Dave Dombrowski acknowledged in his year-end meeting with the media Wednesday that the Philadelphia Phillies have the financial ability to land a big-ticket item, but also mentioned how many different needs that the team has this winter as they attempt to reach the postseason for the first time in 11 years.
That means that if the Phillies spend on one of the top free agents this offseason, they’ll have to be killing at least two birds with one stone.
Trevor Story would seemingly solve a lot of problems for the Phillies, perhaps making the two-time All-Star an ideal target this winter.
Given that Didi Gregorius is under contract for $14.5 million in 2022, the Phillies would ideally have shortstop figured out for next season. Dombrowski — who is entering his first full offseason as the club’s president of baseball operations — acknowledged this week that after an underwhelming season from the veteran shortstop, he’s hardly certain to be the opening day starter at the position in 2022.
“…From an offensive [standpoint], it was not a good year,” Dombrowski admitted. “He’s always been an offensive shortstop, even more so. But the one thing from a defensive perspective that he has always done in his career is catch the routine play. He hasn’t always had the greatest range, but he just didn’t do that this year on a consistent basis. Now, he was hurt some. I know that his arm bothered him some, he had some injury factors.
“So maybe it is him. And he will, he’ll come in [to spring training] in shape. And we’ll just see how he does at that point. But he’s not guaranteed — he’s been told that — that he is for sure the shortstop. It doesn’t mean that he can’t play other positions for us too, and maybe we’ll have a DH that will be part of our club next year too.”
Gregorius, who will turn 32 in February, posted -11 defensive runs saved and had 18 errors in 2021. Certainly, the bout of pseudogout that Gregorius dealt with in the first half of the season may have contributed to his defensive struggles, though there’s no evidence to support his claim that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine caused issue in his throwing elbow.
In any event, the Phillies — who finished dead-last in the league with -52 defensive runs as a team — need to make massive defensive upgrades this season. All indications are that the team plans to continue to give Alec Bohm a chance to improve at third base, which leaves you with the feeling that Gregroius — who has -13 defensive runs saved in two seasons with the Phillies — will either be playing a different position with the Phillies or for a different team in 2022.
Story would represent a massive defensive upgrade at shortstop, as he posted nine defensive runs saved in 2021. Story made perhaps the best defensive play of the 2021 MLB season on Sept. 11 at Citizens Bank Park, which impressed Phillies manager Joe Girardi:
In regards to Bryson Stott — a natural shortstop that Phillies Nation graded as the No. 3 overall prospect in the Phillies system in September — Dombrowski said all the right things this week. He suggested Stott may not be far off from making his debut at the major league level, and that the Phillies like the former first-round pick defensively as a shortstop. Still, all indications are that Stott’s meal-ticket is going to be his bat, and Dombrowski didn’t rule out the possibility of him playing elsewhere on the diamond if the Phillies were to acquire another shortstop this winter.
Might there come a day in the back-half of Story’s deal where he’ll be a better fit to play third base? It’s possible, but the soon-to-be 29-year-old remains one of the best fielders at his position. Jean Segura and Odúbel Herrera generally graded out well at their positions, but Story would seemingly give the Phillies something they lack — an elite defender.
Dombrowski also acknowledged the need for the Phillies to add another middle-of-the-order bat, something that was especially apparent after Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season. J.T. Realmuto is one of the best offensive players at his position, but he probably shouldn’t be hitting cleanup for you in a pennant chase.
By his standards, Story had a relatively underwhelming contract year offensively. Still, he homered 24 times and drove in 74 runs. Between 2018 and 2019, though, Story homered 72 times and drove in 193 runs. And while there may have been some disappointment in Story’s offensive output in 2021, he certainly didn’t struggle against the Phillies. In seven games against the Phillies, Story hit .296 with four home runs and eight RBIs, including a grand slam at Coors Field in April:
There is something to be said for the fact that the Phillies cannot continue to address every need on their team by signing a player to a $100+ million contract. Dombrowski acknowledged that Tuesday, and he’s correct.
Over the last few seasons, there have been times where 70% of the players on the field in must-win games for the Phillies have been acquired externally. It’s created a mercenary-like feel for the Phillies, and it’s absolutely something that needs to be corrected.
But while rebuilding the farm system and correcting issues that have kept the team from consistently developing impact players since the mid-2000s should be organizational priority No. 1, that’s realistically something that will take three or four years, at a minimum, and that assumes all goes right.
In the meantime, the major league team is currently built to win right now, and has been for a few years. Bryce Harper will be 29 in 2022. Hoskins will be 29. Aaron Nola will be 29. Realmuto will be 31. Zack Wheeler will be 32. Jean Segura will be 32.
If impact players aren’t immediately going to come from the farm system, the free-agent route is the best way for an 82-win Phillies team to make enough strides to compete for the National League East title in 2021.
And while Story won’t be cheap, he figures to command less — both in terms of years and average annual value — than Carlos Correa or Corey Seager will. His addition would allow the Phillies to make a significant defensive upgrade and drastically improve their lineup. That can’t be the only notable move that the Phillies make this offseason, but as far as the big-ticket item goes, it would be an excellent place to start.
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