Major League Baseball and the Players Association finally got their act together in March and decided how to divide billions of dollars. For the local nine, that means the Phillies will now try to end their 10-year playoff drought.
When the lockout ended, the Phils were major players. They signed power-hitting outfielders Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber, along with centerfielder Odubel Herrera (yawn), and two veteran relievers: lefty Brad Hand and righthander Jeurys Familia.
While the relievers are past their primes and the Phils are hoping they will stabilize their bullpen, the Schwarber signing was a standup double. Signing Castellanos was a home run.
Castellanos, 30, a righthanded hitter, and the lefty-swinging Schwarber should bolster an offense that needed an upgrade.
The Phillies gave Castellanos a five-year deal for a total of $100 million, while Schwarber received a four-year contract for $79 million.
The Phillies, whose $240 payroll is fourth in MLB, are going all in.
Castellanos is coming off a career-best season with the Reds: He made the All-Star team and hit .309 with 34 homers and a .939 OPS.
You want to know something about his personality? Well, after a brawl between the Reds and Cardinals last year, Castellanos had this to say about legendary St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina: “That guy could punch me in the face, and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey,” he cracked.
Philly is going to like this guy.
As for Schwarber…”He’s a proven winner,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “… Been around a lot of great teams. Good fan bases. I think being in the city of Philadelphia, being on this team, he’s going to fit right in.”
Schwarber, 29, has hit at least 25 homers in each of the last five full seasons. He won a World Series title with the 2016 Cubs, and he bashed a combined 32 homers in 399 at-bats with Washington and Boston last season, when he hit .266, collected 71 RBIs, and was an All-Star selection.
An Ohio native who was also a catcher earlier in his career, Schwarber had a .374 on-base percentage last year, which makes him a leadoff candidate.
Schwarber is a weak fielder, as are most of the Phillies, and he might end up being a designated hitter on a team that is trying to improve on last year’s 82-80 record. That put them in second place in the NL East, 6½ games behind the Atlanta Braves.
Herrera hit .260 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs last season, and his defense was underwhelming. His on-base percentage was .310, which was even uglier when you consider he was their leadoff hitter a team-leading 63 times.
He may be platooned with Matt Vierling, a Notre Dame product who batted .324 with two homers in 71 at-bats.
Familia was once the Mets’ closer, but is now better-suited as a set-up man. The 32-year-old Dominican righthander still throws hard, but is far from the pitcher who led the majors with 51 saves in 2016. He went 9-4 with a 3.94 ERA with the Mets last season.
Hand, 32, a closer throughout his career, had a 3.90 ERA with three teams last year and struck out 61 in 64 2/3 innings.
At press deadline, the Phils were still looking to add a bench player and another reliever.
Before the lockout, the Phillies signed righthanded reliever Corey Knebel, who will become an important part of the bullpen because Hector Nerris left for the Houston Astros. Knebel, 30, had a 2.45 ERA with the Dodgers last year; he saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017.
In addition, the Phils signed utility infielder Johan Camargo, brought back once-effective reliever Seranthony Dominguez, who is trying to rebound from Tommy John surgery, and claimed three players off waivers.
Those moves won’t threaten the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, or the new-look New York Mets, for that matter.
Before the lockout, the Mets committed about $260 million by bringing in ace pitcher Max Scherzer, outfielders Starling Marte (who would have been a great fit with the Phils) and Mark Canha, and versatile infielder Eduardo Escobar. When the lockout ended, they acquired All-Star righthander Chris Bassitt and signed reliever Adam Ottavino.
As it stands, the most reliable part about the Phillies is their starting rotation. Here’s a look at the 2022 Phils:
Having a stable rotation is the most important thing a team can own, and the Phils are in good shape in that category, and it all starts with Zack Wheeler, last year’s Cy Young runner-up.
The rest of the rotation includes Aaron Nola, who is coming off a disappointing season; Ranger Suarez, the lefty who was stunningly good; Zack Eflin; and Kyle Gibson.
Wheeler went 14-10 last season and had a 2.78 ERA while leading the NL with 247 strikeouts. He pitched 213 and 1/3 innings, tops in the league.
