CARLSBAD, Calif. — There weren’t in-person meetings for baseball’s top executives last November. But even if the pandemic had allowed for such a gathering, Dave Dombrowski wouldn’t have been there. He wasn’t hired to run the Phillies’ baseball operations until the middle of December.
It’s important context. Because of all the challenges in putting together a roster last winter, time proved to be Dombrowski’s chief enemy. His big moves were re-signing star catcher J.T. Realmuto and veteran shortstop Didi Gregorius, and while it made sense to do both, they were also the easiest calls for someone who had a mere 69 days between his first day on the job and the opening of spring training.
“Last year, you’re in a position where you’re doing the best job you can,” said Dombrowski, reclining in a deck chair during a break in the general managers’ meetings at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. “But you’re going by other people’s opinions and reading reports and talking to people.”
And now, 11 months later?
“I think it’s significantly, completely different,” he said. “And I feel much better about it.”
To wit: Although the Phillies are looking for a left fielder and center fielder, spots that Dombrowski labeled “complete necessities,” he said with certainty that neither Mickey Moniak nor Adam Haseley — first-round draft picks in 2016 and 2017, respectively — will fill them, at least not on opening day.
A year ago, Dombrowski had to rely solely on the opinions of his deputies to draw such conclusions. All scouting is subjective, and some Phillies evaluators were more bullish than others on Moniak and Haseley. But the best organizations excel at judging their own players, and self-scouting is especially tricky because an evaluator can develop an emotional tie to a player after having a hand in the drafting and development processes.
Dombrowski was not yet familiar enough with much of the front office or even manager Joe Girardi to know who has the most critical eyes. It was akin to fixing a car while wearing a blindfold. But after a season’s worth of inspection under the hood, Dombrowski convened organizational meetings last month in Clearwater, Fla., with a thorough scouting report on not only the players but also the people who provide opinions on them.
“I think it’s significantly, completely different. And I feel much better about it.”
“All of a sudden you have a pulse of the people that you’re talking to,” Dombrowski said. “This guy’s a high grader, this guy’s not a high grader. This person looks at these strengths versus this. And then it even goes to your analytical people because they don’t all agree on the same stuff. It’s knowing how they feel and how they grade and how you work with them.”
Dombrowski’s informed opinion is that the Phillies must prioritize their outfield vacancies over fortifying the worst defensive left side of the infield in baseball. He’s also focused on adding multiple relievers, including an experienced closer.
“If I say, ‘I want to sort out our left side of the infield,’ well, we have those components internally that I think have a chance to do it,” Dombrowski said, alluding to top prospect Bryson Stott, who is expected to come to spring training to compete for the shortstop job. “But we don’t have a left fielder, and right now, we don’t have a center fielder. And I don’t think we have a closer right now.”
The Phillies drafted Cornelius Randolph, Moniak, and Haseley in the first round in three consecutive drafts. Randolph is a minor-league free agent after posting a .719 OPS in 2,049 plate appearances and topping out at triple A. Moniak and Haseley sputtered, albeit for different reasons, when they reached the majors.
Haseley missed time this year because of injuries and a monthlong leave of absence; Moniak got a seven-start center-field audition in April and nine plate appearances thereafter over multiple call-ups. The Phillies hoped both would play this winter, but Moniak bowed out of the Arizona Fall League with a hip injury and Haseley was unable to play winter ball for reasons that Dombrowski did not disclose.
If the Phillies, who remain focused on snapping a 10-year postseason drought with a payroll that likely will top $200 million for a third year in a row in 2022, can’t rely on Moniak and Haseley even as platoon outfielders, it’s worth wondering if they will use either or both as part of an offseason trade.
“Haseley is a tough one because he didn’t play very much this past year,” Dombrowski said. “He has to go out and has to play more. Can he establish enough at-bats during spring training to get that done? I don’t know. Moniak, we liked. He was up and down and got quite a few at-bats. I’m not, per se, counting on either one of them to be on our club next year to start off. If they do, great. Who knows?”
Dombrowski, for one. Eleven months on the job, his sleeves fully rolled up, he believes he’s better prepared to do the difficult things to improve the roster.
“I feel much different having watched the club myself, having a pulse of our own players, knowing the personnel within our organization,” Dombrowski said. “Some people, you have a better pulse of and trust in their opinions versus somebody else. And last year, I had no idea, really. So I think it’s a difference of night and day for me. It’s a significant difference.”