Will the Phillies See Any Real Change in the 2021 Season?

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

There were three things to note at the end of the Phillies’ lackluster 2020 season:

1. This was a team lacking in confidence, desire, and motivation.

2. There weren’t just a few little holes in the team that needed patching—a full renovation was desperately needed.

3. These problems need fixing, and they need it urgently.

Following such a horrendous season, it seemed inconceivable that things could get worse for the Phillies organization. After all, after one hits rock bottom, the only way is up, right?

Well…not exactly.

On October 3, general manager (at the time) Matt Klentak stepped down, causing a headache-inducing scramble for a new general manager, in which several ideal candidates reportedly turned down the Phillies’ offer. Later that month, a disastrous press conference saw team president Andy MacPhail imply that the COVID-19 pandemic made it nearly impossible to hire a new general manager until 2021 (even though the 76ers had been able to welcome a new manager and President of Basketball Operations during the pandemic.) It was also alleged that the Phillies had lost around $2 billion because of the pandemic, only for it to come out later that their losses totaled closer to $145 million.

There was also the looming threat of J.T. Realmuto’s contract to contend with. According to reports, Realmuto would prefer to stay in Philadelphia, but if another team was offering the money, that’s where he would go. Jim Salisbury reported:

According to a person close to Realmuto, the catcher, an Oklahoma native, would like to remain in Philadelphia and is not particularly keen on playing in New York. However, if that’s where the record-setting money is, Realmuto will eat heroes instead of hoagies.

There were also rumors that pitcher Zach Wheeler, who had only been brought in last year, was also going to be put on the trade block. These stories were swiftly denied, but it certainly didn’t help fans’ fervent disgruntlement with the team. At that point, the Phillies had to make improvements and make them quickly, or risk further alienating a fanbase that has stuck by them through the best and worst of times.

However, the tide has been turning in the Phillies’ favor. Dave Dombrowski was named the new President of Baseball Operations, while Sam Fuld was recently promoted to become the permanent general manager. Both of these hirings in the front office, Dombrowski’s especially, reflect the club’s newly-adopted “win now” attitude. They recognize that a gradual rebuild is not the feasible solution for their current dire situation, and have taken the initiative to hire people that will kickstart the Phillies’ makeover. Dombrowski summed this up in his introductory press conference, saying:

“I consider this a retool, not a rebuild, for sure. I think there are too many good players on the club. We have a star player in right field in Bryce and some other good players around him, and any time you have three good starting pitchers like we have at the top of the rotation, you’re in pretty good shape to be competitive.

It is also being anticipated that the free agent market will be slow, which could make the Phillies advantageous in getting Realmuto’s signature. This is helped along by the fact that many teams that were reported to be in contention for Realmuto are understood to not be pursuing the catcher as actively as when he first hit the market. The New York Mets signed James McCann to bolster their catching options, while the New York Yankees seem to be more occupied with re-signing infielder D.J. LaMahieu rather than bringing in a catcher. The Washington Nationals were also strong contenders to nab Realmuto, but their already high payroll might prevent them from being able to offer Realmuto the money he’s asking for. These developments, along with Realmuto’s agent reaching out to welcome Dombrowski to Philadelphia, have given the Phillies the upper hand in keeping Realmuto on their roster.

Of course, any significant improvement will only show itself once the 2021 season actually gets underway. While changes in the front office are welcome evidence of a newfound aggressiveness, the responsibility to perform well and live up to expectations (that have been lowered spectacularly) ultimately falls on the players. It’s safe to say that nobody is picking the Phillies to be World Series champions next year, but improved pitching, improved hitting, and an appearance in the playoffs will be enough to stave off fans’ torches and pitchforks—for now.