Philadelphia Phillies open spring training after recent, hopeful tinkering

Now that the of the Super Bowl has passed, Philadelphia Phillies fans must leave behind unconvincing arguments about it having been rigged and review the state of their baseball team. Spring training is opening for the Fightin’ partisans.

Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs
Colorado Rockies v Chicago Cubs / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

As usual, social media accounts in the Delaware Valley have featured photos of the team’s equipment trucks leaving Philly, an annual puzzlement.

They’re trucks.

For those who haven’t paid strict attention to Phillies news, then, here’s where we are:

This has been, largely, a stand pat winter for Philadelphia. Now, you would not know this by looking at the list of transactions the Phillies have piled up since the beginning of December, 30 by my count, but we’re talking here about moves that mean something.

That grand total comes to eight. Possibly. The one firmly important signing – Aaron Nola – came in November. And it is not to be denied that signing is significant. It means that the Phillies' one-two rotational punch in 2024 comprises two veterans, tested and proven pitchers. The other veteran is Zack Wheeler, who is in his age-34 season. Significantly, Nola is younger by almost exactly three years.

Nola is also well-known to Phillies fans; he has been a subject of criticism and high praise. He will sell tickets, and when he is good, he is very, very good.

Back to the potentially significant other developments (read, spring training invitations) and acquisitions. They include four non-roster invitees, and four players otherwise acquired. The four non-roster players include Griff McGarry, Mick Abel, Aramis Garcia, and (I cannot believe I’m once again typing) Scott Kingery.

Baseball cards for Kingery and Garcia would surely end up in your commons pile, but McGarry and Abel are fairly intriguing. Abel, 22, the Phillies' No. 2 prospect, has had limited experience in Triple-A, but has a good fastball and has been working on a “quality” change. The Phillies gave him a $4 million bonus at signing in the first round in 2020. He likely won’t win a place on the roster this spring, barring an injury to a starter, but could be called up later in the season.

McGarry might be more intriguing. At 24, he has a superior fastball, but trouble with command. In limited Triple-A stints, he has been woeful, particularly last season. However, a question begs for the Phillies' No. 10 prospect: Why bring him to Clearwater? Is it that somebody in management really sees something? Or is it that they just need another arm in Florida with good velocity?

Think of McGarry as an eventual bullpen pitcher.

Next, we have the tinkering-around-the-edges signings: RHP Michael Rucker (cash to the Cubs); LHP Kolby Allard (free agent, lately with the Braves); Diego Castillo (waived by the Yankees); and, pending a physical, RHP Spencer Turnbull (granted free agency by the Tigers). Castillo was, as he's wont to do, DFA'd on Tuesday in favor of reliever Kaleb Ort. That's four DFAs for him this offseason.

Now, recently I suggested – perhaps foolishly – that a key matter early in the season would be an unknown player signed late who could contribute. None of the above players particularly inspires hope for that, but most are young. Turnbull has some experience, including a year with Detroit in which he started 30 games (but lost 17). Castillo definitely has versatility, having played every infield position and right field. He can even pitch. Perhaps he'll be back.

Rucker has an unsettling H/9 figure for his short career (8.8), but the Cubs let him finish 27 of the 96 MLB games he’s appeared in. He saved one.

However, the Phillies may well add another piece behind an unsettling development, Brandon Marsh’s recent arthroscopic surgery to clean a knee out. Supposedly, the incumbent left fielder will be ready by Opening Day, but what if he isn’t, or is but then falters? The Phillies already have doubts about center fielder Johan Rojas’ ability to hit at the MLB level, and Marsh and Rojas are the team’s two best defensive outfielders.

Cody Bellinger is still available.