Now that baseball has officially agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, it’s as good a time as any to dissect how it might impact the Phillies.
The deal, which was ratified unanimously by MLB’s owners on Thursday night, includes a higher collective balance tax, raised from $210 million to $230 million and going up to $244 million by 2026, along with a higher minimum salary ($780,000), and a $50 million bonus pool for entry-level players.
Non-economic parts of the deal include a 12-team playoff format, the introduction of the universal DH, a six-spot draft lottery, and the creation of a committee to decide what on-field rule changes will be made starting in 2023. Opening day will take place April 7 (April 8 for the Phillies) and a full 162-game season will be played, using nine-inning doubleheaders on off days and an extra series tacked on to the end of the full regular season to make up for time lost during the CBA negotiations.
There are a lot of moving parts, but let’s take a look at four — the new luxury tax, the universal DH, the added nine-inning doubleheaders, and the 12-team playoff format — to see how they could impact the Phillies in 2022.
A new luxury tax threshold
Most fans are aware that the Phillies have long been known for skating just below the competitive balance tax to avoid the penalties that they’d get for crossing it. There’s a chance that the Phillies might do the same in 2022 — but of course, now that figure is $20 million higher. According to Cots Baseball Contracts, with the new bonus pool and threshold figures, the Phillies’ 40-man payroll is sitting at $180,711,637. Entering the free-agent market, which opened on Thursday night, this gives them nearly $50 million to spend, if owner John Middleton chooses to repeat history and continue to skate right under that figure.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski now has some much-needed breathing room to work with as he tries to plug some of the holes in the roster. During the GM meetings, Dombrowski mentioned the importance of adding a middle-of-the-order bat, but beyond that, the Phillies would need to fill gaps in left field and center field, and shore up the depth in their starting rotation and bullpen.
Pitching, while it hasn’t been discussed as much as their outfield needs, should be a top priority. It is still unclear when Zach Eflin will return from rehabbing his knee after surgery in September. His timetable was set at six to eight months, which means he could be out until as late as May.
A No. 5 spot in their starting rotation could open, depending on Eflin’s health. The added tax space should allow Dombrowski the ability to sign a starter who has the versatility to move to the bullpen, like Garrett Richards or Collin McHugh, and still address some of the club’s other needs.
“I do think they will [go right up to that number],” said one longtime National League executive. “I think David’s a good salesman and knows that they have a core of a good team. And I think that if he sits down with John Middleton, he can push that boundary up there. There’s a lot of talent you can get with $50 million.”
Expanded playoffs — end of playoff drought?
Despite spending right up to the luxury tax threshold, the Phillies failed to the make the postseason in the last 10 seasons, the longest such drought in the NL. Now that the playoffs will be expanded to 12 teams, that would presumably give the Phillies a better shot at ending that streak, but beyond that, it could also change the way teams view their own windows of contention.
Dombrowski will have to make some moves to fill the holes mentioned above before the season begins, but one NL executive suggested that it’s more likely that Dombrowski gives himself some tax space to work with, to wait and see how his team progresses as the season goes on.
“I can see them pushing the envelope on payroll, and leaving a little bit of space remaining,” the executive said. “And if they are playing well and feel like they have a chance to get in — and they think they have a shot in a short series, with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, potentially Eflin — I think that’s when you’ll see the jump to try and add payroll, as more of a deadline acquisition.
“At that point, they’ll know if it’s more realistic for them to make the postseason. If one of those guys goes down, and they’re still hanging around, they might look at it and go, ‘Hey, you know, the reality is, we’re in this but even if we were to get in it might be a very quick exit.’ And that’s something where ownership and David Dombrowski will have to get together and make a determination of how likely they think it is they’ll be able to advance beyond one round of the playoffs.”
Either way, the odds are now more in the Phillies’ favor, and that — plus a higher luxury tax — will lead to increased spending.
Nine-inning doubleheaders could cause some wear and tear.
This is something that would impact rosters all over the league but might impact the Phillies more than other teams, because their average age is a bit higher (29.3, according to Baseball Reference). The Phillies have also had a fair amount of injuries, especially to star players — Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, and JT Realmuto, to name a few. In a normal season, rosters would be expanded from 26 players to 27 on days when doubleheaders are played, but because of the increased number of doubleheaders, and a shortened spring training, it might behoove MLB to expand rosters for the entire season.
Whether rosters will be expanded this season, or just during games when doubleheaders are played, is still being discussed by the players association and MLB, but it’s safe to say that the Phillies would appreciate that extra roster spot.
The universal DH can bring more than just an extra bat
Dombrowski has said that the Phillies plan to rotate which hitters they slot into the DH, which could give them some needed positional flexibility, especially given the added workload this season. The DH allows the opportunity to get guys like Harper, Realmuto, and Hoskins off their feet, but also allows them the chance to shore up their defense. If they want to move a bat into the lineup, they can just put said player in at DH, and fill his spot with a more capable defender.
There are more than a few free agents on the market who are both capable defenders and potent hitters, Kris Bryant chief among them. With the added payroll flexibility, the Phillies might be able to invest in someone like Bryant, who can play a slew of positions — third base, first base, and the corner outfield spots. Bryant brings a steep price tag, but the Phillies now have $50 million more to work with. In a hitter-friendly ballpark, the Phillies could roll a slightly better defense, and add more power in the lineup, to boot.