We are back with our first 2024 edition of the Phillies mailbag.  Beyond pitchers and catchers, the full squad has reported to Clearwater, and the club is getting ready for the 2024 season. Each Tuesday we take your questions and answer them on The Sports Bash with Mike Gill.  Tune in each week to hear your questions answered on the air.  Send your questions at any time to @FrankKlose on X.

With Whit Merrifield here, who suffers with playing time the most: Edmundo Sosa, Cristian Pache, or the guys likely to be stashed in Triple-A?

I think that the Phillies bench will certainly look different heading in to 2024 with the addition of Whit Merrifield.  Let us remember who was on the bench as the season was last at a 26-man roster.  I would say the one player being replaced directly would be Rodolfo Castro.   Castro came in the trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Bailey Falter and batted just .100 in his 30 at bats.

Castro has an option year remaining and likely will be sent to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Assuming 13 pitchers and with Kyle Schwarber as the full-time designated hitter, there is room for four bench positions.  Garrett Stubbs is a lock to be the backup catcher.   With Merrifield there is room for three more players.   One will be be Edmundo Sosa.

One bat will need to be left-handed.  That can come in the form of Jake Cave, Kody Clemens, or Darick Hall.  Take your pick.

That probably leaves room for one outfielder behind the left-handed bat.  It's helpful that Merrifield can play infield and outfield.

I think the final spot will come down to either Cristian Pache or Johan Rojas.  The question will be pretty basic: Do the Phillies want to get Rojas at bats at Triple-A?  There has been some indication that they might.  In that circumstance, Pache might be the right-handed bench bat in the outfield.

Will Mick Abel make the starting rotation or will he be stashed another year to develop?

I think Mick Abel might be the closest to major league ready of the pitching prospects.  But I think he has a lot to prove before the Phillies give him a major league job.  At just 22 years old, there is no real rush to get him to the major leagues.

I think that timeline for Abel will not be a matter of whether or not he is "stashed", but rather when he demonstrates that he is up for the job. Could he impress in Spring Training and get an opportunity out of camp?  I think that is unlikely, but it's not out of the question.

I think that someone like Abel if he can put together a body of work at Triple-A where many of the hitters have some major league seasoning, he's a strong candidate to be called up later in the season, as circumstances dictate.

Part of those circumstances include how he's pitching.  So we will watch him this Spring, and then we will watch him this Summer and see where it goes.

Given the overall decline of the National League, what is the ceiling for the 2024 Phillies?

I think it's difficult to overall say that there is a "decline."  But I think for a good answer, we can look around at various power rankings published by various outlets in the baseball world:

This is just a sample of many.

There's a common theme to them all:  They all place the Phillies third in the National League behind the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Braves are an easy favorite.  Their downfall, however, was the starting rotation headed down the stretch and into the playoffs.  Will Chris Sale be the addition that makes the difference?  Or will he struggle with injury along the way as he has in recent seasons?  It's the type of acquisition that is risky but could look brilliant.

The Dodgers of course added over $1 billion in free agent spending between Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.   Considering the talent at the top of that roster already, the Dodgers are an easy team to call a top-five team.

The Phillies have holes.  There is no starting pitching depth.  I would suggest they re-sign Michael Lorenzen, actually.  But I think we will see a Phillies team that gets off to a better start and is more competitive with the Braves this year.  A top five team in MLB is not out of the question.

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