Can Phillies afford to stand pat at Winter Meetings with Braves still in on Ohtani?

Phillies fans couldn't imagine a more disastrous destination for Shohei Ohtani than the Braves.
Shohei Ohtani might sign with the Atlanta Braves
Shohei Ohtani might sign with the Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

The biggest prize in MLB offseason history is still out there, and now there's word that Shohei Ohtani's camp is still talking with the Atlanta Braves. Of all the teams that the two-way superstar could possibly sign with, can you imagine a more disastrous destination than the Braves, at least in the eyes of the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans?

On Monday morning, Jon Morosi of MLB Network, per his magical unnamed sources, revealed that the Braves are still officially engaged with Ohtani's camp. Maybe Atlanta was the mystery team being speculated on over the weekend.

"One team that I think we have not been giving enough attention to in all of this, the Atlanta Braves," Morosi said. "And Shohei, in looking at his options, he has prioritized teams that have a chance to win sustainably. The Braves, I'm told, have had some conversations with Ohtani's camp. The Braves have not been eliminated from this conversation."

"At the very least, the Braves have as good of a chance as the Cubs or the Blue Jays or any other of the non-Dodgers teams."

It's obviously not a done deal, with multiple teams still in the running. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the Los Angeles Angels are still in on him.

Plus, nobody really knows what's going on with Ohtani thanks to the shroud of secrecy around his free agency.

But can you imagine the nightmares it would cause seeing the reigning AL MVP join the already potent Atlanta lineup and the reigning NL MVP in Ronald Acuna Jr.? It would feel like a straight kick in the gut for Phillies fans.

The Braves already had the best record in baseball this past season, at 104-58, which they cruised to behind the best offense in the majors. The Phillies have a good, above-average offense but still finished 14 games back of their NL East rivals this season.

The Phillies have to do something at the Winter Meetings ... right?

So, where does that leave the Phillies at this year's Winter Meetings? Everyone knows by now that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said he feels good about where the roster is after he and general manager Sam Fuld re-signed Aaron Nola last month.

"We don't really have a glaring need," Dombrowski said at Nola's press conference. "But we will continue to look to see how we can get better."

There's a chance that bringing their homegrown ace back was the Phillies' big offseason move. It's a good move and definitely the biggest of the offseason up to this point. But is it going to be enough to compete in the NL East and go further than their disappointing National League Championship Series elimination this season?

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Scott Lauber reports that the Phillies aren't expected to make any big, splashy moves, according to rival executives.

But if the Phillies' window to win is open right now, which it is, with a group of 30-something stars as the core, Dombrowski may have to get managing partner John Middleton to pony up for some reinforcements.

Outfield, bullpen, rotation. Where will the Phillies focus be?

The unsettled outfield comes to mind. Making a big splash by trading for Juan Soto isn't going to happen, as cool as that would be. Even signing a rejuvenated Cody Bellinger to a big contract might be a bit too far-fetched.

Lauber thinks it could be more like Harrison Bader, Michael A. Taylor, Adam Duvall, or Tommy Pham if they go for a straight outfielder. Whit Merrifield would be an option as a veteran utility player.

Then there's the bullpen. Lauber mentions Jordan Hicks as a name to watch as the Phillies try to add another piece to their high-powered bullpen. The flamethrower had a 3.22 ERA and a 28.4 strikeout rate over his 65 2/3 innings this season.

The Cleveland Guardians' closer, Emmanuel Clase, is also available now, and some think trading for the major league saves leader for the past two seasons is a Philadelphia-type move.

As for the rotation, the Phillies have been connected to top Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a move that now seems unlikely based on their payroll constraints and other needs across the roster.

But bolstering the rotation that will have to face the Braves — a force to reckon with even without Ohtani — 13 times during the regular season, and perhaps in the postseason for a third straight year is probably a good idea. They may have to settle for a second-tier option, however. Eduardo Rodriguez, Seth Lugo, Marcus Stroman?

Even though they aren't expected to "win" the Winter Meetings as they did with last year's Trea Turner signing, the Phillies can't simply stand pat while the Braves are wheeling and dealing. Braves general manager Alex Anthopolous is seemingly getting ready for something big.

Whether that something big is Shohei Ohtani or not, the Phillies need to keep pace, and Dombrowski needs to do something at the Winter Meetings.

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