Deconstructing Dombrowski: A Breakdown of the Most Important answers from Season-Ending Press Conference
People are still reeling from the Phillies’ NLCS loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, which, frankly, is a series of words in the English language that were never meant to be put in that exact order.
Yet, there they are.
Count, among them, the Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski and Manager Rob Thomson.
They were not planning a postmortem in October. If anything, it would be November, again, and if they truly met their expectation, it would have been after a parade down Broad Street.
But those plans are on hold for at least a calendar year, while Dombrowski, Thomson, and the rest of the Phillies leadership figure out the why and plan for what’s next.
It started with letting go of bullpen coach Dave Lundquist and assistant hitting coach Jason Camilli. Dombrowski said they felt new voices there would be helpful.
But that is just the beginning. The next few months will be all about fixing what went wrong and improving the Phillies. But how will that happen? Dombrowski gave the first glimpse of it during his 42-minute, season-ending presser on Thursday.
Here’s the analysis of his answers:
On why Thomson is a good manager for the Phillies and will he get an extension, since he only has one year left on his contract:
We’re all disappointed that we didn’t win, but if your final judgment is based upon winning the World Series, and that’s it, there’s 29 managers who would lose their jobs every year. … Being a manager is a hard job. It’s a tough job. It takes a lot of different skill sets to be a manager. I’ve been fortunate in my life that I was at a table once at the Winter Meetings with Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre – four of the best managers in recent baseball memory and the topic comes up that it’s the top of the eighth in a tie game with two outs and men on first, what do you do? One guy says “I bunt.” Another says. “I hit and run.” Another says “I steal.” And the fourth says, “I do nothing.” They all have a different answer but they all have a reason for why they’d do it.”
“We haven’t even approached that (contract) yet because the season just ended. That’s something we will have to discuss.”
Analysis: Dombrowski had other good things to say about Thomson, but the point of telling this story is that just because you don’t agree with every managerial decision, doesn’t mean the guy isn’t effective at doing his job. Rob Thomson is a good manager. He has managed the Phillies to one pennant and one game short of a second. The most important thing is he’s a great communicator and the players like him and respect him (We’ll get to the Taijuan Walker thing later). So question something in the moment – you can do that with any manager – but give credit where it’s due – the guy is successful. That said, there are no guarantees he is a long-term guy here, even if he wants to be. The Phillies are in a different place now. They are a targeted team. They are no longer a cute story. They are one of the top teams in the sport and are going to have to find a way to stay there, and it’s going to be on Thomson to get them to the Promised Land. If he fails to do so, the change could happen sooner than you think – but certainly not now and not before 2024 commences.
Does your offensive approach have to change next year?
“We don’t preach. ‘just hit the ball out of the ballpark.’ That’s not our philosophy. That’s never been my philosophy. I’d rather lead the league in doubles than I would in home runs. Our approach is to use the whole field, hit doubles and we have speed on the team and steal bases. We just didn’t get guys on base in the last five games.”
We have to work on controlling the strike zone. We swung at way too many pitches out of the strike zone this year. Way too many. I know we have guys who chase, but they chased even more this year. That’s something we have to address. We’ve already had meetings in that regard.
Analysis: The Phillies lineup is actually a good mix of speed and power. What it’s not is a very disciplined lineup. The guys who are the best power bats also walk the most (Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper). That’s the conundrum. If the Phillies had better on base guys elsewhere, there might be a different lineup construction. As for chasing, it was their undoing against the D-backs. Arizona threw so many pitches intentionally out of the zone and the Phillies fished for them. If there’s going to be a change in the offense it needs to be be in this realm, first and foremost.
On the possibility of Bryce Harper returning to the outfield or staying at first base.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Bryce. We need to sit down with him, see what his preference is, and have a heart-to-heart with him and see what he wants to do. I don’t know at this time, but it’s a decision we’re going to have make relatively soon so we know what kind of moves we’re going to have to make.”
