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Phillies’ offseason to-do list: Help Bryce Harper, upgrade infield, and go deep on pitching | Scott Lauber

Dave Dombrowski gets his first full offseason to try to fix the Phillies. Here's their five most pressing needs.

Phils Bryce Harper reacts after being caught trying to steal second base during the Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies MLB game at Citizens Bank Park in Phila., Pa. on Sept. 15, 2021.
Phils Bryce Harper reacts after being caught trying to steal second base during the Chicago Cubs at Philadelphia Phillies MLB game at Citizens Bank Park in Phila., Pa. on Sept. 15, 2021.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

At the risk of seeming old-fashioned, Dave Dombrowski carries with him a yellow legal pad filled with notes and thoughts, including an actual “to-do” list. Some days, he has five or six pages of jottings — “Double-spaced,” he points out — to pore over and review.

“I know a lot of people use their phones,” said Dombrowski, the Phillies’ 65-year-old president of baseball operations. “I find that when I write it down here and I consistently look at it, I keep coming to it.”

In that case, he’s going to need a boundless supply of legal pads in the offseason.

Dombrowski got hired Dec. 11, 67 days before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. It was a sprint to Clearwater, Fla. And although it made baseball sense to add four relievers to the majors’ worst bullpen and run back the rest of the roster, including re-signing free agents J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius, it also proved to be the most expeditious way to put together a competitive team while Dombrowski popped the organization’s hood and took a more thorough look around.

» READ MORE: Phillies hire Don Mattingly’s son Preston to help revamp minor-league system

Now, nearly 10 months on the job, it’s clear to Dombrowski that the Phillies’ problems run deep. There’s a top-heavy roster with a core that was built more through free agency and trades than homegrown talent. The lack of depth, pitching and otherwise, is troublesome. The minor-league system, a backbone for every successful organization, needed to be overhauled, a process that began last month and continued this week with the hiring of a director of player development with a famous last name who is light on experience but bursting with youthful energy.

The Phillies’ absence from the playoffs has reached 10 years — the longest active drought in the National League and, if the Seattle Mariners are able to rally this weekend, all of baseball. Now Dombrowski will get a full offseason, albeit one that may be disrupted by labor strife, to make more substantive changes to the roster.

Here, then, is an educated guess about five of the more prominent notations on his legal pad. File them under “How to Fix the Phillies.”

Where does Alec Bohm fit in?

Dombrowski will say no player is “untouchable,” a stance he has backed up over the years with an aggressive trade history. But given that the Phillies aren’t embarking on another rebuilding project, right fielder Bryce Harper and catcher J.T. Realmuto aren’t going anywhere.

Several other positions are ripe for change, though. In particular, the left side of the field (third base, shortstop, left field) is a problem, and center field has been a concern since the outset of spring training.

Money will come off the books, approximately $45 million for luxury-tax purposes if the Phillies don’t pick up their options for outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Odúbel Herrera. But they won’t be able to throw cash at all of their problems. A few internal solutions must arise, and Bohm is foremost among them.

One season removed from being runner-up for NL rookie of the year, Bohm, 25, was one of the worst position players in the majors. Nobody expected him to win a Gold Glove, but he has the third-fewest defensive runs saved of any third baseman. And unlike Boston’s Rafael Devers, Bohm didn’t outhit his defense. Among 180 players with at least 400 plate appearances through Wednesday, he ranked 170th with a .646 on-base-plus-slugging. The Phillies even demoted to triple A in August.

Bohm played primarily third base in the minors, but he also missed three weeks with a wrist injury. The Phillies could consider shifting him to first base and using Rhys Hoskins as the designated hitter, assuming the universal DH is adopted in the next collective bargaining agreement. They have not yet asked Bohm to take fly balls in left field.

Regardless, Bohm’s bat is his ticket back to an everyday role, and the Phillies would like him to get at-bats in winter ball. Can he regain the approach that enabled him to slash .338/.400/.481 in 44 games in the shortened 2020 season? The Phillies may not have much choice but to find out.

Who’s at short?

It’s fair to question why the Phillies gave in to Gregorius’ desire for a two-year contract when fellow free agents Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, and Freddy Galvis received one-year deals. But what’s done is done.

The more pertinent question is how Gregorius, who will be 32 in February, fits into the 2022 jigsaw puzzle after a career-worst season in which he was batting .212 with a .645 OPS through Wednesday and had the third-fewest runs saved among shortstops. He also hinted recently that he may need offseason elbow surgery.

