The Phillies made a long anticipated free agent splash this week after signing Kyle Schwarber to a 4-year, $79 million contract. The burly 29-year-old is coming off of a career year with the Nationals and Red Sox, where he slashed .291/.435/.522 with 32 dingers, good for an outstanding 154 OPS+. Schwarber should do wonders for a Phillies offense that had a glaring hole at the top of the order, and with the designated hitter coming to the National League this season he can rotate between left field and DH, masking his suspect glove work. Though a great signing, President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski still has some holes to address.
The Phillies fanbase has still yet to find out who will man center field in 2022. The position was far from a strength last year as veterans Odúbel Herrera and Travis Jankowski were lackluster, and youngsters Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley couldn’t put it together at the big-league level.
One noticeable bright spot, however, was rookie Matt Vierling, who put up an .843 OPS over 77 plate appearances. Small sample size aside, there are questions as to whether or not he can hack it at a premium defensive position. With Moniak and Haseley looking ticketed for Triple-A Lehigh Valley to start the year, it seems Manager Joe Girardi will utilize a Herrera/Vierling platoon in center.
It is possible that the Phils get decent production out of one or both players, but there’s a significant chance that center field continues to hold the team back in 2022.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of options left to address this need, as the Tampa Bay Rays are rumored to have too high of an asking price on defensive wizard Kevin Kiermaier, and the remaining free agent pool consists of glove-only Albert Almora, weak-hitting speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson, and aging veterans Brett Gardner and Kevin Pillar. There are a few stars remaining in trade talks, including Bryan Reynolds and Ramón Laureano, but the prospect capital required to land either one would likely be out of the Phillies price range. Suffice it to say, it looks like they’re stuck with an uninspiring center field platoon.
Center field also isn’t the only problem, as the Phillies made improvements around the margins to an uninspiring pitching staff, but still have plenty of holes to fill. Dombrowski added former All-Stars Corey Knebel, Brad Hand and Jeurys Familia to their blow up-prone bullpen, but all three have battled injuries or ineffectiveness in recent years. Additionally, the team let reliable right-hander Archie Bradley walk, as he signed a one year $3.75 million deal with the Angels.
Dombrowski should be commended for addressing the pen, even if all three veterans are on one-year pacts. However, the starting rotation remains completely devoid of depth, as co-aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola will be followed by last season’s breakout Phillie Ranger Suarez and innings eater Kyle Gibson.
That top four by itself is actually quite good, but the real problem lies beyond that. We all know that pitching arms are fragile things, and an injury to any of them could put the Phils in real danger. Groundball specialist Zach Eflin is recovering from knee surgery and has an uncertain timeline, and the projected fifth starter as of now is well-regarded prospect Hans Crouse. Potential reinforcements from Triple-A aren’t terribly inspiring, as young southpaws Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sánchez struggled in their first tastes of the majors last year, and it’s somewhat of a black hole beyond that.
There are a few names to watch, as 25-year-old righty James McArthur should get his first chance at big league action this season, and young international hurlers Josh Hendrickson from Australia and Kyle Glogoski of New Zealand look to make good on the organization’s scouting emphasis in Oceania.
All in all, the Phillies have made some necessary moves this offseason, and they deserve praise for that. However, the club entered 2022 with more than a few major issues, and only some of them have been addressed.
IF everything goes right and Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm bounce back, and IF Matt Vierling improves upon his solid debut, and IF Ranger Suarez remains lights out over a full season’s workload, and IF the bullpen can slam the door in the late innings instead of blowing it wide open, and IF the starting rotation stays healthy; then this team can play meaningful baseball well into October. But that is a heck of a lot of ifs, and only a few of them need to go wrong for this team to be in a world of hurt.