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November 19, 2019

What they're saying: Phillies' third base options, payroll problems and J.T. Realmuto

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JT-Realmuto_073019_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto points into the dugout after hitting a grand slam home run against the Atlanta Braves.

MLB's hot stove hasn't quite heated up yet — the Winter Meetings in December will likely jumpstart some offseason action — but there are nonetheless a bevy of things to talk about as the Phillies start thinking about how to handle their future endeavors.

We combed the internet to find the most attention-worthy takes during a down few weeks, and found some very interesting looks at the Phillies third base situation, their payroll flexibility and how much it might cost to extend their All-Star catcher.

Here's what they are saying about the Phillies:

Bohm-shell

Third base has been a black hole for the Phillies for years. It will be extremely interesting to see what the Phillies decide to do at the position, as they have more than a few options going forward. Over at The Good Phight, Ethan Witte looks at five scenarios at the hot corner, including trades, free agent signings, sticking with Maikel Franco or sliding Scott Kingery there full time. He also delves into the best case scenario for the Phils: that their premier third base prospect, Alec Bohm, is ready to assume the position when spring training breaks.

From all reports, Bohm’s bat is nearly ready. It was the thing that got him drafted third overall and, after a rocky start, has lived up to expectations. He also still needs to work on his defense, but if it’s even tolerable now, then the team might as well let him get major league coaching at the position and let his bat enter the lineup. 
The issue here is twofold. They would no doubt like to gain that last year of control by keeping him down. If they bring him up without an extension signed, they would be “risking” that he is successful and they wouldn’t be able to control his rights for as long as they would like. While there hasn’t really been a case like this under this current regime, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the team has not already thought about this. 
The other issues is that Bohm just really isn’t ready. If they do plan on heading north with him out of spring training and don’t have a contingency plan in place should he struggle in the spring, then they will have set themselves up to fail once again at the hot corner. A lot would have to depend on how the rest of the roster building goes this offseason. [The Good Phight]

Moose crossing

Staying on the topic of third base for a moment, MLB.com gives an interesting pitch for the Phillies to turn their focus to Mike Moustakas instead of big-ticket third basemen Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon. There seems to be some merit to the argument:

It will likely take a longer contract with a higher average annual value to sign Donaldson, limiting the Phillies' flexibility to make other major additions this offseason and potentially blocking Bohm at third base at least through 2022.
There's also the qualifying-offer factor. Donaldson received one from Atlanta and rejected it, meaning the Phils would need to surrender their second-highest selection in the 2020 MLB Draft as well as $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign him.
The Phillies also need rotation help, and several of the top free-agent starters -- including Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner -- rejected qualifying offers. Signing one of these hurlers in addition to Donaldson would cost Philadelphia its third-highest Draft pick as well.
The Phillies won't need to forfeit a Draft pick to sign Moustakas, and his expected cost would leave plenty of room in the budget to add a big-name arm to their rotation. [MLB.com]

The only route?

We'll take a look into Matt Gelb's piece at The Athletic about the Phillies' payroll conundrum in just a second, but the following line really hit hard when I read it: 

"It might be impossible for the Phillies to outspend their problems. It might also be their only route."

The Phillies have not drafted well during their years in baseball's basement — and in contrast to the Astros and the Cubs, who have reaped the benefits of stockpiling young talent — the Phillies are attacking their desire to contend again by bringing in outside players. 

Unfortunately, after recent transactions and likely future ones (more on J.T. Realmuto later), the Phillies don't appear to have much flexibility ahead with regard to making waves while staying under the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Gelb contemplates whether they should just go for it:

There is a decent argument for the Phillies to zig when most teams are zagging. The Red Sox are now preaching austerity and intend to shed money. The Dodgers, under Andrew Friedman, have yet to enter the deepest end of the free-agent pool. The Cubs are reluctant to exceed the luxury-tax ceiling. The Yankees pushed to go below the limit in 2018 and soared past it again in 2019; their spending plans for this offseason are unclear. The Nationals were up against the luxury-tax limit but did not exceed it in 2019 and could extend beyond it in 2020. 

There are multiple ways to view all this. The Phillies could see it as smart, big-market teams questioning the actual advantages of taxed payrolls through major free-agent contracts and apply it to their own situation. Or they could perceive this as a market inefficiency, a time to strike when others are reluctant. Before the analytics revolution, team payroll and wins were directly correlated for most seasons. That waned in the earlier part of this decade, but the link grew stronger in 2019. Maybe with more data-driven teams valuing players through the same general principles, it places greater importance on money. Maybe not.

If money is the Phillies’ greatest competitive advantage, is it best deployed now in larger sums? [The Athletic]

Keeping it Real

The Phillies have one year of team control left for Realmuto, who at 29 has shown he is among the best catchers in all of baseball. His contract situation will be a big storyline this offseason, as an extension is imminent. Just how much he'll be able to cash in is still unknown, as catcher has a shorter shelf life generally than a regular position player. Mike Axisa attempted to try and set a value on Realmuto in an article for CBS Sports:

Because of that, catcher salaries have not caught up to other positions. Teams fear the injury risk and inherent wear and tear. Only five catchers (six instances) have signed a multi-year contract that guaranteed them at least $15 million per season: 

  1. Joe Mauer, Twins: $23 million (2011-18) 
  2. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: $20 million (2018-20) 
  3. Buster Posey, Giants: $18.6 million (2013-21) 
  4. Brian McCann, Yankees: $17 million (2014-18) 
  5. Russell Martin, Blue Jays: $16.4 million (2015-19) 
  6. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: $15 million (2013-17)
Mauer and Posey had won MVPs and were on the Hall of Fame track at the time of their extensions. McCann and Martin had long track records of well-above-average two-way play. Yadi is Yadi. Also, it should be noted Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year deal with the Brewers last offseason that paid him $18.25 million, so he's over $15 million, but not on a multi-year contract. 

Realmuto's representatives figure to play close attention to Grandal this offseason. Grandal is in line to secure a nice multi-year contract and he will be 31 on Opening Day. Realmuto will be 29. He is two years younger and these are the two best all-around catchers in baseball today. Given his age, Realmuto's camp can point to Grandal's upcoming contract and justifiably demand more. 

Here are some free agent contract projections for Grandal: 

MLB Trade Rumors: 4 years and $68 million ($17 million annually)
FanGraphs crowdsourcing: 3 years and $48 million ($16 million annually)
Jim Bowden at The Athletic: 3 years and $57 million ($19 million annually) [CBSsports.com]

Pick your spots

There will be a ton of money thrown at the top free agents on the board this offseason — players like Gerrit Cole, Rendon, Donaldson, Stephen Strasburg and others. The Phillies really need to be smart — not stupid — with their money. NBCSP's Jim Salisbury contemplates whether there will indeed be another spending spree in 2019-20.

Money is still the Phillies’ best resource. Will they set records again this winter? 
“Any time impact players are available who fill a need of ours, the Phillies need to be in the middle of those negotiations,” Middleton said. “At the same time, no team can sign the top free agent each off-season — it just isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. We’ll explore ways to make our team better in both the trade and free-agent markets and make the additions that we feel best balance our needs.” 
Given that the Phillies have a need for multiples of starting pitching, bullpen help and possibly a bat like Mike Moustakas at third base, it might behoove the club to spread around its resources and fill several holes. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]


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