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Phillies: January’s Smoking Gun for 2021


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Revealing his approach in late October, president Andy MacPhail stated once --and only once-- the strategy for the ‘21 Philadelphia Phillies. But if you didn’t catch his quote, you missed the secret-disclosed plans before the amplified statements of financial losses from managing partner John Middleton.


Surprises Ahead:

The Phillies faithful are unhappy about being in the dark regarding the front office’s approach to 2021’s roster construction. Though, MacPhail did provide one sentence to three local scribes at season’s end. And, surprisingly, it jumped into my eyes when I read it. Well, you can’t expect him to repeat it a dozen times; can you?   


“The table of elements does not contain one of the most powerful elements that make up our world, and that is the element of surprise.” - Daniel Handler

According to Connor Byrne of MLBTR on October 30, MacPhail said, “I don’t expect any big moves in free agency until later in the process.” Basically, he stated what the red pinstripes will do, when they will do it, and why they will do it. Plus there will be more than one.          

If MacPhail didn’t expect any signings until later, he was aware of the strategy with two full months remaining until January because the plan had to account for spring training in mid-February. But keep in mind, he only provided one sentence about organizational thinking.  

The president referred to “big moves” in “free agency,” and his statement probably had JT Realmuto in mind at $25 million AAV (average annual value). Moreover, he could be thinking of a $13 million AAV starter and/or a $10 million AAV closer. But these costly pieces are traveling at a glacial pace into ‘21.     

With bargain acquisitions in mind, the Phillies will ink their targets in January without waiting until month’s end and then sign reliable bullpen pieces for reasonable costs from among the remaining pool of arms. Realistically, the decision-makers understand the financial crunch will leave many decent pen options.  

The timing of the quote at October’s end is striking because it reveals the direction was already in their GPS before November. Yes, it pokes a small hole in Middleton’s posturing about financial difficulties, and, no, the other franchises aren’t completely buying it. That’s why they’re calling.  

While other front offices can guess the Fightins’ approach, they don’t know which stars they have interest in aside from Realmuto. And they don’t know the Phils’ monetary limits during these lean times, but the answers they receive on players’ availability can confirm their suspicions of posturing.       

As for the fan base, MacPhail’s quote on Oct. 30 was as if he knew nobody would catch it. And if someone did at the time, they either wouldn’t be able to break it down or totally realize its import. So, that sentence was lost in a sea of words even then.


Even though the coronavirus vaccinations provide protection, athletes may not be ready for spring camp by mid-February. And the MLB is already offering not being at the front of the line for their inoculations because their stars should be behind those with a greater need.             

However, this will lead to delaying spring training and pushing Opening Day back to May. But this abbreviated campaign may only be 20 or 30 games shorter: 130 to 140 contests for ‘21 is the current estimate. Unfortunately, the MLBPA wants a full 162.      

Be ready for 2021’s version of owners versus players and the continuation of 2020’s temporary rules again. Yes, you might have the National League DH, 7-inning doubleheaders, the 10th-frame man on second base and expanded playoffs to 14 clubs. Negotiation results: All, some or none.     

Since signings at $10-13 million AAV don’t appear to be a big splash, Realmuto heads the to-do list at $25 million AAV tops. And his re-upping would be more than the combined $23 million AAV for a three-slot hurler and a closer.                 

When Phillies management knew Realmuto would be a late decider, they realized many teams wouldn’t wait for a shot with the red pinstripes waiting patiently in the wings. Now, only the Toronto Blue Jays have the money and need a catcher, but they are also checking in on many free agents in the top and middle tiers.    

Toronto’s AAVs:






$127.2 million



$134.4 million

5.66 %



$134.4 million


$142 million


$96.8 million


* $45.2 million

* Balance remaining.

From the financial end, the Blue Jays are nowhere near the $210 million CBT (competitive-balance threshold). So far, though, they’ve only re-signed Robbie Ray as a fourth-rung starter for $8 million, although they appear to be in on every free agent. Just touching base?           

While they have room under the CBT, Toronto hasn’t shown interest in spending up to its limit, and their top guarantee was Hyun Jin Ryu at $20 million AAV last winter. So, my best guess is a small increase up to $45 million AAV remaining, but Realmuto would require --perhaps-- too large a chunk of it.                   

The Jays are a decent possibility to make one big splash with minor additions for defense and pitching, but they probably won’t wait for Realmuto. Last year, they officially inked Ryu on Dec. 27, plus Trevor Bauer, George Springer and DJ LeMahieu will likely sign before the All-Star receiver.  

One Rumor:

While many rumors don’t come to fruition, legitimate ones are easier to spot. For instance, the Phillies are concentrating on building a strong up-the-middle defense currently including behind the plate and in center field, plus they need a left-handed bat with 20-homer power.                 

Pursuing Jackie Bradley Jr. would cover two needs for two summers at $8 million AAV. And he would cost $5 million AAV less than Didi Gregorius per 162 and $16 million total instead of $39 million. Ergo, Bradley would be a logical target for the higher-ups.          

The Fightins would have Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins to complement Bradley and Bryce Harper. Basically, Realmuto would reprise his lineup role, and Bradley would replace Gregorius hitting from the left side. Note: Bradley hit 21 home runs in 2019 and seven with a .283 mark for a third of 2020.   

Realistically, the Phillies don’t like to make promises to the faithful, and they understand re-signing Realmuto without an obligation attached won’t upset anyone. They prefer surprising us after a long drawn-out wait before the “what’s next” parade of fans’ comments.            

Without realizing it, people gravitate selectively toward their own thinking in whatever they’re reading and gloss over everything else, but I deliberately search for tip-offs from the execs to avoid a premature or wrong conclusion. So, why did I break down MacPhail’s rare disclosure? It was the best clue!        



2021’s Trade Rumors Addressed





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I love JBJ! Another fine piece of work from Tal Venada

Tal Venada

Many thanks.

And thanks for reading.

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