Analysis: Bryce Harper actually likes first base. I can see him telling the Phillies he’d be cool with a hybrid role, where he plays a little bit of both first base and the outfield, so I don’t think he’ll be locked in to one position, but I do think the Phillies will view him as their first basemen primarily going forward, although they’re going to have to find another player to have on the bench or elsewhere in the lineup who can also play first base if need be.
On Taijuan Walker’s first season with the Phillies and dealing with the fallout of his social media anger following Game 7.
“He won 15 games and pitched 175 innings for us. He had a real solid season for us. (In the playoffs) we had three starters and then when we needed a fourth, those guys hadn’t pitched for a while. We had Sanchez and (Walker) go out there and throw a couple of (simulated) innings and he was struggling to throw strikes. So, the feeling was that we were going to start Sanchez. That’s it. I like Taijuan Walker. I never get upset when a guy would like to pitch and doesn’t end up pitching. That’s good. I like him, he’s done a good job for us and I look for him to be a good pitcher for us next year.”
Taijuan Walker is already liking tweets criticizing Rob Thompson’s moves in the postseason.
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) October 25, 2023
(Note: Should we tell Pagan it’s Thomson not Thompson? Nah…)
Analysis: Taijuan Walker should not have started in the playoffs. Plain and simple. He struggled mightily early in games, and the Phillies couldn’t risk falling behind. He claimed disrespect, but the Phillies showed him a lot of respect by including him on the playoff roster, even though he’s not a reliever, to serve as the extra inning long man if needed instead of, say, Dylan Covey. That wasn’t good enough for Walker, but it was absolutely the right move by Thomson and the Phillies. The Phillies manager will have to smooth things over with Walker, but he will be back.
What does the outfield look like next season?
“Rojas’ defense far exceeded his offense. My question when we decided to move him up to the big league level – and we also have (Cristian) Pache who we like but unfortunately got hurt – can he keep his head above water to keep him in the lineup with his defense because of the other offense we have? The answer was, ‘I think we can do that.’ And he really did that, until we got to the postseason and they really went after him and he scuffled at that point. So I’m not going to anoint him a position with our big league club next year. He has to be able to contribute offensively, otherwise he’s going to have to go down and continue to develop. It doesn’t mean we don’t love him. We think he’s a really good player. We just need more offense than that out of a position.”
“(Brandon Marsh) didn’t hit left-handed pitching as much as we thought he would, but at the end of the year he made strides. There’s still going to be times where you don’t want to throw him to the wolves (against certain lefties) but I think he’ll get more exposure to left-handed pitching next year.”
Analysis: Barring a super spring, Rojas will start the season in the minors. Marsh, Pache, and Nick Castellanos will be on the roster, but the Phillies may pursue another outfielder in the offseason. I kind of think that’s where this is headed. Maybe a veteran who can play all across the outfield on a short-term deal, just until Rojas’ bat catches up to his glove.
What do the Phillies do about Aaron Nola and his pending free agency?
“We love him. … We hope to retain him. If we don’t, that needs to be the number one priority to replace him. We need to be in a position that we need another starting pitcher of quality, whether that’s Aaron or somebody else.”
“He’s our priority to sign. The reality is, we wanted to sign him in Spring Training and we didn’t get it done. So I can’t sit here and say I’m 100% confident we’ll get it done, but we would like to sign him and we’ll be aggressive in trying to make that happen. But if not … we’d be sad, but he wouldn’t be the first guy I’ve ever lost in free agency so you still have to plow forward. Our goal is to keep him and have him with us.”
Analysis: The Phillies are in a much different spot than they were back in Spring Training. They had high hopes for Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, and Griff McGarry. They figured the free agency market would be deeper, which would have competitive competing salary possibilities out there, but Shohei Ohtani’s injury and Julio Urias’ domestic violence issues have made the demand for starting pitching far greater than the supply. As such, the Phillies now recognize they need Nola more than he probably needs them. They will go hard after him, but so will several other teams. It’ll be up to Nola to decide what’s best for him going forward, and the Phillies will wait with fingers crossed to find out.
