In 16 days, we can say some of the best words in sports, "pitchers and catchers report." The Phillies pitchers and catchers will begin to head down to Clearwater Florida for Spring Training, and the official run to the 2024 World Series will begin.
The Phillies have been extremely quiet this off-season. They resigned Aaron Nola and signed reliever Kolby Allard. They have also seen Craig Kimbrel (Baltimore) and Rhys Hoskins (Milwaukee) both leave in free agency. With this team having eyes set on the World Series, there are some question marks for the team as we approach Spring Training. Even though the off-season is far from being over, there are still some areas that can be questioned.
Who will be the 6th starter in the rotation?
During Dave Dombrowski and Rob Thomson's end of the season press conference last October, both agreed that the Phillies would use a 6-man rotation in 2024. The Phillies began using a 6-man rotation in the 2nd half of the 2023 season when the team acquired Michael Lorenzen, and then moved him to the bullpen for the playoffs. The Phillies rotation currently features Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker, and Christopher Sanchez.
The big question mark is who is going to fill that last spot in the rotation. The Phillies have two options in AAA. Phillies 2nd rated prospect Mick Abel and 5th rated prospect Griff McGarry are both options to get called up depending on how they perform this spring. Both are going to be members of big-league camp this spring.
The Phillies still have a good pool of potential free agents to negotiate with. Currently free agent starting pitchers are reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Corey Kluber, and Jordan Montgomery. Even though the Phillies have been quiet, there are still a large number of free agents available to fill the last spot in the rotation.
Prediction: Phillies sign Corey Kluber to fill out the back end of the rotation and move him to the bullpen closer to the playoffs. Even when they sign Kluber, do not be shocked if they can find a way to sign Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery to a contract this spring.
Who is going to be the 9th inning closer?
Craig Kimbrel is off to Baltimore after a roller coaster of a season in Philadelphia. The Phillies will now need to look for a new 9th inning closer. The free agent pool of potential closers is extremely slim. The only available closer the Phillies have reportedly been in contact with is former Astros closer Phil Maton. The Phillies have also been in contact with former Giants reliever Jake Junis, even though he is looked at more of a reliever and not a closer.
The Phillies will more than likely find their closer internally. The three names that come to mind are Jose Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman, and Gregory Soto. Last season all 3 recorded saves, and in fact 9 Phillies last season recorded saves. The biggest need the Phillies need to do is for everyone to know their role earlier in the season.
Prediction- Phillies will more than likely sign 1-2 more bullpen arms before the end of Spring, but for the early start of 2024 Jose Alvarado and Gregory Soto will split closer reps and whoever proves to be the more reliable closer will earn the job. My guess is Alvarado is the closer and Soto is your 8th inning guy.
What is the outfield going to look like?
There are some questions regarding what the outfield is going to look like in 2024. We all know that Nick Castellanos and Brandon Marsh are both going to be starters in the outfield. The real question mark is around Johan Rojas. During the end of the season press conference, both Dombrowski and Thomson both agreed that Johan Rojas hitting may not be ready to be an everyday hitter in the MLB. They both agreed there is a chance that Rojas begins the year in AAA, but they did not confirm.
As we approach the spring, will Rojas make the Opening Day roster or will he start the season in AAA? If he is not ready to go for Opening Day, who is going to be the 3rd outfielder? Will Schwarber or Pache play LF? Will the team look to add another outfielder?
If the Phillies stick internally, it will almost certainly mean that Christian Pache would play LF every day and Marsh would go to CF. If they look externally for another outfielder, the free agent pool still has a large number of options. For left field alone, the Tommy Pham, Eddie Rosario, and Austin Meadows are all available via free agency. For center field, Cody Bellinger, Michael Taylor, Tony Kemp, and Kevin Pillar are all available for the Phillies.
Prediction: The outfield on Opening Day will be Nick Castellanos (RF), Brandon Marsh (CF), and Tommy Pham (LF). With the Diamondbacks signing Joc Pederson, Pham is more than likely gone, and he would provide a big bat to fill in till Rojas is ready to go. Pham will remain on the team as a depth piece and pinch hitter. We all know that Rojas can play at a Gold Glove level in CF, but his hitting is not where close to being ready. However, after some work in AAA, we will see Rojas back up in the big leagues by the All-Star break.
Will Zack Wheeler or Bryce Harper sign extensions?
The Phillies have been open about wanting to sign Zack Wheeler and Bryce Harper to contract extensions. Harper has even been vocal about wanting to sign an extension with the Phillies as well. Wheeler is entering the final year of his 5 year contract, and both sides would like to get a deal done. There is still no reports on where they are in negotiations.
Harper is still under contract with the Phillies through 2032 and has no opt outs in his contract. He has been open about wanting to sign an extension so he can end his career with the Phillies. We have seen the Phillies not wanting to discuss contract extensions during the season, so it will be interesting if they can get the deals done prior to Opening Day.
Prediction: Bryce will end his career as a Phillie and Zack Wheeler gets the deal done prior to Opening Day.
Are the Philles done adding to the roster?
There is no question the biggest weakness for the Phillies during the NLCS was their lack of bench depth. They have a lot of defensive replacements, but when it comes to pinch hitters, they have a lot of concern. The Phillies potential bench players are currently Garrett Stubbs, Edmundo Sosa, Rodolfo Castro, Jake Cave, Kody Clemons, Weston Wilson, and Christian Pache. Of all the names listed, Pache and Clemons are the two bats I have some confidence in, but not much. Defensively we have a great bench unit, but offensively there is some concern.
The question with the bench is, who is going to improve offensively and be a reliable pinch hitter. We saw Pache and Clemons both take big strides at the plate in 2023. Will the Phillies look to add to their bench with any of the names listed above? Some potential depth pieces available are Justin Turner, Evan Longoria, Amed Rosario, and Will Meyers.
The Phillies have a great roster, but if any starter goes down with injury, there is a big question mark on potential replacements. As we approach spring training, the question will be will they go with the current roster and work on development or will they continue to look for potential bench pieces in free agency. Rob Thomson said last week that he thinks when teams start reporting to spring trainings will make the current free agents start to panic and you will see an increase in contract signings.
Prediction: The Phillies will add relievers Phil Maton and Jake Junis For the lineup and bench, the Phillies will add Tommy Pham and Amed Rosario to the bench. The big flashy moves are over for the Phillies, and it is time to fine tune the roster as we begin the run to the Fall Classic.
Check out my interview with Manager Rob Thomson, RHP Orion Kerkering, Assistant GM Jorge Velandia on the off-season and looking ahead to 2024!