February 24, 2024

Phillies continue search for outfield depth, say Brandon Marsh’s injury won’t alter course

When Brandon Marsh felt some discomfort in his left knee during a workout in Arizona earlier this week, he called the Phillies. Marsh received an MRI, then flew to Philadelphia to see a team doctor. And, on Friday morning, he had arthroscopic knee surgery.

“It all happened very quickly,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said.

The Phillies are confident Marsh will be ready for Opening Day. Dombrowski was steadfast about that. But Marsh will probably miss the first half of spring training and, if anything, his minor surgery underscores the Phillies’ tenuous outfield depth.

They entered the offseason questioning whether Johan Rojas was prepared to hold a full-time job in 2024. But they have not acquired an outfielder this winter — not even on a minor-league contract. The center-field job is Rojas’ to lose in the spring. The Phillies retained Jake Cave and Cristian Pache as their reserve outfielders. If there is a regular-season injury, they would probably fill the hole with a platoon.

The Phillies have continued to engage free-agent outfielders all winter. They have not found a match; Dombrowski said the Marsh surgery does not alter his calculus.

“We’re fine,” Dombrowski said. “We feel like we’re OK. I mean, we’ll see how Rojas does. If something happened, we have the combination of Pache and Cave at this point. That’s where we’ve been all wintertime. We feel comfortable with that. We continue to look at other people, but most of the people we’ve talked to wanted assurances that they’re going to play. Or we don’t think they’re a big upgrade at this point for us.”

The Phillies said Brandon Marsh should be ready to play by Opening Day. (Ken Blaze / USA Today)

The Phillies, according to major-league sources, have pitched free agents on a fourth outfielder role that would consist of playing twice a week with sporadic at-bats in between. Despite camps opening next week, a glut of potential fits remain available. Eddie Rosario, Robbie Grossman, Adam Duvall and Michael A. Taylor haven’t signed with a team. Utility players Whit Merrifield, Kiké Hernández, Tony Kemp and Brian Anderson are still free agents. There won’t be everyday jobs for all of those players and, at some point, the Phillies could find a match.

Dombrowski said the Phillies will monitor the outfield market — ranging from a potential guaranteed deal to minor-league contracts.

“Oh, sure,” Dombrowski said. “We would definitely do something like that. But, so far, it really hasn’t even been the dollars as much as a situation where players want a guarantee of playing time. Or we haven’t really felt that they’re big upgrades for us. So we are open-minded to that. And we’ll continue to do that for sure.”

Both Weston Wilson and Kody Clemens will see some time in the outfield this spring; Dombrowski said that was the plan even before Marsh’s surgery. The Phillies removed outfielder Símon Muzziotti from the 40-man roster earlier this week and he could remain in the organization if he clears waivers, although he was never much of a consideration to crack the depth chart last season. Carlos De La Cruz, a hulking 24-year-old project, figures to see significant Grapefruit League action this spring.

Johan Rojas debuted in July and played in 59 games for the Phillies last year. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

The Phillies enjoyed good health in the outfield last season. Marsh, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber each started 100 games as outfielders. In the last 40 years, the Phillies have had back-to-back seasons with three outfielders making 100 starts only once. (That was Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Raul Ibañez from 2009 to 2010.) Marsh and Rojas enter 2024 as promising young talents, but not proven everyday players.

That puts a little more emphasis on the depth behind them.

While Marsh’s injury was a recent development, Dombrowski said it was likely caused by a stray piece of cartilage that moved into a more bothersome part of the left knee. The timing isn’t the worst; the Phillies estimated Marsh would return to play in three to four weeks. They expect him to have enough time to be ready for the opener. If they needed a left fielder in the short term, Schwarber is an option.

“He’s our primary DH,” Dombrowski said. “But it’s not to say that he won’t ever go out there.”

The Phillies would just prefer he did not. Maybe they resolve their search for better outfield depth in the next week or two. But it’s possible they are still talking about this in late March.

“Sometimes,” Dombrowski said, “these things end up happening later in the spring when people become available.”



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(Top photo of Brandon Marsh: Eric Hartline / USA Today)