In the year and two days since the Phillies hired him to run their baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski has traded a grand total of five players off the 40-man roster, a modest total given his wheeler-dealer reputation.
But then it took a while for Dombrowski to understand exactly what he had.
“Last year, you’re just in a position where you’re doing the best job you can, but you’re going by other people’s opinions and reading reports and talking to people,” Dombrowski said recently. “I feel much different having watched the club myself, having a pulse of our own players, knowing the personnel within our organization.”
Dombrowski knows now, for example, that the Phillies lack adequate support for their small core of star players. The roster falls off a cliff after Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, and Jean Segura. They don’t have a left fielder, a center fielder, or enough late-inning relievers, but do have approximately $183 million in luxury-tax commitments, assuming there is a luxury tax in the next collective bargaining agreement.
The Phillies mostly sat out the free-agent frenzy before the Dec. 1 owners’ lockout that has frozen rosters indefinitely. They signed reliever Corey Knebel and utility infielder Johan Camargo to one-year contracts and pursued outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who chose not to sign until after the lockout ends because his market may be invigorated if, as expected, the universal designated hitter is part of the next CBA.
When business resumes, the Phillies will have time to address their needs. But they won’t be able to do it all via free agency. Center field, in particular, likely will require a trade. The Phillies have talked with the Tampa Bay Rays about Kevin Kiermaier, multiple major-league sources confirmed last month. Toronto’s Randal Grichuk may be available. And they will keep shaking every tree in Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the hopes that Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins falls out.
Regardless, Dombrowski will almost certainly have to move players off the 40-man roster. Here’s a look at a few who could be sent packing.
Joe Girardi loves Marchan’s defense behind the plate. That isn’t insignificant. And Marchan doesn’t turn 23 until February, making him one of the youngest players in all of triple A. That’s something, too, because it means he’s still maturing offensively. Yadier Molina didn’t hit much in the minors either.
The Phillies aren’t necessarily shopping Marchan. But they did gauge interest in him at the trade deadline because Dombrowski often deals from what he considers to be a positional surplus. With another catching prospect, 21-year-old Logan O’Hoppe, pushing hard in double A and the additions last month of Garrett Stubbs and Donny Sands in trades with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, respectively, the Phillies possess organizational catching depth.
Oh, and then there’s Realmuto, the three-time All-Star catcher with four years remaining on his $115.5 million contract.
Realmuto, who turns 31 in March, has averaged 120 starts over the last six full seasons. The workload has exacted a toll on his body, and with the expected arrival of the universal designated hitter in the next CBA, there may be more at-bats coming for a backup catcher.
But Dombrowski expects to continue leaning heavily on Realmuto. Asked recently if he could envision a backup catcher making even 50 starts next season, Dombrowski said, “I don’t think it’s that many.”
It may be, then, that Marchan (or O’Hoppe) is more valuable in a trade. O’Hoppe caught the attention of several scouts who watched him play well in the Arizona Fall League. But he has greater offensive upside than Marchan. If the Phillies can use Marchan in a trade to help address, say, center field, it would fit with the type of move that Dombrowski has been inclined to make in the past.
If the deadline trade of Spencer Howard to the Texas Rangers proved anything, it’s that the Phillies under Dombrowski are willing to move on from prospects who struggle to adapt at the major-league level in favor of more bankable commodities. In Howard’s case, that meant innings-eating mid-rotation starter Kyle Gibson.
Moniak, it could be argued, hasn’t received an adequate chance to fail. His opportunity to seize the center-field job lasted all of seven starts in a nine-game span in April. After that, the former No. 1 overall pick got a total of nine plate appearances in six call-ups that totaled 19 days.
But Dombrowski said last month that neither Moniak nor 2017 first-round pick Adam Haseley is in consideration to be the opening-day center fielder or left fielder, an indictment of the Phillies’ drafting and development. Moniak is young (23), and like most minor leaguers, lost a year of development because of the pandemic. But he’s also 6-for-47 with 22 strikeouts in the majors, a small sample that nevertheless fuels the critics who doubt he will be an everyday outfielder.
The Phillies also have outfielders Simon Muzziotti, Johan Rojas, and Yhoswar Garcia behind Moniak and Haseley with the potential to surpass them. Muzziotti, who turns 23 this month, played well in the Arizona Fall League after missing most of the season because of work visa issues and the pandemic. Rojas, 21, caught Dombrowski’s eye this season at single-A Clearwater.
Where does that leave Moniak? Dombrowski didn’t draft him and therefore may be inclined to move him to a team that believes a change of scenery would do him good.
To be clear, the odds of Bohm being anywhere other than at third base for the Phillies on opening day aren’t great. Given his place at the bottom of the salary scale and the team’s needs at other positions, he almost certainly will get another chance to take hold of the job after a season in which he struggled and got demoted to triple A.
But, well, what if ... ?
The Oakland A’s are expected to continue shopping many of their increasingly expensive arbitration-eligible players, including third baseman Matt Chapman, whose 2022 salary is pegged at $9.5 million by MLB Trade Rumors’ projections. Nobody knows what the rules will be under the next CBA, but under the current system, Chapman has two more seasons of club control. Bohm has five.
Chapman, 28, is coming off a bad year (.210/.314/.403, 32.5% strikeout rate) in which he still slugged 27 homers and won his third Gold Glove. What if the A’s would swap him for Bohm, or even expand the deal to include Chapman and center fielder Ramón Laureano?
Or what if Cleveland would want Bohm as part of a package for star third baseman José Ramírez?
You get the idea.
“I wouldn’t discount anything,” Dombrowski said, “if it makes sense for us.”