The Phillies crew that will take the field on Opening Day 2024 is likely going to be much the same as the one that walked off the field at the disappointing end of Game 7 of the NLCS.
The team is, generally speaking, a finished product. Sure, they need to re-sign Aaron Nola or find a viable replacement, and there is likely some tinkering to do with the lineup.
But it doesn’t make sense for Dave Dombrowski to look at a team that’s come achingly close to a championship each of the last two years and push down a plunger to blow the whole thing up.
What you can expect is for Dombrowski to make some moves around the edges. Strengthen the bullpen with a couple more hard throwers (Jordan Hicks and/or Hector Neris for example), add an outfield bat or two to replace Jake Cave (Joc Pederson makes a lot of sense), continue to work young guys like Christian Pache and/or Johan Rojas into the mix, and add that starter to cement the starting rotation.
What else? After all, fans love the bright shiny objects. Don’t we all want Dombrowski and the Phils to make a splash this winter? After all, splashes are fun! Signing Trea Turner was fun! So was getting Zack Wheeler, and Bryce Harper, and the rest of the free agent crew that makes up this core.
This winter, three of the brightest, shiniest objects in baseball could be available, and given that the Phillies are one of the premier destinations in baseball, one would think Dombrowski and GM Sam Fuld could have a realistic shot at landing one if they want.
I’m talking about Padres outfielder Juan Soto, Angels outfielder and noted Eagles fan Mike Trout, and free agent super mega ultra-star Shohei Ohtani.
It’s understandable Philadelphia fans are fantasizing about adding one of these players to an already-loaded lineup. Unfortunately, none of it is realistic.
Perhaps the one that makes the most sense is Soto, who had another typical outstanding season for the underachieving Padres and could very well be traded this off-season. He’s on the final year of a contract and San Diego appears unlikely to sign him to a long-term contract. Adding Soto’s bat to left field would be a perfect fit for what the Phillies need, but it would require a huge expenditure in prospects and the Phils would need to sign him long-term, too. A lot of hurdles, but this would make sense. It’s still an extreme long shot.
What about trading for Mike Trout? Certainly, in his 20s, Trout was one of the five best players to ever play the game. However, he’s missed a ton of games over the last three seasons specifically (36 in 2021, 119 in ‘22 and 82 last season). He’s entering his age-32 season and is under contract for the next seven years at $37 million per season. That’s $10 million more a season than Harper or Turner will receive. Yes, when he plays, he’s still great, but half of greatness is availability. Should the Phils give up a king’s ransom for a $37 million a year player who misses half a season or more?
Undoubtedly, bringing Ohtani to Philadelphia would set off a scene that could surpass even Harper’s arrival. Ohtani is going to sign a 12-year deal somewhere, and he’s going to get around $600 million. Maybe more. He is set to undergo his second Tommy John surgery, meaning he will not pitch at all in 2024. He is a designated hitter only and, as you probably well know, the plan is to have Kyle Schwarber DH for the last two years of his contract.
Adding Ohtani’s bat alone would be an incredible addition for this lineup, and if he is able to return as an effective No. 2 starter, it would be the equivalent of adding two top-tier free agents in one player. How much would it hurt to have Schwarber in left field every day for two years? He’s a below-replacement level player if he has to play defense 160 times a year. You could try and trade Schwarber, but losing him would cut a gigantic hole in the clubhouse chemistry that has been such a remarkable component to this team’s success the last two years.
It’s fun to talk about these players, and I won’t say there is zero chance any of them could come to Philadelphia, but the chances are slim to none. Unless Dombrowski is ready to make some major changes to bring in these new faces, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
We discussed these three players as well as Aaron Nola’s future and some predictions on what the Phillies will do on the latest edition of the Hittin’ Season podcast — take a listen!