Although this 2024 free agency period has been excruciatingly slow for Major League baseball as a whole, the Phillies find themselves in a great spot according to team president, Dave Dombrowski. Dave met with WIP on Wednesday to discuss the offseason plans, what went right, what went wrong, outlook for the team, and plans before the season starts. The Phillies are happy with what they have, but they aren’t shutting down the idea of adding to the team, especially with the teams World Series window currently wide open. The Phillies, coming off 2 straight NLCS appearances, feel that they have a team on paper that is a contender, regardless of what Phillies fans on twitter are saying. When looking from afar, the Phillies are a top 6 team in baseball, and a top 3 team in the National League behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. However, Phillies fans, myself included, have become accustomed to a major splash in free agency which has us scratching our heads at the lack of moves we’ve seen so far.
Coming into the off-season, the Phillies’ main goal was to strengthen their pitching staff which they did by resigning one of our aces, Aaron Nola, early in the process. “I think overall that assessment is accurate. Quiet doesn’t mean inactive…But yeah, it’s been quiet. Our first real big goal was to get a starting pitcher with Aaron [Nola] becoming a free-agent.” Dombrowski also confirmed reports that the Phillies were very aggressive in trying to sign new Dodger, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. “I think people would be shocked if they found out how much money we put on the table for him…but he wanted to go to the Dodgers. That was just the way it was.” Two other players the Phillies were linked to this offseason as bulk relievers/depth starters were Jacob Junis and Jordan Hicks. Both ended up signing elsewhere with the intention of being full-time starters. It’s interesting to hear how infatuated they truly were with Yamamoto. The organization is already over the luxury tax and if they truly did make a substantial offer, it shows that ownership is sticking to their word, that they will do whatever they can to win another world series. It will be interesting to see if they do infact decide to throw out an offer to Blake Snell, the reigning Cy Young winner, or Jordan Montgomery.
The other major question coming into the offseason was if Johan Rojas was going to be our starting centerfielder or if the team would look elsewhere, being linked to Cody Bellinger multiple times this offseason. After the elimination to the Diamondbacks in the NLCS, the Phillies were noncommittal to Rojas being the starter, pointing out that he had work to do with his bat to be ready to be the full-time starter, especially after struggling mightily in the playoffs. Dombrowski hinted during the interview that the plan is still for Rojas to be the starter, mentioning that Rojas has been working all winter with Manny Amador and Kevin Long. Kevin Long was asked about Rojas’ work ethic this offseason back in December where he explained what they’ve been working on. “He’s probably taking the most swings of anybody we have up to this point,” He’s really hard on his front side,” Long said. “He doesn’t really hold his body position well, and he goes hard forward. So, we really quieted down his load. Everything he does. Until he attacks, he should stay stacked more. You should see less head movement… He’s also a little bit wider. He’s staying into his legs better. He’s not jumping at the ball. “I think he’s moving and progressing about as well as I could ask for right now,” Long said. “In order for us to become a championship team, he’s going to need to do better in the playoffs. He knows that. That’s why he’s working so hard.” When Dombrowski was asked to commit to WIP if Rojas was to be our starting centerfielder this year he responded “Likely, Yes. Definitely, No. I think he can do enough offensively and when you add his speed in there, and his defense, he comes a real plus.” I think its important to note that this was not a major commitment from Dave and brings me back to his quote, “I can’t tell you,” Dombrowski said, “that somebody doesn’t fall in your lap at some point and you say, ‘Gee that’s an opportunity you can’t turn down.” This seemed to be the exact stance the Phillies took when we eventually landed Nick Castellanos, as the team is watching intently to the market and seeing who may possibly be out there to help this team. Cody Bellinger seems to be a name that isn’t going away, with Bob Nightengale recently saying the Phillies are his choice from his sources to sign the former MVP.
Dombrowski also made it clear that, in terms of the culture of the team, the Phillies want to give young players a chance to contribute at the big-league level. That includes Rojas as well as reliever Orion Kerkering and No. 5 starter Cristopher Sanchez. For years we’ve had a laughable farm system and it’s nice to see that we are finally having a strong youth movement in the organization. One name the Phillies will not see this year in Andrew Painter. Dombrowksi made it clear that he will not be pitching for the big-league team in 2024. “Painter’s rehab is going fine…He’s just tossing at this point, which is where he should be. I don’t really look for Andrew to pitch this year. I’m looking towards 2025. I guess you can always be surprised, but I don’t want to put that pressure on him.”
When asked about where the Phillies stand with Zack Wheeler, Dombrowski mentioned they are still very interested in exploring an extension, pointing out that Wheeler loves it here in Philadelphia. Wheeler is currently slated to be a free agent next season and it is imperative to lock him up before he hits the open market. “Well, we would love to sign Zack today if we could. I think it’s important we re-sign him. I think he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball…I know Wheels loves it in Philadelphia.” Phillies Beat Writer, Matt Gelb recently pointed out that the Phillies will need to wait until Spring Training to sign Wheeler to an extension so that his AAV would not affect the 2024 luxury tax hit. “The Phillies are still expected to engage Zack Wheeler on a potential contract extension this spring. (By waiting until the spring, a potential new contract would not have luxury tax ramifications in 2024.)”
To close out the interview, the guys at WIP had to ask about the report that Bryce Harper wants an extension. A report came out at the beginning of the offseason that Bryce was looking for a 5 year extension and to make his AAV much closer to other superstars in the league. To me, this seemed exactly like a Scott Boras attempt to get more money and it seems Dombrowski isn’t putting any weight behind the report. “He’s in a situation where you can always desire or want—anybody can—anything that they like. “One way I would just say it…we’re thrilled that he’s on board. We know that he’s a Phillie for eight more years.”
To summarize the interview; The organization feels they are a top team in baseball. They are comfortable with their starting pitching but are keeping an eye on the market, with names like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery still out there. And although he sounds open to the idea of adding to the team if the right opportunity comes up, the organization is more than comfortable with breaking camp with where they currently stand. Buckle up Phillies Nation, Spring Training is almost here.