SAN DIEGO — Less than four hours after Dave Dombrowski rested on a sofa on the seventh floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt and said, “I can’t say we’ve made any progress” in the quest for a midfielder starter. -rotation, the Phillies had agreed in principle to a four-year, $72 million deal for Taijuan Walker. The veteran executive was not misleading. The deal, according to major league sources, closed quickly.
As Walker talks progressed Tuesday night, the Phillies reached a deal with left-handed reliever Matt Strahm. So it was official. It was the Phillies’ winter meetings, a two-day flurry in which the defending National League champions said they were serious about capitalizing on the momentum of their magic playoff run — and don’t have time to worry about efficiency.
They committed $372 million to meet their two greatest needs. They are financial behemoths in a stacked NL East that includes three teams with World Series aspirations and the means to spend like that. They got a taste of postseason baseball at Citizens Bank Park, and it was exhilarating, especially for the people signing the paychecks.
The Phillies were expensive underdogs in October. So much has changed since then.
Earlier Tuesday, before the Phillies’ game against Walker, Phillies manager Rob Thomson answered questions in a small banquet hall. There’s still off-season work for the front office — a few middle relievers are up next — but the Phillies now have a good idea of what the 2023 roster will look like. Thomson has already started thinking about how to establish the your just in Florida.
“There are certain things I want to talk about in spring training,” Thomson said. “One being expectations – high expectations – and that’s a good thing because that means you’re probably good enough, and you have to deal with that.”
Expectations haven’t been this high since 2011, when the Four Aces were supposed to deliver another deep run in October. It took a decade to recover from this disappointment. Now, in 2023, the Phillies will field one of the best rosters on paper in club history. The addition of Trea Turner, one of the sport’s most exciting players, was the prize.
But Walker was just as important. The Phillies needed innings. They weren’t buying at the top of the rotation market, and after giving up two draft picks to sign Turner, they were reluctant to do it again to get a mid-rotation pitcher. They appreciated the sleeves and the reliability. So that led them to Walker. He was one of 26 pitchers to have at least 150 innings in each of the last two seasons. The bar is lower and lower every year for volume. Walker, who turns 31 in August, has met him since having Tommy John surgery in 2018.
This has not escaped his agent, Scott Boras.
“You can see in the market, there’s a lot of pitchers who pitch 60 and 70 innings that have been sued… at the threshold of about 13 (million) to 15 million a year because the demand for pitchers from quality is so great,” Boras said Tuesday morning before Walker signed. “So Tai at (30) is one of the youngest, one of the most enduring, and we expect him be strongly pursued as its market grows.”
The Mets didn’t make a qualifying offer on Walker, who was an above-league-average starter in 2022. That helped his market. The Phillies paid for certainty, and while Walker may not look like an old-time workaholic, he represented one of the closest things to her in this free agent market.
Walker rotates with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. The Phillies will reserve fifth place for a collection of young pitchers. There is a strong belief within the organization that Andrew Painter can earn a rotation spot in spring training. Painter, 19, is one of the hottest pitching prospects in baseball. The Phillies have treated him with unusual aggression because they think he’s so good and can handle it.
But he won’t pitch 200 or even 160 innings in the majors next season. He won’t make 32 starts if he breaks camp with the Phillies. The team considered different solutions to accommodate it. They like prospects Mick Abel, another former first-round pick, and Griff McGarry. All three could be factored into rotation plans during the season.
“But,” Thomson said, “the guy we’re looking at to possibly make this list in the spring is Painter.”
Thomson didn’t see him pitch. Has he started asking people about perspective?
“We don’t even have to ask,” Thomson said. “They just tell you how good this guy is and the makeup and the intangibles and the athleticism, all that stuff. And I watched a little tape, and it’s real.
The Phillies also love Bailey Falter, and there’s a chance they’ll use him to handle Painter’s load. The club have discussed various rotation arrangements. Painter made 22 minor starts last season and pitched 103 2/3 innings.
“So to go to 200 innings would be a bit too much,” Dombrowski said on Tuesday. “But I think you could start a bunch of games depending on what happens. You get the All-Star Game you work through these days. You get out of the days, you work through them. You can use a sixth starter if you want to. All of these things are possible.
A six-man rotation can also act as a buffer for Wheeler, Nola and Suárez to offset their larger workloads in 2022. Realistically, the Phillies have at least eight viable rotation options — experienced and inexperienced — and that’s the best depth they have. accumulated for a long time.
There’s not much left to do this winter. Dombrowski expects to sign a few other types of interim relief. The market is full of them; the Phillies can wait and throw darts later.
They spent a good chunk of their bullpen budget on Strahm, a 31-year-old southpaw whose average fastball speed jumped in 2022 when he spent a full season in the bullpen for the first time. He has agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract, according to a major league source. Strahm is the rare reliever who has used five different pitches, and the Phillies could refine his repertoire. He had better numbers against right-handers in 2022; the Phillies could still look for a third left-hander to fit next to Strahm and José Alvarado in the bullpen.
On Thursday, the Phillies will present Turner with a No. 7 jersey at Citizens Bank Park. They will have another event for Walker shortly after. The composition is defined. The rotation is almost here — spring training will be an intriguing time for the organization’s young starters.
“There are always ways to be creative,” Dombrowski said.
The Phillies, so far, haven’t needed a creative approach to their offseason. They attacked with precision and force. In two days here, they announced their intentions with an exclamation point.
(Taijuan Walker top photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA Today)
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