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How the Phillies built their NL Championship team

After reaching the postseason in 2011, the Phillies didn’t even post a winning record until their modest 82-80 effort in 2021. Between the dismantling of their 2008 championship core, a rebuild, and then a few stalled attempts at returning to contention, it has often been a frustrating (phrustrating?) decade for Philadelphia baseball fans…until it suddenly wasn’t. The Phillies went 87-75 this season to claim the final NL wild-card berth, and then upset the Cardinals, Braves, and Padres in a magical playoff run that has resulted in the franchise’s eighth National League pennant.

Given this recent history, the Phillies’ emergence can be seen as both unexpected and overdue. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski (who has taken his fourth different organization to the World Series) deserves a great deal of credit for putting the Phillies over the top, though the roots of Philadelphia’s roster also extend back to former general managers Matt Klentak and Ruben Amaro Jr.

While the 2022 team received contributions from several players who have since been traded, released, sent to the minors, or simply not selected for the postseason rosters, let’s take a look at the collection of players who have fueled this run back to the World Series…

Homegrown, international signings: Seranthony Dominguez (2011), Ranger Suarez (2012)

For casual fans who may be only getting to know Dominguez and Suarez this postseason, it may be surprising to learn that they are longtime organizational mainstays.  Both were signed at age 16 for a modest $25K bonus, and their development into key arms is yet another example of why MLB teams continue to scout and invest in the international market.

Dominguez made his MLB debut in 2018, but after pitching well out of the bullpen in his first two seasons, he missed almost all of the 2020-21 campaigns due to Tommy John surgery. Returning to action this year, Dominguez didn’t miss a beat in posting a 3.00 ERA over 51 innings, emerging as the team’s top choice for high-leverage situations in both the regular season and playoffs.

Suarez also debuted in 2018, and his early promise as a swingman also hit a health-related roadblock when he missed most of the 2020 season recovering from COVID-19. The Phillies continued to use Suarez both out of the rotation and in the pen in 2021 before converting him into full-time rotation work this year, with solid results. The southpaw posted a 3.65 ERA over 155 1/3 innings and 29 starts, and he has continued to thrive in the postseason with a 2.16 ERA over 8 1/3 frames.

Homegrown, amateur draft: Aaron Nola (2014 draft, first round, seventh overall pick), Rhys Hoskins (2014, 5-142), Bailey Falter (2015, 5-144), Dalton Guthrie (2017, 6-173), Nick Maton (2017, 7-203), Connor Brogdon (2017, 10-293), Alec Bohm (2018, 1-3), Matt Vierling (2018, 5-137), Bryson Stott (2019, 1-14)

The lack of a consistent minor league pipeline has been a sore spot for the Phillies over the last decade, as while Nola and Hoskins were standouts, several other highly-touted prospects either didn’t have success in the majors or didn’t even make the big leagues whatsoever. Homegrown prospects don’t necessarily need to be stars, but it certainly helps when a team can fill roster holes from within, which is why the contributions of Brogdon, Vierling, Falter, Guthrie, and Maton have all raise the roster’s talent floor.  Falter and Brogdon in particular became regulars in the rotation and bullpen, while Vierling received a lot of playing time before the Phillies finally acquired Brandon Marsh to address their center field need.

Nola and Hoskins continue to be productive, while Bohm and Stott have now broken out as first-round picks making an impact.  Bohm bounced back from a rough 2021 to become the Phillies’ regular at third base, and Stott also looks to be an infielder of the future after becoming the everyday shortstop. While it remains to be seen if either player will remain at those positions down the road, that isn’t an issue for the 2022 squad.

Free agent signings: Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Brad Hand, Andrew Bellatti, Corey Knebel (injured)

John Middleton became the managing partner of the Phillies’ ownership group in 2015, and after waiting out a few rebuilding years, Middleton was ready to “maybe even be a little bit stupid about” increasing the payroll.  The heavier spending really started with the signings of Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana during the 2017-18 offseason, but things really kicked into high gear when Harper was inked to a 13-year, $330M free agent deal in February 2019. Essentially from the moment, the contract was signed, there was speculation whether or not Harper was really worth such a massive investment, and yet it’s safe to say that those doubts have been silenced.  Harper’s first four seasons in Philly have included a .282/.394/.546 slash line, 101 homers, the 2021 NL MVP Award, and a scorching run through the postseason (including NLCS MVP honors).