What about the depth at starting pitcher?
“That is always a challenge for us. We love Mick Abel still, but I can’t say going into the regular season that we can count on him to be be one of our five. (Griff) McGarry is going through some adjustments, so I don’t think he’ll be one of the five to start the season. Hopefully both of them at some point next year will be ready to contribute. (Andrew) Painter is not going to be in consideration next year. So, it’s something we need to focus on.”
Analysis: This is going to be an under the radar need but a big need for the Phillies in 2024. Imagine if Cristopher Sanchez didn’t have the season he had? Where would the Phillies be then? They need to add at least one more bottom of the rotation veteran to add to the mix. I would expect Dylan Covey to still be around as a depth guy, and they’ll likely have a couple of guys on Spring Training invites with MLB experience to consider for depth as well.
What is Rhys Hoskins’ situation and will he get a qualifying offer?
“I’ll say the same thing about Rhys as I said about Aaron Nola. You can’t find better people than them. They’re Phillies through and through. What they’ve brought to the organization is outstanding. They’re quality people. As far as Rhys is concerned there are still several moving parts that I’m not sure about at this time, so I can’t answer that question (about his qualifying offer) at this time.”
Analysis: It sure sounds like Hoskins isn’t as much a priority as Nola. Qualifying offers are basically a bluffing game in poker. Teams wishing to receive compensatory draft picks for the loss of a free agent can make a one-year “qualifying offer,” worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players, to a pending free agent (assuming they’ve never had a QO previously and that they spent the entire season on the team’s roster). The player can accept or decline the qualifying offer, during which time he can negotiate with other teams to survey his market value. Should a player decide to accept the qualifying offer, he is signed for the following year at that offer price. If a player rejects the qualifying offer, he is free to further explore the free-agent market, and once he signs, the team he signs with compensates the original team with a draft pick. The gamble here is, do the Phillies make him that one -year offer, hoping he rejects it and they get the pick? But what if he accepts it and the Phillies really don’t have a fit for him on the roster? I’m betting there is no QO unless there is a handshake agreement that Hoskins will reject it to try and help the Phillies get compensation (although that may put him at risk if teams don’t want to gamble on his comeback value).
Do the Phillies need a bona fide closer to lock up the back end of the bullpen?
“No. First of all, there’s not that many of them. Secondly, we have some pretty good guys out there who can close a game. Maybe we had a couple of guys who ran out of gas… I don’t know if they were tired, or there was pressure, or whatever the case was…”
Analysis: The bullpen won’t be as big a priority this offseason as it was in previous seasons. The Phillies are happy they have developed a burgeoning young back end of the bullpen arm in Orion Kerkering and they feel they plucked a gem off the scrap heap in Jeff Hoffman. They expect a better season out of Gregory Soto next year, Jose Alvarado is a constant hammer in whatever role he’s asked to pitch in, and they’ll have another year of Matt Strahm’s versatility. Seranthony Dominguez was inconsistent and needs to be better, but he’ll be back too. They may add a small piece to this group, but they feel good with where they are – plus the depth they have – going forward.
What’s the possibility of signing Zack Wheeler to an extension since his contract is up at the end of 2024?
“We hope to have Zack Wheeler in this organization for years to come. He’s been tremendous since he’s been here. We look at him as a real stalwart in this organization so we would hope that he’d be here for a long time.”
Analysis: The Phillies recognize that for the offensive talent they have, that while this championship window is open, they need two front line starters for the next several years. If bringing back Nola is Priority No. 1 (or replacing him is, should he choose to sign elsewhere), then signing Wheeler to an extension should be Priority No. 2. Having two guys like that atop your rotation is paramount if you want to win a championship. Period.