Reality Check: The Phils Are Still Not Good Enough

Reality Check: The Phils Are Still Not Good Enough

Let’s start this Phillies forecast with a simple exercise in logic: If a team finishes 14 games behind another team, and both teams maintain very similar rosters in successive seasons, what are the chances that the second-place team will beat the first-place team the next year? That’s the reality of the 2024 season for the Phillies. The Atlanta Braves were a far superior team in 2023, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe they won’t be much better one year later.

And then there are the Dodgers, who were 10 games better than the Phils before LA spent more than a billion — that’s what a b — on the greatest player in the game (betting scandal aside) and the hottest young pitching prospect (despite an awful spring) in baseball.

If you think the Phillies are better than either the Braves or Dodgers, well, then it must be spring, when optimism blooms just like the dandelions in your backyard. Eventually, the truth will prevail, and those dandelions will morph into crabgrass.

This is clearly a minority perspective — no shock given the prognosticator — but I have no hope that the Phils will win a championship in 2024. As in, zero. They are one year older, but not one year better.

In fact, it you want my deepest, darkest misgivings about this season, you should start with the leader of the team, Bryce Harper. He provided a bad omen months ago when he suggested that it was time to slap another five years onto his 13-year, $325-million contract, even though he still has eight years to go on the current deal.

Since then, his back issues have kicked back in, reinforcing the notion that an extension to his contract would be idiotic, if not downright reckless. To call his public appeal — and yes, he said it himself after his money-crazed agent Scott Boras offered the initial pitch — greedy is an understatement. It set a tone that infuriated me, if not the far more forgiving younger fan base.

Equally insane — at least to me — was the $172-million contract offer that kept Aaron Nola, the No. 1 draft pick of 2014, in red pinstripes for another seven years. Has anyone ever gotten that much money after finishing the previous season with a 4.46 earned run average?

The Phils then doubled down on the status quo by adding three years — at $126 million! — to the contract of ace Zach Wheeler. If you’re keeping track, that’s roughly $300 million on two pitchers who are both past 30.

Was this a smart use of money? No.

Was it proof that owner John Middleton falls in love with his players and allows emotion to overtake logic? Duh.

You are not reading or hearing any of this logical thinking right now for a very simple reason. No one wants to be the party pooper before the first game is even played. I never shied away from that role because, well, someone has to do it, no?

This Phillies team has a solid (but aging) rotation, a bullpen devoid of a proven closer and a lineup that can be dangerous until the games get bigger and the stakes higher. (Check out the last two games of the NLCS for undeniable proof).

With the window for a championship growing tighter (Harper is also over 30 now), the Phillies chose to add very little to a roster clearly lacking in comparison to the two best teams in the National League. And I say this as perhaps the biggest fan of the one significant addition, Whit Merrifield, a player who — gasp — actually prioritizes contact over exit velocity and has the versatility to play pretty much anywhere on the field. Merrifield is an underrated player. Philly will love him.

Why GM Dave Dombrowski stopped adding players after Merrifield is not hard to figure. The Phillies already have a record payroll, and are already paying luxury taxes. Middleton, I’m guessing, took away the keys to the vault after signing off on Merrifield. This decision will prove fatal to the Phillies hopes in the 2024 season.

Hey, I could be wrong. Shohei Ohtani could be suspended for the season because of the gambling scandal involving his interpreter. The rookie sensation, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, might be a total bust. The Braves might lose slugger Matt Olsen (54 homers) to a major injury. The Phillies might remain healthy, might get big years from Harper, Wheeler and Nola. The trade deadline might bring the missing piece to the lineup at just the right time.

Might, might, might.

But from here, the Phillies look like another good team that is clearly not good enough. Again.

Vegas has the Phillies winning 89.5 games this season.

Last year they won 90.

This is not progress.

I’m taking the under.


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