Dave Dombrowski and the Philadelphia Phillies apparently don’t understand the new atmosphere of baseball. The expanded playoffs mean, or were supposed to mean, that teams don’t have to go all out for 95-to-100 wins anymore. The Phightins are proof! 87 wins and a trip to the World Series!! You just have to win 85 or more, get in, and anything can happen in October. The owners insisted on this new system to boost their TV revenue from playoff games and to ensure they could get away with spending less on their rosters.
And the Phillies are blowing a hole in all of it.
They went out last night and handed Trea Turner an 11-year contract that will pay him $300 million. He joins their shiny collection of stars, like Bryce Harper or J.T. Realmuto or Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola, or the next cut of player in Kyle Schwarber or Nick Castellanos or Rhys Hoskins. Turner upgrades the Phils in a lot of ways, the first being an enormous OBP boost at shortstop. Instead of Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins 1-2, Turner will add another .340 OBP there and mean more runners for the entire top of the lineup. It extends the Phillies’ order six-deep, seven if Alec Bohm’s contact numbers start translating into his average and power (his home run per fly ball rate is assuredly going to jump in the future).
Turner’s excellent defense also will make a huge difference, as he kicks Bryson Stott over to second which means the Phils are no worse than serviceable up the middle with Realmuto, Turner, Stott, and Brandon Marsh in center. Philly still won’t be a great defensive team, but they’ll improve by significant measures in 2023. Ranger Suarez may be the happiest person right now, given how often he gets grounders and how many more of them will now turn into outs.
But mostly, they’re swimming against the current of what baseball clearly wanted. You can be sure that there were a few owners, in discussions with their front offices, that used the Phillies run to the World Series as proof that just getting in was enough. Win 87 games, then spin the wheel of the postseason. So those front offices must be turning around and saying, “Well if that’s the plan that everyone should follow, why are the Phillies, the first beneficiary of the expanded playoffs, deciding that’s not the path they want to continue to walk?”
It’s certainly not about divisions anymore, or doesn’t have to be, because the wild-card standings don’t depend on that. The Philles could settle for just finishing up the track from the Mets and Braves and take their wild-card spot, because there’s only like four other teams in the National League that are even trying. And yet here they are picking off one of the four premier shortstops on the market.
I’d like to think Dombrowski and team owner John Middleton saw those games at Citizens Bank Park last fall, the way that place bounced after homers or big hits, and just decided they wanted to guarantee more moments like that. That’s the whole point, to create those moments and memories for your fans. Turner doesn’t guarantee two more wins in October, or even a return trip to the World Series or even the NLCS. He just makes it more likely that there will be more times that Phillies fans remember forever. Ups the percentages, let’s say.
Dombrowski used to be kind of the scourge of the new baseball observers, because he has never cared about four or five years in the future, the minor leagues are just a supply closet to trade for players that can help today, and when he’s done he’ll probably leave your organization smoldering. He was an old-school GM in a new world.
Now, he’s a bit of a hero to fans who have grown weary of payroll flexibility and prospects as the ideals to be upheld. He’s the guy saying, “Fuck it” and just trying to build the best team he can for the next season to be played. And then doing it all again the following winter. Everything is cyclical, I suppose.
It would be nice if a new team would get in on the party. So far, the biggest splashes of the offseason have come from Texas, Philadelphia, and the Mets, who are usual suspects at this point. But there’s still time.
MLB wanted what the Phillies did last year to be the aim for most teams. They were the perfect model for those who pushed for expanded playoffs. They must have a pretty funny look on their face now that the Phillies have declared that not enough.