Gregorius will make $15.25 million next year ($14 million against the luxury tax) and therefore has no trade value. When Dombrowski ran the Red Sox, he persuaded owner John Henry to eat the remaining salaries of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and authorize their release. Could he get John Middleton to do the same with Gregorius?

A megaclass of free-agent shortstops includes Carlos Correa, Javier Báez, Trevor Story, and Corey Seager. But with three players (Harper, Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler) making at least $23 million against the luxury tax, it’s unclear if the Phillies would add another high-priced player. They also may seek a shorter-term solution, especially if they believe top prospect Bryson Stott can stay at shortstop. Stott figures to open next season in triple A.

But the infield defense must improve behind a starting rotation that tends to get a lot of ground balls. Through Wednesday, the Phillies ranked last in runs saved by shortstops (minus-20) and were tied with the Detroit Tigers for the fewest runs saved overall (minus-57).

One free-agent fit: Chris Taylor. Given the Phillies’ uncertainty at so many positions, the 31-year-old veteran could play every day and bounce among shortstop, third base, left field, and center. He also has 51 games (and counting) of playoff experience with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Who will join Harper in the outfield?

This may be where the player-development failures will be felt the most.

When the Phillies drafted Cornelius Randolph, Mickey Moniak, and Adam Haseley in three consecutive first rounds from 2015 to 2017, they figured at least one would be ready to step in by now as an everyday outfielder. It hasn’t happened.

The Phillies will have at least one and possibly two holes in the outfield. Expect to hear a lot about Cincinnati Reds slugger Nick Castellanos, a Scott Boras client who could opt out with two years and $34 million left on his contract and would bring the middle-of-the-order sock that is sorely missing behind Harper. It may be more likely, though, that they fill at least one of the outfield spots with a platoon.

Dombrowski will be active in the trade market, as always. He typically tries to deal from what he perceives to be a positional surplus. With Realmuto under contract through 2025 and 21-year-old Logan O’Hoppe rising to double A, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rafael Marchán got moved.

The Phillies talked to the Twins at the deadline about dynamic if oft-injured center fielder Byron Buxton. Could they circle back? File this away: Phillies special assistant Terry Ryan was Minnesota’s general manager when Buxton got drafted second overall in 2012.

How best to rebuild the bullpen?

Signing Archie Bradley, trading for José Alvarado and Sam Coonrod, and taking a flier on Brandon Kintzler turned the worst bullpen in baseball into, well, a slightly less worse bullpen.

There’s no denying that manager Joe Girardi had more late-inning options this year than last. But the Phillies cycled through three closers in June before acquiring Ian Kennedy at the July 30 trade deadline and tied a single-season major-league record with 34 blown saves. Through Wednesday, their 4.69 bullpen ERA ranked 11th in the NL and 25th overall.

» READ MORE: Joe Girardi optimistic about Phillies' future despite another disappointing ending

Kennedy, Bradley, and Héctor Neris are headed to free agency, and it’s possible none will return. If Dombrowski takes aim at a free-agent closer, there will be a few to choose from, including Raisel Iglesias, Kenley Jansen, and possibly Craig Kimbrel.

Where’s the pitching depth?

Among Dombrowski’s more startling discoveries last winter was the Phillies’ lack of pitching depth. He attempted to address the issue late in the offseason by spending a total of $7 million on Matt Moore and Chase Anderson. The return on investment: 22 starts and a 6.70 ERA between them.

It won’t be easy to entice veteran starters this winter. The Phillies have five starters penciled into the rotation (Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson, 2021 revelation Ranger Suárez, and Zach Eflin) and probably can’t guarantee a spot to a free agent. But with prospect Hans Crouse and little else in triple A, they will need depth, especially with Wheeler and Suárez coming off career-high innings totals and Eflin recovering from knee surgery.

There are bargains late in every offseason. To wit: lefties Tyler Anderson and Rich Hill signed one-year, $2.5 million contracts on Feb. 17, nine days after the Phillies signed Chase Anderson. Tyler Anderson has a 4.41 ERA in 30 starts between Pittsburgh and Seattle, while the 41-year-old Hill has a 3.87 mark in 30 starts between Tampa Bay and the Mets.

Which quality pitchers will slip through the cracks this year? With scouting skill and a little luck, the Phillies can finally be there to scoop one up.