With the Mets’ acquisition of Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, are they too far ahead for the Phillies to catch up?
Before the Francisco Lindor trade, the Mets were already a better team than the Phillies. The Phillies finished two games ahead of the Mets in the regular season, but while the Phillies have only gotten worse this offseason, the Mets have gotten much, much better.
The Phillies lost two of their best players to free agency (JT Realmuto and Didi Gregorius), and they have yet to make any significant additions. The Mets, on the other hand, added All-Star catcher James McCann and solid relief pitcher Trevor May. They’ll also get back starting pitchers Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the 2020 season, and Noah Syndergaard, who will return from Tommy John surgery by mid-season.
On December 9th, before the McCann signing, or their Lindor trade, Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs wrote that the Phillies need “to add about 15 wins in free agency to be a serious threat to the Braves and Mets.” Then the Mets went out and added McCann, Lindor, and Carlos Carrasco. ZiPS, the projection system created by Syzmborski, projects those players worth a combined 10 additional wins in 2021.
According to Depth Charts at Fangraphs, the Mets are now projected to win the NL East with a .560 winning percentage, while the Phillies are projected to finish fourth with a .481 winning percentage.
That’s a pretty substantial difference. Do the Phillies have a chance of closing that gap?
As it stands right now, the Mets project to be better than the Phillies at almost every position:
- Catcher: James McCann has a clear advantage over Andrew Knapp.
- First base: Pete Alonso was an All-Star in his rookie season, and he’ll only be 26 next year. Hoskins is a good hitter, but he doesn’t have Alonso’s upside. ZiPS projects 3.7 fWAR for Alonso and 3.0 fWAR for Hoskins.
- Second base: Jeff McNeil is the kind of hitter we once dreamed that Scott Kingery could be. ZiPS projects him to be two wins better than Kingery next season.
- Shortstop: Francisco Lindor vs. Jean Segura. Do I need to say anything else?
- Third base: This is the only position where the Phillies look to advantage over the Mets. ZiPS is very optimistic about Alec Bohm (3.0 fWAR) and not so optimistic about Mets third baseman JD Davis (1.3 fWAR). However, this isn’t a huge advantage, and there’s a wide margin of error when it comes to projections for a player like Bohm, who has only played in 44 major league games.
- Outfield: Bryce Harper is a better player than Michael Conforto, but not by much. Harper’s projected fWAR is 4.5, while Conforto’s is 4.2. In the rest of the outfield, the Mets have a clear advantage. Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith are both solid outfielders, while Andrew McCutchen is a big question mark and Adam Haseley and Roman Quinn are fourth outfielders at best.
- Starting Rotation: The Mets are just a little bit better than the Phillies at every slot in the rotation. The number twos (Wheeler and Carrasco) are pretty close, but the Mets have the upper hand everywhere else. And that’s before Noah Syndergaard returns to the team in June. If Syndergaard comes backfiring, the Phillies are in even more trouble.
- Bullpen: The Phillies have yet to do anything significant to address their league-worst bullpen from 2020. The Mets bullpen isn’t fantastic, but Edwin Diaz is still a dominant closer. Trevor May is a solid set-up man, and Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, and Miguel Castro are all reliable veteran arms.
What Can the Phillies Do?
With the Mets projected to be better than the Phillies at practically every position, is there any realistic way the Phillies can improve enough to compete with the Mets in 2021? The major areas the Phillies can improve are at catcher, shortstop, the bullpen, the starting rotation, and center field. Which players would the Phillies need to add at each of those positions to compete with the Mets?
For starters, the Phillies need to sign JT Realmuto. That would give them a clear advantage at catcher and a superstar talent to compete with Lindor. As for shortstop, there’s no one the Phillies could add that would be better than Lindor, but if they add either Didi Gregorius or Andrelton Simmons, their infield as a whole could be as good as the Mets’. An infield of Realmuto, Hoskins, Segura, Gregorius/Simmons, and Bohm could compete with what the Mets have.
As for the bullpen, ZiPS projected the Mets relievers to be worth 3.8 fWAR and the Phillies’ relievers to be worth 1.7 fWAR. And that was before the Mets signed Trevor May. Now, it would probably take three of the top relievers left on the market to bring the Phillies bullpen to the Mets’ level. Brad Hand is the best reliever available, and therefore he is a must-add. Then the Phillies should consider signing two guys from the next tier, like Alex Colome, Kirby Yates, Trevor Rosenthal, or Archie Bradley.
The Mets might have the best rotation in baseball next year, so it’s doubtful that the Phillies will get their rotation to a similar level. The Phillies have shown no interest in Trevor Bauer, and no other free-agent starter is as good as Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, or Marcus Stroman. Their only hope is to sign a high-upside starter (like James Paxton or Corey Kluber) who stays healthy all season and if Spencer Howard has his breakout season next year. Alternatively, the Phillies could go with a more reliable number four starter, like Masahiro Tanaka. He won’t get them to the Mets’ level, but he’d still improve the team.
The last position where the Phillies could upgrade is center field. Team president Dave Dombrowski has not directly stated that he is pursuing a new center fielder, but it is a position where the Phillies could make a clear and significant upgrade. George Springer is probably out of the Phillies’ price range, but Jackie Bradley Jr. is a very intriguing option. JBJ is not as good a player as Brandon Nimmo, but an outfield of JBJ, Bryce Harper, and a healthy Andrew McCutchen could compete with the Mets’ outfield of Nimmo, Michael Conforto, and Domonic Smith.
In summation, here’s who the Phillies would have to sign to have a hope of competing with the Mets:
- C: Realmuto
- SS: Gregorius/Simmons
- CF: Bradley Jr.
- SP: Paxton/Kluber/Tanaka/etc.
- BP: Hand, two of Colome/Yates/Rosenthal/Bradley/etc.
Even with all these additions, the Mets still look like the superior team. To make matters worse, the Phillies probably won’t be willing to spend the money it would take to sign all those free agents.
Nevertheless, this all shows that while the Phillies should be concerned about the Lindor trade, they still have a fighting chance. If the Phillies sign all the right players and everything breaks right next season, they could compete with the Mets.
We’ll worry about the Braves and the Nationals later.
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