Five weeks. That's all that's left before Philadelphia Phillies players start rolling into Spring Training.
Five weeks for the Phillies to upgrade the roster.
Don't hold your breath.
The two areas we keep hearing rumblings about are the starting rotation and the backend of the bullpen. But from recent reports and even from manager Rob Thomson himself, fans better get ready for the quiet offseason to continue until mid-February.
Phillies' plan for the bullpen is not much of a plan at all
We'll start with the bullpen, as that appears to be the most pressing need for a Phillies team looking to go back to the World Series in 2024. Josh Hader is obviously the top dog available, but even lesser-knowns like fireballer Jordan Hicks would be a great addition to the high-octane relief corps.
As much as some fans believe president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld need to land Hader, that may not be in the cards.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today believes that the Phillies won't make an offer to Josh Hader because he doesn't "... fit into their team."
Thomson recently appeared on the Mike Missanelli Podcast, and gave some insight into how the Phillies front office's approach to reinforcing the relief corps looks now a week into the new year. When Missanelli asked if the team is looking for another arm to handle a late-inning, high-leverage role, the Phillies bench boss was non-committal, at best.
"I think if he lands in our lap, sure, we'd take another guy," Thomson said, whatever that means.
His answer doesn't exactly exude the assertiveness that fans who are hoping for a bullpen upgrade want to hear.
Thomson explained the position the team is in with their bullpen personnel, and it makes sense from a roster manipulation standpoint. But not from the raw emotional perspective with which fans approach their desire to see a third World Series trophy hoisted in Philadelphia.
"We don't have many guys with options down there," Thomson said. "And there are times during the course of the year where you got to flip guys out. If you got eight guys in your bullpen without any options, you're going to lose somebody to another team."
He's right, of course. Of the eight relievers projected by Roster Resource to start the year in the Phillies bullpen, only two have options remaining: Gregory Soto and Orion Kerkering. Connor Brogdon, who will battle for a bullpen role in Clearwater, has an option year left, as does Luis Ortiz and Yunior Marte.
"We still have Conor Brogdon and Bellatti and Ortiz who did a nice job," Thomson continued. "We're hoping that Kerkering can grab onto that spot and be a high-end guy. Marte's still in our minor league system.
"So we've got a lot of depth, a lot of flexibility, and I don't think we have to really go out and search and put the full-court press on any high-end reliever. But if it comes down to it before spring training and somebody falls on our lap, we'd certainly take them."
Missanelli pushed on though, asking bluntly if the Phillies need a closer.
"No, I don't think so," Thomson said, rather quickly. "We've got five or six guys down there that have high-end stuff and have kind of pitched in that role, so I'm comfortable with that."
So the name of the game is depth and flexibility, and a closer-by-committee seems to be the plan for the 2024 bullpen — although many think José Alvarado should get the first crack at the ninth-inning job.
The latest on the top free agent starters
According to Nightengale, the Texas Rangers are the frontrunners to sign, or in their case, re-sign top free agent starter Jordan Montgomery. Their case is helped by the fact that his preference has been to return to the Lone Star state all along.
As for the other top starter on the market, Blake Snell, it seems Dombrowski and the Phillies are wary of shelling out for the NL Cy Young winner's services as they're not sure he can handle the pressure of pitching in their market.
"Large-market teams openly question whether he could handle the pressure and scrutiny of pitching in their city," Nightengale says. "There’s a reason why the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees and Mets have shied away, at least for now."
Considering Snell has only played for the Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres, an untested transition to one of the big markets, where fans freely eat athletes up and spit them out if they don't perform, could be a hard sell. And Philly's a tough market, despite the surprising Trea Turner love-in this past season.
Aside from the fact that the Phillies don't see Snell as a fit, according to Nightengale, the MLB insider also thinks that Snell will still be a free agent once Spring Training starts. So even if the Phillies take a shot and sign him, it won't be anytime soon.
Nightengale is convinced the Phillies are focused on extending Zack Wheeler — and maybe Bryce Harper? — this offseason. Completing that kind of deal would put Phillies fans at ease when considering the remaining years in the contending window of this core.
But how much would it abate the sense of concern about the upcoming season, which right now seems to be just bubbling under the surface?
Where does that leave the Phillies' rotation in 2024?
Thomson, for his part, played the company line to perfection when Missanelli asked him about the fifth spot of the rotation and the big free agents out there. The Phillies' manager completely ignored the part of the question about the free agents. Instead, he spoke about the team's plans for Cristopher Sánchez, who grabbed the reins of the final rotation spot in 2023.
"I think with the way Sánchez pitched last year, I think we have to give him every opportunity to take that fifth spot down," "And I'm pretty positive that he will."
Sánchez certainly earned the chance for the first shot at a spot in the rotation come Spring Training with his phenomenal 2023 performance. In his 99 1/3 innings, the 27-year-old lefty pitched to a 3.44 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 3.99 FIP.
A big reason for his success after a couple of false starts to his MLB career in 2021 and 2022 was his much-improved walk rate, which went down to 4.0 percent. He even saw an increase in his strikeout rate to 24.2 percent, buoyed by his 34.8 percent chase rate (97th percentile) and 43 percent whiff rate on his deadly changeup.
"He throws strikes. A great changeup, it's a weapon," Thomson said. "This kid really came on for me last year, not only physically but mentally as well. He can really handle the big moments and he really kept his composure. For me, if we were starting today, he's our fifth starter."
And there it is. The verdict, as of this moment, is that the Phillies don't seem to be planning to overpay for another top starter.
That is, unless someone falls in their lap.