Are the Philadelphia Phillies a last-place team in the NL East?

Even if the Philadelphia Phillies do end up re-signing J.T. Realmuto, as is being widely circulated, one has to wonder if they’ve done enough to keep themselves in the realm of contention in the National League East.

In fact, given the improvements that other teams around them have made this offseason, it’s not overly pessimistic to say that the Phils have fallen even further behind the pack than they were during last year’s poor showing in an abbreviated season.

Are the Philadelphia Phillies basement bound?

To be fair, the Phillies have taken some positive steps this offseason, starting with the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as president of baseball operations. And then there was the naming of Sam Fuld to the GM job, which may or may not thrill you, depending on how big of an analytics person you are. They’ve gone on to address the abhorrent bullpen, most notably with the signing of Archie Bradley. And if a Realmuto contract comes to fruition, then it’s obviously a big deal.

But is it enough, not only to push for a playoff spot but to vault them ahead of anyone in this division? Think about it. Realmuto is great, but bringing him back is merely retaining a strength of the club, not upgrading. And J.T., despite a high level of play, has only moved the needle enough for the Phils to finish fourth and third during his two seasons in town.

You can go through the division and ask, “Are the Phillies better than this team?”

We might as well start at the top of the division with the Atlanta Braves. Even though they may lose slugger Marcell Ozuna, their offense remains better and more well-balanced than the Phils’. And their rotation, bolstered by the signing of Charlie Morton, is impressive. Ian Anderson already looks like a star in the making, Max Fried finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting, and Mike Soroka should return early in the year from his Achilles injury. Sadly, I think the Phillies will be looking up the standings at Atlanta for a fifth consecutive year.

One team that the Phillies did manage to finish ahead of last year, the Nationals, also looks like they have improved. They’ve recently brought aboard a pair of established sluggers in Kyle Schwarber and Josh Bell, and their rotation also remains better than the Phillies’ if Stephen Strasburg overcomes the hand injury that wrecked his 2020. The Nats aren’t a great club, but Juan Soto and Trea Turner are a powerful 1-2 punch to lead the offense. It’s quite possible they’re a skosh better than the Phils.

I can’t ignore the Mets any longer. With a monster offseason that’s seen them land Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a trade for next to nothing, as well as retaining Marcus Stroman and signing Trevor May (and maybe Brad Hand) in free agency, I won’t even pretend that the Phillies might finish ahead of them. The Mets are the better team for 2021 and probably a while after that, which makes me sick.

Finally, those pesky Marlins are an interesting case. Remember, the Fish finished ahead of the Phillies last year despite their usual roster of no-names as well as a team-wide COVID outbreak that had them pulling guys off the street to play for several games. The Marlins didn’t really do anything over the offseason, but keep in mind that they did acquire Starling Marte last year. And, of course, they boast a strong young rotation, which includes the electric Sixto Sanchez. I wish the Phillies could find guys like that.

I’m not saying that I’m going to sit back and be okay with it if the Phillies finish behind the Marlins again and find themselves in the NL East cellar come October, but I definitely wouldn’t be shocked at such an outcome.

In the end, while I hate to adhere to Betteridge’s law of headlines, I will say, “No, the Phillies are not a last-place club,” if only because they finish ahead of either Washington or Miami by accident. But I don’t believe that they’ll climb any higher than fourth place this year, another disappointing development for the likes of Bryce Harper, who came here to be part of a champion, Aaron Nola, who turns 28 this year but has yet to sniff the postseason and the rest of the guys on this team who deserve better.

Let’s hope that Dombrowski, Fuld, Joe Girardi, and all those who make the decisions in this organization will find the answers needed to get the Phils back in the mix at the top rather than the mushy middle they currently find themselves in. I’ll try to be patient, but I’m very prepared for a frustrating 2021 season, whether or not the Phillies actually finish in last place.