After $400 million offseason, Phillies eliminated from playoff contention

Jack BaerYahoo Sports Contributor

After going all-in on being contenders this year, the Philadelphia Phillies’ playoffs hopes have officially gone bust.

The Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention on Tuesday with a loss to the Washington Nationals, lowering their record to 79-77 and putting them seven games out of the second wild card spot.

They currently sit in fourth place in the National League East, even behind an 81-75 New York Mets team that has dealt with rampant disaster this season.

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Tuesday’s loss in the first game of a doubleheader effectively ends a season that began with enormous, frothing anticipation for a team that spared no expense to add All-Star after All-Star, headlined by the biggest free agent contract in MLB history.

Phillies were the clear offseason winners

No team transformed its roster quite like the Phillies last winter. The team brought in a number of notable players through trades and free agency, then firmly established themselves as a contender with a record $330 million contract for former MVP and division rival Bryce Harper.

In summary, the Phillies made a number of major moves:

  • $330 million contract for OF Bryce Harper (3.6 bWAR in 2019 entering Tuesday)

  • $50 million contract for OF Andrew McCutchen (1.4 bWAR)

  • $23 million contract for RHP David Robertson (0.0 bWAR)

  • trading 1B Carlos Santana (4.9 bWAR) and SS JP Crawford (0.8 bWAR) for SS Jean Segura (1.5 bWAR), RHP Juan Nicasio (0.2 bWAR), LHP James Pazos (never played with team)

  • trading top prospects C Jorge Alfaro and RHP Sixto Sanchez for C J.T. Realmuto (4.4 bWAR)

To be fair to McCutchen and Robertson, those two were hurt for much of the year, with Robertson lasting only a couple weeks before an elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery and McCutchen tearing his ACL in June.

Still, that’s not a ton value the Phillies got after spending in the mid-nine figures. Realmuto played as advertised, one of the best catchers in baseball, but it’s hard to call any of the team’s other major acquisitions a win so far, especially Harper.

Bryce Harper was good in 2019. That wasn't enough for the Phillies. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Bryce Harper was good in 2019. That wasn't enough for the Phillies. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Harper posted a fine enough season, hitting .257/.373/.499 with 33 home runs, 108 RBIs and much-improved defense from last year, but the Phillies aren’t paying him $27.5 million until 2031 for him to be just fine right now.

The Phillies paid Harper like he was a perennial MVP candidate and culture-setter for the team, and now the team is eliminated and it’s hard to see the player receiving any MVP votes in his age-27 season. That’s not just a disappointment this year, it’s a worry going forward.

Phillies’ problems were more than Harper

As easy as it is to place blame for the failures of a team onto its biggest names, injuries were also a major problem for the Phillies this year. Of course, that could be seen as a natural byproduct of signing several aging, but still talented players.

Between McCutchen, Robertson, Nicasio, Jake Arrieta, Corey Dickerson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter and more, the Phillies have more than $70 million in annual payroll tied up on the injured list right now.

A thin rotation and even thinner bullpen didn’t do the team too many favors either, though you wonder if that will be enough to rationalize keeping the man in charge of the team.

What does this mean for Gabe Kapler?

When it comes to talent-laden teams disappointing, the script is well-known. The manager is often singled out for blame, and that could very well be the case for Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

When asked about his job status, Kapler didn’t have much to say beyond that he loves his job.

Under Kapler, the Phillies are now 159-159 in two seasons with no postseason appearances. They lasted just one day longer in the playoff race this year compared to last season, bowing out in Sept. 23 during the 2018 season and Sept. 24 in 2019.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak gave Kapler a vote of confidence in June, but plenty could have changed since then. Even if Kapler makes it to the 2020 season, the hot seat will be scorching.

Venue of Phillies elimination adds insult to injury

As if the day wasn’t bad enough for Harper and the Phillies, their elimination also had to come in the stadium of the team that did just fine without the high-priced outfielder this season.

The 88-69 Nationals clinched their trip to October in the second game of the doubleheader, overcoming a slow start in April and May to reach the wild card game. They will likely face the Milwaukee Brewers there, with the home field still to be decided.

Harper was at least able to get his own little revenge in the second game, hitting a pinch-hit home run off nemesis Hunter Strickland.

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