If the Phillies are going to get into the playoffs, they need Nola to regain his form. The righthander had the second-worst ERA (4.63) of his career. He had a 3.28 ERA the previous year.
While Nola had a mystifying season and struggled mightily on the road (5.27 ERA), Suarez was the Phillies’feel-good story of 2021. Converted from a reliever to a starter during the season, he finished with an 8-5 record and 1.36 ERA in 106 innings. The Phils can’t expect him to duplicate those numbers, but he looks like a solid No. 3 pitcher in their rotation, though one wonders how an increased workload will affect him. He made 12 starts last season.
Eflin is coming off a knee injury, so the Phils aren’t sure how many innings he can give them; they believe he’ll be ready for the season’s start. Last season, Eflin made his last start on July 16, and he finished with a 4-7 record and 4.17 ERA. When healthy, he gives the Phils a steady presence every five days on the mound.
Gibson struggled with the Phillies after being acquired from Texas at the trade deadline last year. He had a 4-6 record and a 5.09 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) with his new team, but he was superb in 19 starts with the Rangers (6-3, 2.87 ERA) before the trade.
Phillies relievers had a league-worst 34 blown saves in 2021, and they are hoping their moves addressed the sad-sack situation.
The bullpen leaders figure to be Knebel, who could be the closer, Hand, Familia, Connor Brogdon (3.43 ERA last season), Jose Alvardo (4.20), and Sam Coonrod (4.04).
Besides Knebel, the Phils picked up lefthander Ryan Sheriff off waivers from Tampa Bay. He has pitched just 44 and 1/3 career innings and has a 3.65 ERA. Maybe a defined role will help him.
The Phillies are counting on Dominguez to be healthy and to start resembling his old self. Others who could be part of the picture: Bailey Falter, Jeff Singer, Cam Bedrosian, Yoan Lopez, and Nick Nelson.
1B/DH: The National League adopted the designated hitter, so Rhys Hoskins or Schwarber may spend time there. Like Schwarber, Hoskins is a below-average fielder, but his bat needs to be in the lineup. Hoskins hit .247 with 27 homers in just 107 games as his season ended because of an abdominal tear.
3B/1B: Alec Bohm (.247, 111 strikeouts in 115 games) will probably be given a chance to return at third base, but he could move to first if Hoskins is the DH. Problem is, Bohm struggled defensively at first when used there, so he isn’t ideal.
2B: Jean Segura is an adequate fielder and is coming off a season in which he batted .290 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs.
SS: Veteran Didi Gregorius (.209 with 13 homers last season) will get strong competition from Bryson Stott, 24, who batted .299 with 16 homers for three minor-league teams last season. The Phillies need an injection of youth, and Stott, a first-round selection out of UNLV in 2019, could give them a boost.
C: J.T. Realmuto (.263, 17 HRs, 73 RBIs ), who had a sore right shoulder in the second half of last season, anchors this position, and the Phils will have a new backup because they parted ways with Andrew Knapp and his .152 batting average. Rafael Marchan, who is strong defensively, could be Realmuto’s caddy.
The outfield won’t remind anybody of Luzinski-Maddox-McBride, or Burrell-Victorino-Werth.
Bryce Harper hit .305, slammed 35 homers and 42 doubles, and won the league’s MVP award last year. The 29-year-old right fielder and Schwarber could combine for 70 homers.
Castellanos’ potent bat should put him in left field, where he isn’t the best fielder. Schwarber could play left, but more likely will be used as a DH or first baseman. Both should hit a ton of homers at batter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.
When spring training started, Herrera and Vierling were favored to split time in center.
Adam Haseley, Mickey Moniak, and Luke Williams—three underwhelming players—should battle for spare outfield spots.
The Phillies’ bullpen is improved, their rotation is solid, and Schwarber—who could become a folk hero in the John Kruk mold—and Castellanos will give them more power. But their overall defense is extremely weak, and that will be a factor.
They need players like Bohm and Stott to have breakthrough seasons if they are going to be a National League East contender.
A wild-card spot is probable, but Joe Girardi’s Phillies will be hard-pressed to beat out the Braves or Mets for first place in the NL East.
Still, thanks to a post-lockout spending spree, optimism is high for 2022.