Maybe those feelings of doom and gloom around Citizens Bank Park were a bit premature.
Despite everything that seemed to be against them, the Philadelphia Phillies managed to find a way to improve — something that was considered a ridiculous notion just a few months ago.
After all, this was a team that lost $145 million last year due to the pandemic, dragged their feet on addressing the void in their front office following the departure of Matt Klentak, and was poised to lose two of their best players to free agency.
Yet, somehow, it all fell in their favor.
Last week saw the Phillies re-sign All-Star catcher JT Realmuto to a five-year, $115.5 million deal to remain in Philadelphia and keep Bryce Harper and Co. happy for a few more years.
Under normal circumstances, a bidding war could have resulted in the Phillies losing out on the backstop. But the New York Mets’ decision to address their hole at catcher early in the offseason by bringing on James McCann only helped the Phillies in the long run. The Toronto Blue Jays also opted to focus their fortunes elsewhere this offseason, bringing on George Springer and Marcus Semien.
Realmuto’s slow market played right into Philadelphia’s favor, allowing them to edge out the Atlanta Braves to guarantee more time with the best catcher in baseball.
On Friday, they attempted to address the depth issue of their pitching staff by bringing on veteran lefty Matt Moore. The one-year, $3 million deal is a low-risk, high-reward commitment seeing as Moore hasn’t pitched since 2019 after undergoing knee surgery.
He had struggled in recent years with a 5.78 ERA over three seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, and Detroit Tigers, but the Phillies will be hoping a clean bill of health allows the 31-year-old to regain some of his older form when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. From 2011-2016 he went 45-33 with a 3.91 ERA. That included a ninth-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award voting when he went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 2013.
On Saturday they put the cherry on top of their surprising offseason by bringing back shortstop Didi Gregorius on a two-year, $28 million deal. His first year with the Phillies last season was a bounceback one after struggling in 2019 with the Yankees, slashing .284/.339/.488 with 10 home runs and 40 RBI in 60 games.
In total — which includes the signing of Archie Bradley to improve one of the worst bullpens ever seen in MLB history — the Phillies have shelled out approximately $152 million this offseason, only the Blue Jays have spent more.
That kind of commitment from new president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, is at least a comforting one after many believed the Phillies would be competing just to stay out of the cellar of the National League East in 2021.
The problem is that the rest of the division is daunting for the Phillies’ hopes of breaking a nine-year playoff drought.
Atlanta is the defending division champions behind a core of Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman that will be intact for years to come.
The Nationals, who won a World Series in 2019, acquired the necessary tweaks they needed in Jon Lester, Brad Hand, and Kyle Schwarber.
The Mets are still the largest fish amongst MLB’s market. Along with McCann, they signed reliever Trevor May and traded for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Indians. They are still believed to be in on star free-agent starter and 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer along with center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
One can’t even write off the Marlins, either. The young, redeveloping side made the postseason for the first time since 2003 last year.