The Phillies did it: they finished with a better than .500 record. The Bryce Harper era began on the heels of an 80-82 season in 2018, but before the ink was dry, a new era was supposed to have begun in Philadelphia. In the third season of the Harper era, the Phillies finally reversed that record, finished 82-80 and in second place, their first winning season since 2011. It only took three years and an MVP season out of Harper to get them there.
And while it’s nice to be a winning team – well-deserving of a pat on the back – the Phillies fell short of true contention. Instead, Harper watched from home as a division rival won the World Series for the second time in the three years. That has to smart.
Still, there’s no revelation coming to Philadelphia. In terms of strategy, it’s likely to be the same game script for the Phillies moving forward, though they’ll shuffle the cards and hope for a different result. President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski is a fairly well-known commodity throughout the league, so if there’s a wrinkle coming in Philly’s team-building strategy, it might have to come from GM Sam Fuld.
The former outfielder has been with the Phillies for years, but his ascension to Dombrowski’s top lieutenant is less than a year old. As Grima Wormtongue to Dombrowski’s King Théoden, Fuld’s analytical approach should have taken root by now, but the organizational philosophy still seems relatively straight-forward: acquire players to help this team win today.
Looking back to Philly’s deadline moves, dealing five years of control over former top prospect Spencer Howard for a year and a half of Kyle Gibson is an old-school deadline add, though the inclusion of 23-year-old Hans Crouse hints at more nuanced thinking. That said, Crouse made two starts in the Majors after his arrival, so the Phils clearly see him as an option for innings in 2022.
The focus of the front office is putting a winning team on the field ASAP, and in this way, the Phillies are a breath of fresh air in an era popularized by “cute” front offices, constantly balancing short-term value with long-term flexibility. The Phillies may seem to be working with blunter instruments at times, but what sets the apart as an organization right now is that they don’t mind if everyone knows how badly they want to win.
In the dugout, there aren’t nearly as many tea leaves to read. Manager Joe Girardi needs to win baseball games. With whatever 26-and-40-man roster he has at his disposal come opening day, he needs to win games.
Since Charlie Manuel’s departure midway through the 2013 season, managers haven’t stayed overlong in Philadelphia. Each of Ryne Sandberg (278 games, .428 W-L%), Pete Mackanin (412 games, .422 W-L%), or newly-crowned NL Manager of the Year Gabe Kapler (324 games, .497 W-L%) lost their caps in relatively short order. Girardi (222 games, .495 W-L%) may be nearing a tipping point as well.
Girardi isn’t all that close to eclipsing his predecessors’ raw totals in terms of games managed, but if Girardi can make it through 2022, he’ll be the first to last three full seasons since Manuel. Getting sacked before the end of next season is hardly a fait accompli for Girardi, though his disappointing tenure has coincided with a green-lit era of full-go contention for the front office. Needless to say, expectations are high. Don’t be surprised to see Girardi as a high draft pick in your office’s first manager fired pool.