Happy New Year, everyone!

Now that we have all taken a good, long look back at the decade gone by and ticked off the hours and minutes and seconds until 2020, let’s commence another countdown: 33 days until Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Not much has happened since Extra Innings went on its holiday break. After signing free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler (five years, $118 million) and shortstop Didi Gregorius (one year, $14 million), the Phillies conceded that their heaviest offseason lifting is over. They weren’t lying. Save for a few minor-league deals with invitations to spring training, they have idled, seemingly content to go to Clearwater, Fla., with the group that they have.

Is it good enough to snap an eight-year playoff drought? Probably not. But then, as we all know, the roster-building process continues well after an offseason ends.

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— Scott Lauber (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

Phillies managing partner John Middleton has said he's willing to take the payroll over the $208 million luxury-tax threshold if the team proves it can win a division championship.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Phillies managing partner John Middleton has said he's willing to take the payroll over the $208 million luxury-tax threshold if the team proves it can win a division championship.

Luxury tax: A wait-and-see approach

To those who are struggling to understand the Phillies’ philosophy on the competitive-balance tax, we refer you to the tail end of that head-scratching Oct. 11 news conference at Citizens Bank Park and the final words spoken by managing partner John Middleton:

“Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team. That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Think of those words the next time you wonder why the Phillies passed on Dellin Betances or Will Harris or Kevin Gausman or any of the other low-cost free agents who might have helped bolster the bullpen or the back of the rotation.

As calculated for the luxury tax, the Phillies’ payroll stands at approximately $202 million, a franchise record. Middleton hasn’t categorically ruled out going beyond the $208 million tax threshold. But he seemingly wants to know that the Phillies can hang with the back-to-back division champion Atlanta Braves and World Series-winning Washington Nationals before signing off on paying the surcharge.

It’s a reasonable philosophy, even though the penalty isn’t overly harsh for first-time tax offenders (a 20% overage on every dollar spent above $208 million). The Phillies were also valued at $1.85 billion last season, according to Forbes, and drew 2.7 million fans to Citizens Bank Park, their most well-attended season since 2013.

There’s risk involved in a wait-and-see approach, too. What if the Phillies’ pitching stumbles in April and May? And trading for even mid-level pitching often means parting with precious prospects. Last year, the asking prices for Detroit’s Matthew Boyd, Texas’ Mike Minor, Arizona’s Robbie Ray and others were prohibitive, and there’s little reason to believe this year will be different with many of the same pitchers potentially available. Signing free agents, meanwhile, costs only money.

But after winning 81 games last season, the Phillies believe the additions of Wheeler and Gregorius, the hiring of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Bryan Price, and a healthy roster will put them on a pace for the 88-90 victories they likely will need to make the playoffs. If they’re correct, there will be time before the July 31 trade deadline to revisit the luxury-tax debate.

And then we’ll know how willing ownership really is to take the plunge.

The rundown

In case you missed it a few days before Christmas, I wrote about Phillies top prospect Alec Bohm and the wildly varied opinions on his defense at third base.

By signing utilityman Ronald Torreyes this week to a minor-league deal, the Phillies added another ex-Yankee who was popular with Joe Girardi. They also unearthed another potential candidate for the new 26th roster spot, as Matt Breen writes.

Girardi completed his coaching staff by hiring Bobby Meacham and promoting Greg Brodzinski. Did you know: Meacham was one of 10 Yankees opening-day shortstops in the 13 seasons before Derek Jeter’s arrival.

Important dates

Friday: Teams exchange 2020 salary figures with arbitration-eligible players, 1 p.m.

Feb. 11: Phillies pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Feb. 17: First full-squad workout in Clearwater, Fla.

Feb. 22: Phillies open Grapefruit League schedule vs. Tigers, 1:05 p.m.

March 26: Opening day in Miami, 4:10 p.m.

How much different would the decade have been for the Phillies if they had won Game 7 of the 2011 National League Division Series? Or if Ryan Howard hadn't torn his Achilles on the game's final out?
Yong Kim / Staff Photographer
How much different would the decade have been for the Phillies if they had won Game 7 of the 2011 National League Division Series? Or if Ryan Howard hadn't torn his Achilles on the game's final out?

Stat of the day

Before we charge headlong into the new decade (The Roaring ’20s redux?), it feels like a good time to take one last belated look back at a few of the Phillies’ statistical leaders from the last 10 years. Here goes:

Games played: Ryan Howard (840)

At-bats: Howard (3,020)

Runs scored: Cesar Hernandez (407)

Hits: Hernandez (807)

Doubles: Carlos Ruiz (143)

Triples: Shane Victorino (31)

Home runs: Howard (160)

RBI: Howard (554)

Walks: Hernandez (325)

Innings pitched: Cole Hamels (1,193 1/3)

Starts: Hamels (178)

Wins: Hamels (66)

Strikeouts: Hamels (1,158)

Complete games: Roy Halladay (18)

Shutouts: Cliff Lee (7)

Saves: Jonathan Papelbon (123)

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

TWITTER

Answer: Yo, Dan. Thanks for the question. The bullpen is certainly one area that has not been improved through additions this winter. In a way, the Phillies are hoping to get better simply by getting healthy, though that’s probably too much wishful thinking, especially with regard to Seranthony Dominguez, whom they hope will be able to pitch through a partially torn ligament in his elbow.

Over the last two years, the Phillies were burned by multiyear contracts for free-agent relievers, having gotten little return for their investments in Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter and David Robertson. I don’t think they are necessarily gun-shy to dive back into that market, but they have changed their approach. After scavenging the waiver wire midway through last season in a (mostly) successful restocking of an injury-wrecked bullpen, they’re stockpiling as many arms as possible and hunting for bargains rather than targeting a few notable names.

As you mentioned, several free-agent relievers remain unsigned, though the ranks have thinned further with Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Steve Cishek and Hector Rondon recently coming off the board. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Phillies scoop up a few relievers, perhaps on minor-league deals, before the end of January.