, and he did a nice enough job to improve his average with more regular playing time, but Miller is purely a bench bat who gives you no defense of note at any position. His 20 homers this season are impressive, considering he’ll end up with the equivalent of a half-season’s worth of plate appearances, so if you want to bring him back as a lefty bat off the bench, fine. Just don’t expect much more than what you got this season when he wasn’t an every day player.

Ronald Torreyes became a team and fan favorite this season between his great defense, his clutch hitting and his fun-loving personality. But he definitely played more than a player of his caliber should and that really shortened the Phillies lineup. He is a team favorite and Girardi loves him, so I can see the Phillies bringing him back as a right-handed infielder off the bench next season, but to be fair, he’s more of a dime-a-dozen type of player, and the Phillies may weigh their options a little bit before deciding to bring Torreyes back.

Freddy Galvis had a cute little reunion with the Phillies, and after a slow start coming off a quad injury, Galvis started to hit a little. He had some big hits for the Phillies and definitely improved their infield defense. But once he was being called on more regularly, Galvis went cold offensively, and when he struck out with the tying run on third to end the game against the Braves Tuesday, it was probably indicative that he’s not meant to be part of a successful Phillies team. If the Phillies bring back both Miller and Torreyes, it’s doubtful Galvis returns too.

Travis Jankowski actually was a decent fifth outfielder who offered speed, defense, and got on base a bit, but that’s also not been his long-term track record – at least the on base part isn’t. Again, considering the Phillies needs to find two starters in the outfield, It’s likely Jankowski will want to land a job before the Phillies are ready to talk, which  could make his time here fleeting.

Players who underperformed but will likely still be back next season

Didi Gregorius had a bad year. There’s no other way to describe it. His batting average was miserable all season. He couldn’t hit lefties worth a damn. His swing became even more extreme on the launch angle as he tried to hit home runs and hit a ton of pop ups. Then defensively, he was subpar at such an important defensive position. He’s signed for another year, so barring Dombrowski/Fuld pulling off a magic trick and getting someone to take that contract, Didi will be back, but he can’t be your everyday shortstop. Frankly, I’m not sure where he fits as a role player either. So, this is a real conundrum for the Phillies. Maybe a trade and eat most of the salary is the way to go.

Alec Bohm had a considerable sophomore slump. He got off to a miserable start offensively. He was able to rectify that by changing his approach at the plate, but while his batting average was coming up, his OPS stagnated because of the lack of power. Bohm struggled to hit the long ball or have much in the way of extra base hits. Compound that with the fact that he was terrible defensively and the Phillies had no choice but to send him down to the minors. Bohm is an important player for the Phillies for 2022. Either he has to show signs of returning to his rookie of the year runner-up form or, if the Phillies worry that development isn’t happening quickly enough, has to be used in an offseason trade to improve the team. I don’t think they are ready to bail on Bohm yet, but they have to decide where he best fits. His best position ultimately will probably be first base. But he can’t come back as a third baseman and the Phillies are leery of trying to convert him to a left-fielder, especially after that experiment failed miserably with Hoskins.

Players who underperformed and probably won’t be back

The Phillies hoped Ian Kennedy could stabilize the back end of the bullpen, and he was just as inconsistent as the rest in his brief tenure. Doubt he’ll be back.

Andrew Knapp can’t be a free agent until 2023, so technically the Phillies can bring him back, but considering the investment in Realmuto, they need a better backup catcher than Knapp. He’s well-liked in the organization, but he was mostly useless when he played/pinch hit. Maybe the Phillies keep it internal and turn to Rafael Marchan in 2022, but then maybe Marchan, one of the Phillies’ few prospects at the higher levels that other teams may be interested in, has to be used as part of a trade, meaning the Phillies have to go another route and bring in a veteran backup.

Like Knapp, Jose Alvarado isn’t eligible for free agency yet, but should the Phillies bring him back? I say no. We’ve seen enough of his antics. Yes, he throws 100. Yes he’s tough on lefties. But man, he’s wild. He has no idea where the ball is going. He is constantly in trouble on the mound. I’d rather a pitcher who isn’t a fireballer but creates weak contact than a guy who throws hard but might hit the Phanatic on the dugout with a pitch. And yes, even with the netting there.

The Phillies kept telling us how important Archie Bradley was to the bullpen. His numbers would suggest otherwise. Yeah, there was a stretch in there where he was OK, but on the whole, Bradley was kind of the poster child of the Phillies bullpen – a guy who coming into the game was a coin flip between being on and having an easy outing and being off and getting lit up. The Phillies need more consistency. Archie can take his show elsewhere.

And the rest…. 

Matt Vierling had too small a sample size to get too excited about, but definitely hits the ball hard and has a solid approach at the plate. With that plus his versatility, he should definitely be in the mix for a roster spot come Spring. Luke Williams and Nick Maton are developing into the kinds of players that will make quality veteran utility players. They should remain on the 40-man, but if they’re taking a roster spot in April, Dombrowski and Fuld didn’t do a good enough job in the offseason. To me, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley represent failure of the Phillies drafting. Could they still be major league players? Yeah. It probably would be best though if it weren’t here. Bailey Falter, Ramon Rosso, J.D. Hammer and Medina? I just don’t see it with these guys. Roman Quinn? How can you ever trust he’ll be healthy again? Scott Kingery? LOL!

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