December 16, 2019
The Phillies have made a moderate splash in free agency, inking starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and infielder Didi Gregorius while snuggling up pretty close to the luxury tax threshold. With MLB's Winter Meetings in the rearview, is the team's roster set?
The Phillies have improved on paper somewhat — but they have some significant issues to address like a still-thin rotation, a ragtag bullpen and a lack of bench depth. Is the team content to make marginal moves and send their current ledger of players to spring training come February?
"We won 81 games last year and had a lot of things go wrong," Phillies' GM Matt Klentak said as the Phillies introduced their two newest signees to the media. "When you bring back the core of that team — still very young, very talented — add a new manager, pitching coach, these two guys here [Gregorius and Wheeler] and whatever else we may do for the rest of the offseason, you have a very competitive club."
...and whatever else we may do for the rest of the offseason...
That's not something a GM says if he is happy with the current makeup of his team.
At the very least, Klentak is leaving the door open. He could also be making an implication.
Beyond Wheeler, ace Aaron Nola and returning veteran Jake Arrieta, the Phillies will be relying on two unproven players to fill out their rotation (Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Jared Eickhoff and potentially others will fight for the two remaining slots). There are some upgrades still out there on the open market in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Wade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Keuchel and a bevy of others.
"I don't know for certain we don't add another starter," Klentak said. "We have a long way to go before spring training. It's possible that we will."
That sounds more than just implying.
If the Phillies sign one of the aforementioned hurlers — all of whom are 31 or older, by the way — they will be paying a tax as they'll exceed the $208 million threshold. It's a tax they can afford, and it's one that won't actually hurt the bottom line all that much, as our Kevin Cooney broke down last week:
In actuality, however, the tax doesn’t get really punitive until you get to the $228 million threshold. Up until that point, it is 20 percent for every dollar a team goes over the figure. So if the Phillies went to $219 million in payroll as a first time tax offender, the tax would roughly be $2.2 million. Even if they went to $227 million, the tax is “only” $3.8 million. In real life money, that’s a lot. For a team that has the resources at its disposal the way that Philadelphia does, it actually isn’t all that much.
The kicker is a 12 percent surtax that goes when you go between $20 and $40 million over the tax. If you go over the tax by 40 million, it goes to 42.5 percent – effectively acting as a salary cap with nobody in their right mind doing it.
In other words, there is a limit of sanity of what the Phillies should spend. That limit should be $228 million.
There is no doubt Klentak and his staff know this well.
Josh Donaldson and Nicholas Castellanos are both still there too — players who could clearly improve the line up. Not to mention the trade market — which still has Kris Bryant potentially available as a huge upgrade at third base.
Klentak said he thinks the Phillies can compete for the NL East. With the Nationals and Braves each getting better this offseason, it will be one of the toughest divisions in baseball yet again. Winning 81 games last year was partially excusable, due to injuries and other unforeseen issues that set the team back at the worst time.
Winning just 81 games in 2020, with championship-caliber manager Joe Girardi now calling the shots, would be a total disaster.
The best way for Klentak to help Girardi is to give him some more ingredients with which to cook. He said on Monday that he's open to bringing in some help. It will be interesting to see if reading between the lines does, indeed, mean more moves are coming.
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