July 23, 2024

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Rob Thomson did not watch the World Series. “Not a pitch,” he said Tuesday afternoon. It was a reasonable reaction for a manager who fell one win short of participating in that World Series, but those bitter feelings are instructive for how this Phillies offseason will unfold.

The Phillies are comfortable with bringing back a majority of last season’s team. That is no secret.

“I really like our roster,” Thomson said. “I felt like we had a great chance at winning a World Series, and it really hurts me that we didn’t. It hurts me more than it did the year before when we did get to the World Series and didn’t win it. Because I just thought we were good, we were good enough.”

But it does not mean the 2024 Phillies are complete. They are not star-hunting this offseason yet they are still building a team. There is a middle ground, and that is the area Dave Dombrowski portrayed his club as occupying during these comatose Winter Meetings.

The Phillies spent $387 million at last year’s Winter Meetings. They might leave here without even a Rule 5 draft pick and, in Dombrowski’s estimation, that is according to plan.

Even Dombrowski has restraint.

“The one thing I think you always have to be careful about is, and I understand this, individuals are fascinated — and I like them — by star players,” Dombrowski said. “Right? We have a bundle of star players, right? I mean, you’ve got two starting pitchers in (Zack) Wheeler and (Aaron) Nola who are stars. We’ve got an all-star catcher. We’ve got an all-star first baseman now. We’ve got an all-star shortstop, highly paid. DH, right fielder. That’s seven. And that doesn’t even include our young guys.”

He added: “So you can only have so many stars. I think your better clubs have complementary players.”

Those complementary players, for now, are younger ones: Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, maybe Johan Rojas. The Phillies are not in the market for a traditional closer, major-league sources said, because they would prefer to throw some bullpen darts to add to their mix of high-velocity relievers. Dombrowski used Orion Kerkering, the fast-rising reliever, as an example Tuesday to demonstrate the club’s current stance.

“I’ll tell you,” Dombrowski said. “Today, I could have made a trade — somebody would have said, ‘Jeez, that’s a good trade.’ I could have traded Kerkering for somebody like that today. I said, ‘I don’t really want to do that.’ Because, if we’re going to have all of these star players, we also have to have some young players that are not making a lot of money.”

That should not be conflated with the Phillies staying inactive over the winter. Major-league sources indicated the Phillies have checked on versatile part-time players who could provide outfield reinforcements. They’re looking for a right-handed reliever.

The roster is not complete.

“We’re not at that point at all,” Dombrowski said. “We’ll continue to talk to people and investigate if we can get better. I think there’s something we’ll do over a time period. But it may not be signing Trea Turner for the type of dollars we talked about last year.”

Bullpen shopping

Phil Maton, brother of former Phillie Nick Maton, is among the free-agent relievers who could make sense for the club. (Troy Taormina / USA Today)

By the end of the season, the Phillies probably needed one more righty reliever to face righties. They trusted Jeff Hoffman in those spots, but Craig Kimbrel and Seranthony Domínguez were inconsistent. Kimbrel will not be back. Domínguez, the Phillies hope, can rebound.

But the ideal fit for a bullpen addition is a righty — maybe one who can pitch multiple innings. The Phillies have two internal candidates, Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti, who are out of minor-league options. Both had disappointing seasons but will come to camp this spring with a chance to win a job.

The Phillies will shop for a righty reliever once the market begins to move. Robert Stephenson held right-handed hitters to a .143/.195/.286 line but he might receive the biggest reliever deal after Josh Hader. Jordan Hicks is a hard-throwing reliever who fits the mold of recent Phillies’ bullpen acquisitions, but major-league sources said the Phillies have not yet expressed interest in him. It’s possible they are shopping in a tier below Hicks, who should fetch a multi-year deal for at least $10 million per year.

There is a glut of free-agent righties who could pitch as middle relievers. Phil Maton, who had a stellar .153/.221/.210 line against righties, and Adam Ottavino, who held righties to a .203/.306/.275 line, are possible fits. The market for most of those caliber relievers has yet to develop.

“As you can see, there’s not a lot going on because everybody right now is doing the big guys,” Dombrowski said. “So that next tier, they’re still looking for those dollars. But they’re not all going to get them. It’s just taking a little longer. But we’re on top of it. We’re not just satisfied (with their bullpen). We want to get better.”

Abel and maybe ready

The Phillies are not deep behind their current five-man rotation, and it’s why they will continue to pursue No. 6-type starters. They will bring Dylan Covey, who signed an $850,000 deal, to camp as a starter. He is out of minor-league options, so if the Phillies like him enough, they would have to carry him as a long reliever.

Beyond that, there is not much else. Nick Nelson is still on the 40-man roster. Mick Abel is not, but the pitching prospect will be in big-league camp. He projects to begin 2024 at Triple A.

Abel could be in the mix during the summer if a need arises.

“I hope so,” Dombrowski said. “He continued to make strides. Last year was a learning process for him. But he also made strides. And he made strides at the end of the year. … We like him a lot. He’s very talented. His talent continues to be at the top of the charts. Not counting on breaking camp with the club, but I’ve been with young guys who are very talented, and you never can tell when they all of a sudden — boom — find it. He does have that type of talent.

“But I don’t want to put that on him because we’re set with our rotation, too. So it’s a good spot. But sure, I hope that we’re in that spot where we see him at some time during the year because he’s pitched well enough to do so.”

Abel, 22, had a 1.63 ERA last season in his final five starts and he trimmed his walks. But inconsistent command prevented him from taking a bigger leap. He remains a well-regarded prospect who could settle into a mid-rotation role in the future.

This and that

Dombrowski mentioned a few under-the-radar prospects whom rival clubs have targeted in trade talks. One who has generated a surprising amount of interest, according to major-league sources, is a former 14th-round pick named Bryan Rincon. He’s a switch-hitting shortstop who turns 20 in February and hit .234/.368/.361 last season between Low A and High A. Rincon is regarded as a plus defender with a chance to hit as he matures. He is Venezuelan but was eligible for the amateur draft in 2022 because he attended high school in suburban Pittsburgh. … The Phillies likely won’t select anyone in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft. (Yes, Noah Song is available again. No, the Phillies won’t pick him.) … Scott Kingery remains in the organization despite the Phillies paying him $1 million to decline a $13 million club option. Kingery reverted to his original minor-league status, which means the Phillies control his rights for one more year. Additionally, the Phillies decided to place Kingery on their Triple-A reserve list, which means he cannot be selected in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. … The Seattle Mariners hired Dombrowski’s son, Landon, as a pro scout. Landon spent last year as an intern at the Phillies’ complex in Florida.

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