It has been nine seasons since the Phillies last won the NL East. Heading into 2020, the division looks to be even stronger than ever before while the Phillies struggle to stay relevant.
The Miami Marlins have a young, promising core of starting pitchers that the team will look to build around in the near future. One of these players, Sixto Sanchez, was acquired in a trade from the Phillies two years ago along with Jorge Alfaro in exchange for J.T. Realmuto.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are non-committal on re-signing Realmuto, who has been the best catcher in baseball the past two seasons. The fact that the Phillies even let Realmuto get to free agency is somewhat of a failure, considering part of their thought process in not signing an extension prior to 2020 was avoiding the luxury tax. Now, they may not keep him at all.
The Marlins were able to win seven out of ten against the Phillies and, in turn, finish second in the division, which guaranteed them a playoff spot in the shortened 2020 season. The team even won a playoff series against the Chicago Cubs before losing in the Division Series to the Atlanta Braves.
Just last week, the Marlins hired Kim Ng to be their new general manager. Ng comes in after spending time as the assistant GM with both the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, and will certainly make an impact as the team looks to build around its impressive core. The Marlins might have overachieved in 2020, but there is no debating the organization has a bright future ahead.
The New York Mets have not made the playoffs since 2016, but they were just purchased by the richest owner in the sport. They have a solid core of offensive players including the 2019 Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, and a starting pitcher in Jacob deGrom who has won the NL Cy Young Award in two of the last three seasons.
When Steve Cohen bought the team earlier this month, he cleaned house in the front office. Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ new team president, is currently heading a search to find a new president of baseball operations. Meanwhile, even though former Phillies GM Matt Klentak stepped down at the beginning of October, much of the team’s front office, led by team president Andy MacPhail, has stayed intact.
And as Cohen looks to increase the team’s spending, Phillies managing partner John Middleton, who claimed the team would spend “stupid money” just two years ago, is non-committal in whether the Phillies will even match their spending from 2020.
And in Atlanta, the Braves have won the division in three consecutive years and came just one win away from going to the World Series last season.
They also boast a generational talent of their own in Ronald Acuña Jr. and their first baseman, Freddie Freeman, won the NL MVP in 2020. And as their rotation improves with the emergence of Max Fried and Mike Soroka, the team is still improving.
Elsewhere in the division, the Washington Nationals won a World Series just last year. They have a difficult future ahead, but that is normal for a team exiting a long run of playoff berths. Even if they do not compete in the coming years, they have a generational talent in Juan Soto, who is still just 22 years old and might be the best hitter in the National League.
The Phillies might have a solid core headed by Aaron Nola, Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler and Rhys Hoskins, but they have not shown the proclivity to develop generational prospects like Soto. Perhaps their draft luck is beginning to change with the emergence of Alec Bohm, but their need to spend on star players like Harper and Wheeler combined with a self-imposed budget has limited what they can do.
Every team in the NL East outside of the Nationals has a unique situation but a clear path forward. And suddenly, the Phillies — who appeared to be emerging from their rebuild after a busy offseason before 2019 — are the most directionless team in the division.
This is not to say that the team is irredeemable. The core is still impressive, and with increased spending, savvy moves and improvement in player development, it can make up ground in NL East, which is steadily improving around them.
But it is undeniable that the Phillies have been half-hearted in their effort to win in recent years, which has put them behind other teams in the division. They traded for Realmuto but failed to extend him before he hit free agency. They spent massive money on Harper and Wheeler but did not dip into the luxury tax to add relievers that would have helped them reach the playoffs in 2020.
And right now, the rhetoric from Middleton implies that decisions like these will continue to come, which will only cost the team in an increasingly competitive division.
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