The Philadelphia Phillies entered the offseason positioned Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. They’ve since been tied to all the market’s top players, with the latest gossip noting their interest in pairing Machado with Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura . Every indication is the Phillies are going to be busy bidding bees until spring rolls around, at which point they’ll have a couple stars to parade around.
We’re in favor of teams spending money and trying to improve — novel concepts these days– so we’re obviously fond of the Phillies mindset. But we’re fans of the Phillies full-tilt approach for reasons other than the obvious: They need to be aggressive in order to compete in 2019 and beyond.
Though the Phillies were in the hunt for most of the 2018 season, they finished below .500 because of an 8-20 September that saw them outscored by 55 runs. The Phillies’ run differential had been close to scratch before then, so they ended the year at -51 — good for 20th in the majors and fourth in their division. Pythagorean math says that tends to result in 86 losses.
That the Phillies emerged from their rebuild at the same time as the Atlanta Braves proved to be a bad break in more ways than one. Sure, having another full-fledged competitor in the National League East was annoying, but the Braves also returned from their competitive hiatus with a number of can’t-miss prospects in tow; the Phillies, comparatively, had few to none — that despite picking first overall in the 2017 draft.
In recent years, the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros have gone from worst to first behind a healthy allotment of young, homegrown players. The Braves — with Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and countless pitchers — are closer to enjoying that idyllic outcome than the Phillies, who will find internal growth in 2019 harder to come by.
For illustrative purposes, consider the Phillies infield situation — a situation that, remember, they’re trying to overhaul by introducing Machado and Segura into the mix:
Catcher: The Phillies are probably fine with Jorge Alfaro entering the season as Option No. 1 thanks to his strong arm and framing skills. They did acquire Wilson Ramos for the stretch run, however, which means they may elect to bring in another veteran type.
Second base: Cesar Hernandez remains in place. It’s at least possible the Phillies could look to trade Hernandez and install Scott Kingery. Be warned: Kingery is coming off one of the worst age-24 seasons since the last round of expansion. There’s no reason to give up on him just yet; there is reason to be skeptical about handing him a starting job out of the gate.
Third base: Maikel Franco has been up and down throughout his big-league career. He was up again last season, but his substandard defense cancels out a fair amount of his his offensive contributions. Alec Bohm, No. 3 pick in last June’s draft, is a couple years away from figuring in.
Shortstop: There’s no reason to entertain Kingery as the starting shortstop. He just doesn’t have the chops for it based on his play there last season. The Phillies shopped J.P. Crawford at the deadline, per league sources, and he’s likely to be dealt — either in a package for Segura or otherwise.
There’s a lot of uncertainty there. There’s a lot of uncertainty everywhere on the Phillies roster as it turns out. To wit, if Hoskins does indeed move to first, the Phils won’t have an outfielder who had an OPS+ above 100 last season on the roster. Offense isn’t the only thing that matters, and Lord knows past production doesn’t necessarily guarantee future production, but jeez. Top outfield prospect Adam Haseley, meanwhile, is at least another season away in all likelihood.
To the Phillies credit, they do have some interesting young pitchers on the way. You can probably count on seeing mid-to-back-end starter types JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez and Cole Irvin spend some time in the Philly this coming season. It’s possible the Phillies’ top arms — Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina — also reach the majors in 2019 (though they probably won’t assume permanent roles until 2020 at earliest).
Take all of the above into consideration — the shaky finish and run differential; the volatile infield and unsettled outfield situations; the distance between the system’s top prospects and the majors — and the Phillies playing at the top of the market isn’t just a smart move, it’s the necessary move if they’re serious about contending now and later.