Looking at the 2021 Phillies

We’re under two weeks from Opening Day. I’ll be back at Citizens Bank Park in 17 days, for the first time in well north of a year. The Phillies are about to be back, and it’s the best sign for me that Covid is over. As someone who left Philadelphia a year ago, there can be no better news.

What will this team be like though? Last year’s team was eliminated on the last day of the season from playoff contention, in an eight team field. Now they have to win one of five playoff spots. They had a very good off-season, but they look a lot like last year’s team. That team had the best run-scoring offense to miss the playoffs. They also had one of the best rotations to miss. Have they improved enough? They certainly brought new relievers in to fix easily the worst bullpen I’ve ever seen. If they are just your normal variety of bad, they make the playoffs. The problem? The whole division could be better.

So what’s the opening day roster going to look like? Most of the 26 man roster is fairly academic. Is Bryce Harper really “competing” to start? Of course not. There are several close battles though, and those fights are set to close out this week. Here is my best estimate of what the team will look like on April 1st.

Catchers- JT Realmuto and Andrew Knapp. There is very little drama here. Basically, is Realmuto going to be healthy enough to give it a go on Opening Day. If he isn’t, is Rafael Marchan ready from his injuries, or do they need to add someone through waivers? The bet here is Realmuto is ready to go. This only leaves the question of where Marchan is assigned, and whether Jeff Mathis and/or Christian Bethancourt stick around to catch in AAA. My guess is the Phillies will want to keep at least one of the two veterans, if not both, to catch their young arms in the minors.

Infielders- Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorious, Alec Bohm, Brad Miller, and Scott Kingery. There is little to no drama with the first four, as the starting infield appears to be all but set. Miller and Kingery came to camp virtually assured of being no worse than utility men, but questions are now arising. Miller is set if he’s healthy, but he’s battling minor oblique pain, which can become major in a hurry. Will he be ready? Kingery has an outside shot of starting in center field, but he’s striking out north of 50% of the time. I was never high on Kingery the way others were, but this is fairly shocking to watch. I’m still predicting both are ready and on the MLB roster, in part because they’re the only guys with 40 man roster spots left in camp. Nick Maton has already been optioned down. C.J. Chatham is gone too. Ronald Torreyes would have to be added to the roster. Even with Kingery being awful, that seems unlikely.

Outfielders- Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, and Matt Joyce. This is going to make a lot of people mad. Harper and McCutchen seem like locks. Mickey Moniak has been better than everybody else, but seems destined to start in AAA, based on Joe Girardi’s comments about getting him regular at-bats, unless they name him the starter in center field. Herrera is obviously out of favor with most fans and human beings, since his 2019 arrest for assaulting his girlfriend (I find it obligatory to say charges were dropped, but MLB saw enough evidence to suspend him.). He’s also owed roughly $13 million between this season and his impending buyout. My guess is that he and Quinn, who is out of options, get first crack at filling the spot. It isn’t what I would do, but it’s my best guess. I’m guessing Joyce edges his way into the last spot on the bench as a veteran bat. The Phillies really could use a veteran bench bat besides Miller. He’ll have to be added to the 40 man roster to make it, as would Herrera.

Rotation- Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin, Matt Moore, and Chase Anderson. The most important question here is Eflin’s health, which we’ll see about today in his bullpen session. If he’s healthy, I don’t see many questions here. All five have major league guaranteed money this season, and don’t have options like Spencer Howard, who is battling back spasms anyway. I don’t see the injured Vince Velasquez playing a role in this competition at this point, nor will non-roster invitee Ivan Nova. The big question is the health of Howard and Velasquez, and whether or not they would end up on the longer term DL to open roster spots.

Bullpen- Archie Bradley, Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris, Brandon Kintzler, Tony Watson, David Hale, JoJo Romero, and Sam Coonrod. I didn’t struggle much with the top five relievers here, other than trying to imagine how they keep four non-roster invitees on this roster (we’ll get back to that). Hale is out of options and serviceable, so I have him surviving. Romero is a promising young lefty with options, so he seems like a safe pick, assuming Howard and Velasquez both head to the DL. I picked Coonrod narrowly over Connor Brogdon to round out the bullpen, as both righties have pitched well and have options.

The biggest variable, and reason I will be wrong is the Phillies have a full 40 man roster right now. I am predicting them adding Herrera, Joyce, Kintzler, and Watson. Beyond that you have Torreyes, Travis Jankowski, and Hector Rondon around camp, competing for possible opening day spots. Cutting Quinn and Hale would open spots on both the 26 man and 40 man rosters. Trading Vince Velasquez does the same. Sending Adam Haseley, Howard, or Velasquez to the 60 day DL also opens room. Finally, there are ten players on the 40 man roster already in minor league camp that the Phillies could cut from. One way to avoid an early cut would also be to send Eflin to the DL until you need a fifth starter. Of course, another simple solution is to keep a guy like Moniak instead of Herrera, and see how things go.

I like the off-season this team had, and I think we see our best Phillies team since 2011. They finish above .500 and contend right to the end with the Braves and Mets, thanks to a revamped bullpen that is light years better than 2020. I see 90-72, second place in the NL East, and the second Wild Card on the horizon.

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