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What are the Phils’ Winter Meetings goals?

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

If everybody is to be believed, this year’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., should be much quieter. The Phillies might have already made their biggest move of the offseason when they signed Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million contract on Nov. 19. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said then that he expects to take mostly the same team into 2024 that finished ‘23.

“In some ways, even though it’s the same names, it’s not the same team that was there for the whole year,” Dombrowski said.

But the Phillies will be connected to plenty of names at this year’s Winter Meetings. After all, the Phils are World Series contenders, Dombrowski has a reputation for making big (and often surprising) moves and managing partner John Middleton is more than willing to exceed the luxury tax to try to win a World Series, if the right opportunity presents itself.

Here are a few things to know about the Winter Meetings, which run Sunday through Wednesday:

Club needs
Pitching: The Phillies’ rotation is arguably set with Zack Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suárez, Walker and Cristopher Sánchez, although it could use at least another starter to boost their depth. Sources have told MLB.com that Nola’s deal does not preclude the Phils from pursuing a frontline starter like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, although there are many reasons why it will not happen. Most importantly, the Phillies would have to clear considerable payroll elsewhere to make room for a contract that could exceed $200 million. 

The Phillies could use another veteran reliever to improve the bullpen. They have been connected several times to free-agent closer Josh Hader, although sources have said the Phillies are not seriously interested. 

Another bat: Dombrowski said he believes the lineup is mostly set, and it probably is. But he has also said that center fielder Johan Rojas will have to earn a job next spring. The Phillies could use protection in case Rojas struggles. Cristian Pache would be next in line in center, assuming Brandon Marsh gets the majority of at-bats in left, but Pache also has struggled offensively in his career.

Plate discipline: The Phillies have been discussing their lack of plate discipline in the NLCS, but so far, they have not addressed it. They could hire an assistant hitting coach or two in the coming weeks, but hitting coaches can only do so much.  

“The chase rates are just too high,” Middleton said after Nola’s press conference. “It’s hard to win the World Series when you’re swinging at so many balls.”

Potential trade candidates
Early last month at the GM Meetings, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that the Phillies are open to trading outfielder Nick Castellanos, who batted .370 with five home runs, six RBIs and a 1.414 OPS in his first seven postseason games, but 0-for-20 with one RBI and a .087 OPS in his final six. Does it mean Castellanos will be traded? No — far from it. Castellanos is owed $60 million over the next three years, which makes any trade challenging. 

Relievers are frequently on the move, and the Phillies find themselves in a crunch as Spring Training approaches. If José Alvarado, Seranthony Domínguez, Jeff Hoffman, Orion Kerkering, Gregory Soto and Strahm are favorites to make the 2024 bullpen, as most believe, it leaves two jobs for Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, Dylan Covey, Yunior Marte, Michael Mercado, McKinley Moore, Nick Nelson, Luis Ortiz and any other relievers they acquire before Spring Training to compete for. 

Bellatti, Brogdon and Covey are out of options, so two of them would have to make the Opening Day roster or the Phillies would risk losing them. 

(FYI, Jake Cave, Edmundo Sosa, Pache, Suárez and Sánchez are out of options, too.)

Prospects to know
The Phillies have a few top prospects that could make debuts in 2024, including right-handers Mick Abel (No. 2 per MLB Pipeline) and Griff McGarry (No. 5). Abel went 5-6 with a 4.13 ERA in 23 starts with Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, striking out 132 and walking 65 in 113 1/3 innings. McGarry was 1-1 with a 3.13 ERA in 13 starts with Reading. He got promoted to Triple-A, but he struggled terribly in three starts. He had a 41.54 ERA, allowing eight hits, 20 runs and 14 walks while striking out five in 4 1/3 innings. 

No question that Abel and McGarry are talented. If they throw strikes more consistently in 2024, they could be in the mix for a promotion.

Rule 5 Draft
The Phillies took a flier in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, selecting right-hander Noah Song from the Red Sox. It didn’t work out, but it didn’t hurt to try, either. The Phils will prepare like always to take somebody in Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft, but they don’t have a need in the outfield with Pache and Cave as bench candidates (and out of options) or in the infield with Sosa, Weston Wilson, Kody Clemens, Darick Hall and Rodolfo Castro as bench candidates. 

The best opportunity is probably the bullpen. But, again, with Bellatti, Brogdon and Covey out of options, the Phillies would be adding another player to the 40-man roster that would need to remain on the 26-man roster the entire year. It seems unlikely that reliever sticks, but the Phillies can always bring somebody in to take a look. 

The Phillies seem unlikely to lose a player in the Rule 5. The most notable player eligible is outfielder Carlos De La Cruz, who is their No. 6 prospect.

Burning question
How will the Phillies address their concerns about their chase rates in the postseason? Can they make improvements without making personnel changes? Or do they believe they simply had a bad week in the NLCS?