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By Siobhan Nolan, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
The National League East has been a hub of activity in the 2020 offseason. The Braves, Nationals, Mets, and Marlins have been making progress in their trades, strengthening their lineups, and have much of their coaching staff and front office in order.
The same cannot be said for the Phillies.
It’s easy to have a bleak outlook on this offseason—no permanent general manager, J.T. Realmuto has yet to re-sign a contract, several positions in the team don’t have reliable players to fill them, and the pitching situation is still a mess. So yes, this offseason has yet to really get going. However, there’s still a lot to look forward to.
The team hired the young, ambitious, and extremely promising Caleb Cotham to their coaching staff in an effort to kickstart some improvement on the mound. The fifth pitching coach in as many seasons, Cotham presents a unique ability to relate to the current pitchers on multiple levels, including the skill set that has become increasingly more valuable to baseball coaches—the ability to understand, discuss, and implement the technology and data that is becoming more and more present in today’s game. Cotham believes in an individualistic approach when it comes to coaching his players, emphasizing that “it really comes down to serving the player and finding something to help them get better over me being right.”
There are also a number of guaranteed contracts going into next season. Of course, Bryce Harper will remain with the team, keeping his excellent right field defense and exemplary offense in the team for another season.
Pitcher Zack Wheeler will remain one of the stars of the starting rotation, boasting an impressive 2.92 ERA in 11 starts from last season.
Andrew McCutchen will also be returning, filling the much-needed left fielder role. Although still coming back from a devastating ACL tear in 2019, McCutchen showed flashes of his usual reliable self this past season. With ample time to continue recovering this offseason, he should be coming into the 2021 season at full health and ability.
Jean Segura stays on the roster, providing valuable versatility in the infield. With the ability to play second base, shortstop, and third base, Segura’s presence will allow Joe Girardi to experiment with different infield formations to see which combination provides the most security in the infield.
Pitching ace Aaron Nola returns after a bit of a comeback season in 2020. Nola didn’t completely return to his stellar 2018 form, but a respectable 3.28 ERA keeps him in the number one slot in the rotation.
Scott Kingery is also slated to return. After a debilitating bout with COVID-19, Kingery’s 2020 season is one he’ll want to forget. A disappointing series of starts at second base (which, once upon a time, was his natural position) might see him return to the “utility man” role he assumed under Gabe Kapler, and an all-round awful presence at the plate proved that his offense leaves something to be desired.
Although it is still unclear who will be calling the shots in the absence of a permanent general manager, the Winter Meetings are expected to be held from December 7-10, which could potentially bring about some new signings. Last year, the Winter Meetings brought Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorious to the team, and there are several trade targets that the Phillies will definitely want to capitalize on.
While the thought of Realmuto leaving Philadelphia sends chills up the spine of the city, it becomes more of a possibility with every day he doesn’t sign a new contract. The Yankees’ Gary Sanchez would be an ideal replacement, and might not be one that’s out of reach. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year seems to have fallen out of favor with the Yankees, being benched in favor of Kyle Higashioka throughout the 2020 playoffs. The Yankees could decide to sell low with Sanchez, and if Realmuto doesn’t agree to contract terms soon, the Phillies might be inclined to make a serious inquiry.
Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier will also be a point of interest for the Phillies. He’s one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, which would provide some much-needed stability at the position. He’s had struggles at the plate, which could give the Rays an incentive to trade Kiermaier before his free agency in 2022. Acquiring Kiermaier on his own would not entice the Phillies to make a deal, but the possibility of bringing in other players from the Rays’ seemingly endless stream of talent just might do the trick.
Of course, the pitching situation needs to be addressed. The Phillies certainly have options for new pitchers to bring in, but there are some drawbacks. Of the realistic deals the Phillies could make, many of them involve pitchers in their mid-to-late 30s who would likely come in on contract spanning a couple of years at most.
There has always been mutual interest between Cole Hamels and the Phillies to orchestrate an end-of-career reunion, but the current pitching situation cannot accommodate bringing in players for nostalgia. Hamels is 37 years old, and, in turn, is not the pitcher fans remember from 2008. Being able to pitch some innings here and there and providing some leadership in the clubhouse simply won’t cut it.
Another issue that crops up in some of the pitching targets is the fact that they’re “fixer upper” players. Trevor Williams is young at 29 years old and a regular in the Pirates’ rotation, but he has been described as a player the Phillies could take in as a “reclamation project.” Fellow target Jake Odorizzi, currently with the Twins, has the same problem. This team cannot afford to shelter players that are not on their game. The only pitchers that should be brought in are ones that are consistently performing.
It’s concerning that the Phillies are currently sitting ducks when their competition is improving, but hope shouldn’t be lost yet. There are a number of promising targets that the team can go after, especially once a permanent general manager is appointed. Players that underperformed this past season have had ample time to train and better themselves. Hopefully, a more normal season schedule will be in the cards for 2021, allowing for less chaos in the league overall. Things are slow-going right now, but they’ll surely pick up in the coming weeks.