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    Phillies solidify rotation with Taijuan Walker and put their stamp on Winter Meetings

    SAN DIEGO — Not four hours after Dave Dombrowski rested on a sofa on the seventh floor at the Manchester Grand Hyatt and said, “I can’t say we made any headway” in the quest for a mid-rotation starter, the Phillies had agreed in principle to a four-year, $72 million deal for Taijuan Walker. The veteran executive wasn’t deceitful. The agreement, according to major-league sources, came together fast.

    While the Walker talks progressed Tuesday night, the Phillies finished an agreement with Matt Strahm, a lefty reliever. So, it was official. These were the Phillies’ Winter Meetings, a two-day flurry in which the defending National League champions declared they are serious about capitalizing on the momentum from their magical postseason run — and have no time for concerns about efficiency.

    They committed $372 million to fill their two biggest needs. They are financial juggernauts in a stacked NL East that features three teams with World Series aspirations and the wherewithal to spend like it. They tasted postseason baseball at Citizens Bank Park, and it was intoxicating, especially to the people who sign the payroll checks.

    The Phillies were expensive underdogs in October. So much has changed since.


    The Phillies committed $300 million to Trea Turner on Monday and $72 million to Taijuan Walker on Tuesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

    Earlier Tuesday, before the Phillies and Walker matched, Phillies manager Rob Thomson fielded questions in a small banquet room. There is still offseason work for the front office to do — a few middle relievers are next — but the Phillies now have a good idea of what the 2023 roster will look like. Thomson has already started to think about how to establish the right tone in Florida.

    “There’s some things I want to talk about in spring training,” Thomson said. “One being expectations — high expectations — and that’s a good thing because that means you’re probably pretty good, and you’ve got to deal with that.”

    The expectations haven’t been this high since 2011 when the Four Aces were supposed to deliver one more deep October run. It took a decade to recover from that disappointment. Now, in 2023, the Phillies will field one of the better rosters on paper in club history. Adding Trea Turner, one of the most exciting players in the sport, was the prize.

    But Walker was just as important. The Phillies needed innings. They were not shopping at the top of the rotation market, and after surrendering two draft picks to sign Turner, they were reluctant to do it again to obtain a mid-rotation pitcher. They valued innings and reliability. So, that led them to Walker. He was one of only 26 pitchers to log at least 150 innings in each of the past two seasons. The bar is lower and lower every year for volume. Walker, who turns 31 in August, has met it ever since he had Tommy John surgery in 2018.

    This was not lost on his agent, Scott Boras.

    “You can see in the marketplace, there’s a whole number of pitchers that are throwing 60 and 70 innings that have been pursued … at the threshold of around $13 (million) to $15 million a year because the demand for quality pitching is so great,” Boras said Tuesday morning before Walker signed. “So, Tai at (30) is one of the younger ones, one of the more durable ones, and we expect him to be pursued greatly as his market unfolds.”

    The Mets did not make a qualifying offer on Walker, who was a better-than-league-average starter in 2022. That helped his market. The Phillies paid for certainty and, although Walker might not resemble a workhorse of old, he represented one of the closest things to it in this free-agent market.

    Walker slots in a rotation with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. The Phillies will reserve the fifth spot for a collection of younger pitchers. Within the organization, there is a strong belief that Andrew Painter can win a rotation spot in spring training. Painter, 19, is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. The Phillies have treated him with an unusual brand of aggressiveness because they think he is that good and that he can handle it.

    But he will not pitch 200 innings or even 160 in the majors next season. He won’t make 32 starts if he breaks camp with the Phillies. The team has contemplated different solutions to accommodate him. They like prospects Mick Abel, another former first-round pick, and Griff McGarry. All three could factor into the rotation plans during the season.

    “But,” Thomson said, “the guy we’re looking at to possibly come on this roster out of spring is Painter.”

    Thomson has not seen him pitch. Has he started to ask people about the prospect?

    “We don’t even have to ask,” Thomson said. “They just tell you how good this guy is and the makeup and the intangibles and the athleticism, all that stuff. And I’ve been watching a little bit of tape, and it’s real.”


    Andrew Painter could make the big-league team out of spring training. (Mike Janes / Four Seam Images via Associated Press)

    The Phillies like Bailey Falter, too, and it’s possible they use him to manage Painter’s load. The club has discussed various rotation arrangements. Painter made 22 starts in the minors last season and pitched 103 2/3 innings.

    “So, to jump to 200 innings, that would be a bit much,” Dombrowski said Tuesday. “But I think that you could start a bunch of games depending on what happens. You get the All-Star Game, you work through those days. You get off days, you work through them. You could use a sixth starter if you want to do that. All of those things are possible.”

    A six-man rotation can also serve as a buffer for Wheeler, Nola and Suárez to compensate for their larger workloads in 2022. Realistically, the Phillies have at least eight viable rotation options — experienced and inexperienced — and that is the best depth they have accumulated in a long time.

    There is not much left to accomplish this winter. Dombrowski expects to sign a few more middle-reliever types. The market is overflowing with them; the Phillies can wait and throw some darts later.


    Matt Strahm posted a 3.83 ERA in 50 appearances last season. (Paul Rutherford / USA Today)

    They committed a decent chunk of their bullpen budget to Strahm, a 31-year-old lefty whose average fastball velocity jumped a tick in 2022 when he spent a full season in the bullpen for the first time. He agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal, according to a major-league source. Strahm is the rare reliever who used five different pitches, and the Phillies could refine his repertoire. He had better numbers against righties in 2022; the Phillies could still look for a third lefty to fit next to Strahm and José Alvarado in the bullpen.

    On Thursday, the Phillies will introduce Turner with a No. 7 jersey at Citizens Bank Park. They’ll have another event for Walker soon after that. The lineup is set. The rotation is almost there — spring training will be an intriguing time for the organization’s young starters.

    “There’s always ways to be creative,” Dombrowski said.

    The Phillies, so far, have not needed a creative approach to their offseason. They have attacked with precision and force. In two days here, they announced their intentions with an exclamation point.

    (Top photo of Taijuan Walker: Vincent Carchietta / USA Today)

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