Phillies: Unasked Questions Addressed for 2021


By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, 2008 and 2011 are memories, cherished and distant; but they also affect the expectations for 2021 despite 2020’s financial losses due to the pandemic. Yes, it’s almost as if COVID-19 for some wasn’t a factor last summer or isn’t for next April. Hard to believe, Harry.  


Bleacher-type Conclusions:

After the Phillies had missed the playoffs again for the third consecutive season, some have offered reasons from the past to explain this disappointment. But others point to incompetence like the front office’s planning –or lack thereof to be specific. And if it’s one-size-fits-all, no MLB franchise is exempt.    


“I'm always asking questions — not to find 'answers' but to see where the questions lead. Dead ends sometimes? That's fine. New directions? Interesting. Great insights? Overambitious. A glimpse here and there? Perfect.” – Lesley Hazleton

I received opinions factually portrayed from some who had read my piece on another site about JT Realmuto. However, I’m guessing they had never read my previous articles because their names weren’t familiar.     

Their statements and conclusions –unlike Jeopardy!— never reached me in question form, and, thusly, this article’s title indicates answers to those assumptions. Basically, failure to them is not reaching the next level or not fixing August’s problem in the previous November and December: a lack of foresight?                

Are the Phillies cheap?

For 2019, managing partner John Middleton acquired Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek; plus the Fightins made other transactions for a total of $471 million. And they added another $132 million for Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius. 

While one local wants Middleton to spend stupid money, another stated that management can’t buy their way out of the current situation. And a third believes the red pinstripes won’t exceed the CBT (competitive-balance threshold) because they haven’t previously.  

Well, the Phils had offered Dellin Betances $7 million, but the New York Mets committed $10.5 million to sign him. And although he didn’t accept the proposal, Middleton had green-lit exceeding the CBT. Luckily, he dodged a bullet because Betances had a disastrous campaign.      

Middleton wants an experienced GM for Joe Girardi and considered Theo Epstein for president. Yes, he’s taking ‘21 off, but he earned $10 million in ‘20. Why pursue Epstein if you can’t afford Realmuto? Overall, the coronavirus could change the financial picture to being slightly under the $210 million CBT until July. 


Why don’t the Phillies have any difference-makers?

When you remember 2008’s highlights, you can elevate Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard to a beyond-comparison plateau. And this is especially true when you compare Harper’s and Rhys Hoskins’ disappointments to the above heroes’ successes. Basically, most hitters are streaky, and these five are no exception.      

Toeing the rubber, Cole Hamels and Aaron Nola entered the Show with different expectations. Hamels had dominated at the top MiLB levels before his arrival, and he only needed 23 starts before becoming the ace. But while the initial prediction for Nola had been as a three-slot arm, some later believed he might be a two.  

Those 2008 difference-makers weren’t producing enough big hits to make the postseason in 2004 through 2006, and, yes, they were in the running. But remember, Hamels’ 2007 was his second summer and first as a horse. In those years, they learned how to win, and it took three seasons to accomplish.    

Basically, 2019 and 2020 could be the first contention summers before playing serious October baseball. And though many have fond memories of ‘08, the Fightins had had three prior campaigns missing the playoffs and one NLDS elimination. Ergo, considering ‘18 through ‘20 as an unforgivable failure is harsh, but some do.   

Should the Phillies go through another rebuilding?

After an exciting first summer with new talent aplenty, the execs heard the faithful’s call for free-agent signings the next 162. Yes, when the novelty wears off, losing is unacceptable. And the restless natives either wanted the process to begin 1-4 years earlier or were unhappy the pickups weren’t MLB ready in the spring.   

Waiting too long before rebuilding is normal because a team will be a cellar dweller for more than a season. And since attendance will fall off sharply, organizations only take this route as a last resort. With no gate, the red pinstripes are currently demonstrating the consequences of limited revenue.     

Now is not the time to rebuild because other clubs are bargain hunting, and the Phils would be selling low and eating too much on contracts. Translation: Some franchises may have limited attendance depending on their location, while other teams will have empty parks through May’s end.           

These questions recently came from real fans’ conclusions, and they are a “three strikes and you’re out” group. Basically, they feel the Fightins have failed to make the postseason in 2018, 2019 and 2020. And they pointed to the records for those three campaigns as conclusive proof of their beliefs.        

Do the Phillies have a plan?

According to some wanting serious October baseball now, the red pinstripes had no direction or strategy because they didn’t make the 2020 playoffs. Unfortunately, the blueprint of some fans is making the postseason, going deep in the playoffs, and winning the World Series in the third summer. Or fire the manager!                       

Otherwise, anything else is an unacceptable excuse. And 20 clubs have this or a similar situation every 162. Yes, supporters of most small-market organizations only wish they could bottle lightning more than once in two decades, and one franchise is victorious in the Fall Classic.         

Having a plan doesn’t automatically mean success, and the Phils are no exception. Their idea was to acquire 10-12 starters because no team gives up a potential ace for aging stars. So, these pitchers, known as “lottery tickets,” are the best they could hope for.  

From these minor leaguers, the higher-ups expected one mid-rotation piece and –if lucky– a five-slot hurler or setup man. Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez turned out to be those two. With progress, Eflin could even be a two-slot arm, and Velasquez is a candidate for a “seventh or eighth inning” role.                  

Many locals bemoan the trade of Sixto Sanchez for Realmuto because they consider the flamethrower to be an ace. Realistically, Sanchez may not make the Miami Marlins roster in spring training. Translation: He only baffles clubs in his first start against them.  

Sanchez, 22:

  • First starts:  6 Gms., 37 Inn., 12 R, 12 ER, 3-1, a 2.92 ERA with 35 SO and 7 BB.
  • Other starts: 3 Gms., 10 Inn., 13 R, 13 ER, 0-2, an 11.70 ERA with 6 SO and 9 BB.

The Fightins hoped Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, and two starters from their restructuring deals would pan out. Then, the farm system and free agency would plug the holes in the offense and overall pitching.       

For ‘20, the New York Yankees spent $324 million for Gerrit Cole as the final piece for a World Series victory, then they would take a one-year hit with the Luxury Tax penalty before sliding under the CBT for ‘21. Well, it worked on paper after 103 triumphs in ‘19, didn’t it?       

In 2018, the Phillies were a surprising 80-82 after a 66-win 2017. But 2019’s relief corps had eight injured relievers, and only Hector Neris and Jose Alvarez were healthy. And why was 2020’s pen without Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez and Victor Arano? Surgery or the coronavirus!   



Bullpen Reconstruction for 2021