Klentak oversaw the Harper signing, as well as Wheeler’s addition on a five-year, $118MM contract the next offseason. Dombrowski has been no stranger to big contracts over his front office career, and when he took over in the front office following the 2020 season, the Phils continued to hand out the dollars — this past winter, it was $100M over five years for Castellanos and $79M over four years for Schwarber.

It isn’t always a strategy that works, and the Phillies themselves have enough high-profile free agent misses to act as evidence that a team can’t simply buy their way to success. And yet with an ownership group willing to exceed the luxury tax, this spending has worked out because Harper, Wheeler, and Schwarber have more than held up their ends of the deal. Even Castellanos has contributed some key hits in the playoffs, after struggling during much of the regular season.  Beyond these big-ticket contracts, the Phils also scored on smaller deals with relief pitchers, as Hand, Bellatti (signed to a minor league deal), and Knebel were all effective. Knebel unfortunately hasn’t been a part of Philadelphia’s October run, as a torn shoulder capsule ended his season in August.

Trades: J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Brandon Marsh, Noah Syndergaard, Kyle Gibson, David Robertson, Zach Eflin, Edmundo Sosa, Garrett Stubbs, Jose Alvarado, Nick Nelson

The Phillies’ aggressiveness also manifested itself on the trade market, headlined by the blockbuster deal with the Marlins that brought Realmuto to Philadelphia in 2019. With Realmuto re-signing with the Phils in free agency on a five-year, $115.5M deal, he is now locked up through the 2025 season, turning the trade even into more of a win for the Phillies.

Since Segura was acquired back in December 2018 and has become such a mainstay, fans may have forgotten just what a fascinating deal it was that brought him from the Mariners. Segura filled a hole for a team that was ready to win immediately, and as it turned out, Seattle also picked up their own cornerstone shortstop in J.P. Crawford (as well as Santana’s contract). Segura is entering the last year of his contract and it remains to be seen if he’ll return in 2023, yet his contributions in Philadelphia will always be appreciated, as Segura provided above-average offense while acting as an everyday shortstop and second baseman in his four seasons, plus a little time at third base.

With the Phillies battling for a wild card berth for much of the season, the trade deadline was a key moment for adding reinforcements down the stretch.  In landing Marsh and Syndergaard (in separate
trades) from the Angels, Sosa from the Cardinals, and Robertson from the Cubs, Dombrowski went 4-for-4 in upgrades, as the quartet each provided important contributions.  Marsh may be the biggest acquisition of the lot, as the former top-100 prospect now looks like he can finally solve the Phillies’ longstanding hole in center field.

Gibson was the big get at the 2021 deadline, as Gibson, Ian Kennedy, and prospect Hans Crouse were acquired from the Rangers for a three-player package. Unfortunately, this swap didn’t really work out, as Gibson has delivered only a 5.06 ERA over 236 2/3 innings in a Phillies uniform over the last two seasons. Still, Gibson has at least eaten some innings and is now available on the postseason roster as a long relief option.

Eflin was part of two major trades within a two-day span back in December 2014, first dealt from the Padres to the Dodgers as part of the five-player swap that sent Matt Kemp to San Diego and Yasmani Grandal to Los Angeles. The Dodgers then flipped Eflin (and lefty Tom Windle) to the Phillies for Philadelphia icon Jimmy Rollins, putting some extra pressure on Eflin before he ever stepped onto a mound in the City of Brotherly Love. Eflin has been a mostly consistent and even underrated back-of-the-rotation arm over his seven seasons with the Phils. Knee problems have plagued Eflin throughout his career, and after similar injuries kept him on the 60-day IL for a big chunk of 2022, the Phillies have used Eflin out of the bullpen during the playoffs, pitching in six of the Phils’ 11 games.

It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re the backup catcher behind Realmuto, but after Stubbs was acquired from the Astros last November, he won that backup role and ended up appearing in 46 games in the regular season. Already known as a solid defensive catcher, Stubbs showed some offensive ability for the first time in his four MLB seasons, hitting an impressive .264/.350/.462 over 121 plate appearances.

Several relievers have already been mentioned in this post, and the Phillies’ bullpen was still something of a question mark even this season, the relief corps has done its job in getting the team to the doorstep of a championship. Alvardo was acquired from the Rays in December 2020 following two injury-plagued seasons, and the southpaw’s 3.71 ERA over 106 2/3 IP has been a tightrope walk, defined by a lot of strikeouts (32K%) but also a lot of free passes (15.3% walk rate). Nelson has also been shaky, posting a 4.85 ERA and an NL-leading 13 wild pitches in 68 2/3 frames since being acquired from the Yankees in a four-player trade last November.

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