Dombrowski: ‘We'll be aggressive … and try to win a championship next year'


Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski put a wrap on the team's latest disappointing season Wednesday by highlighting some glaring needs that must be addressed this winter if the club is going to snap the longest postseason drought in the National League in 2022.

Dombrowski's list was long and included a middle-of-the-order bat, a leadoff man, a shortstop and a closer.

There's more that needs to be done.

But those are the biggies.

How Dombrowski and his staff fill these needs remains to be seen.

"We'll be aggressive," he said during a 40-minute news conference at Citizens Bank Park. "We'll pursue every avenue that we possibly can -- free agency, trades, any way you can do those things."

In listing the team's big needs, Dombrowski put Didi Gregorius on public notice. The veteran shortstop had a poor season at the plate and in the field. He hit just .209 with a .639 OPS and rated among the worst defensive shortstops in the game according to advanced metrics and one old standby; he made 18 errors in 101 games.

"We need to get better at shortstop," Dombrowski said. "If it's internally or externally, whatever it may be, we need to do that."

Gregorius, who will turn 32 in February, signed a two-year, $26 million contract with the Phillies last winter and is owed more than $15 million for 2022. Dombrowski said he's already spoken to Gregorius and told him he is not guaranteed the shortstop job next season. 

"It very well could be him," Dombrowski said. "But he knows, we've had a discussion with him, that he needs to be better. We're in a position where we're going to be open-minded to what's going to take place at shortstop next year. It could be internal. It could be (Gregorius) if he comes back. ... He had some injury factors this season. He will come (into spring training) in shape and maybe it is him. We'll just see how he does at that point, but he's not guaranteed that he's for sure the shortstop."

Dombrowski mentioned that shortstop Bryson Stott, the team's top prospect, was not far away and that Gregorius could play other positions and be part of a designated hitter group if the DH is added to the NL next season, as expected.

Gregorius wasn't the only poor defender on the left side of the Phillies' infield in 2021. Third baseman Alec Bohm also struggled in the field. He will spend the offseason in Clearwater working on his defense and hitting. He batted just .247 with a .647 OPS, seven homers and 47 RBIs in 380 big-league at-bats in 2021.

"I think you have to give Bohm a little bit of a break," Dombrowski said. "He's a young guy that's improving. I mean, he hasn't played all that much, and he's a hard worker and it's up to us to continue to make him better. We've got some things that we think will help him. I don't think he's going to be a Gold Glove third baseman, but he can be solid over there. His key is he's got to hit, right? If he hits well enough, you'll live with the defensive aspect of it."

The Phillies want Bohm to be their opening day third baseman March 31.

"That's what we're hoping," Dombrowski said. "Now, he has to earn that. He's not been given that. He has to earn it."

Barring a trade, the Phils will get Rhys Hoskins' power bat back in 2022. He missed most of the last two months with an abdominal tear that required surgery. Even with Hoskins back, the Phils need more offense.

"We need someone in the middle of the lineup to be a middle of the lineup hitter other than Bryce (Harper)," Dombrowski said. "A guy who is a real threat to protect him. How do you go about doing that? Well, we'll have to wait and see what ends up taking place."

Dombrowski will also look for a leadoff man, perhaps one that could fill a need in center field or left field. Phillies leadoff hitters had the second-worst on-base percentage (.302) in the majors in 2021.

The team also tied a major-league record with 34 blown saves so closer is on Dombrowski's list, too.

On top of all this, the Phils need starting pitching depth, bullpen depth and bench help.

There are some free agents, particularly hitters, outfielders and shortstops, that would look good in red pinstripes. The shortstops include Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. The outfielders include Chris Taylor, Starling Marte and perhaps Nick Castellanos, who can opt out of his contract.

The big question remains: Would the Phillies, who have written big checks for Harper, Zack Wheeler and J.T. Realmuto the last three winters, write another one for a mega free agent this offseason?

"We have ownership here that is amazing," Dombrowski said. "They want to win. They'll do anything they possibly can to win. So could we? Yes, I'd say we could.

"But is that the answer? We have star players. From the star-player aspect, we match up with most organizations at the top. But are you really better off getting one big-ticket item or working with a bunch of other things that puts you together to make you better in different spots? I don't have that answer today because we need to work on those things. But, to me, just going out and getting big-ticket items isn't always the answer in this regard because we have some big-ticket items."

As far as the luxury tax, Dombrowski echoed what he has said for months. Exceeding the tax is not ideal because it is punitive even beyond a financial toll, but ownership has not mandated he stay under the tax, wherever it lands in the new collective bargaining agreement. It was $210 million in 2021. The Phils had a payroll of $205 million.

"Payroll's not the issue for us, we've got plenty of payroll," he said. "It's how we use the payroll. We have to be smarter on it, including myself."

Dombrowski joined the Phillies 10 months ago. This will be his first full offseason calling the shots.

He's not looking to rebuild.

"There's a lot of positives here," he said. "I don't know why we can't try to compete for a championship next year with those pieces. We have to make good moves and wise decisions. I'm not saying we're going to, but our goal is to try to win. We're going to try to win a championship next year, try to win our division, and we'll see what happens."

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