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Phillies in position for major free-agent move at shortstop after parting with Jean Segura

The Phillies could have upwards of $60 million to spend in a free-agent market with four blockbuster options at shortstop.

The Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, left and the Dodgers' Trea Turner
The Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, left and the Dodgers' Trea TurnerRead moreAP

Does it mean what it looks like it means?

That’s the big question the Phillies left us to wrestle with on Monday when they exercised the opt-out in Jean Segura’s contract. Barely 48 hours removed from their season-ending loss in Game 6 of the World Series, Dave Dombrowski and John Middleton made the one move they needed to make in order to make a play for one of the four elite shortstops available on this year’s free-agent market. The Phillies accomplished two things by cutting loose their veteran infielder:

  1. They gave themselves the ability to move Bryson Stott from shortstop to second base.

  2. They freed up a significant chunk of money that they can now spend on Stott’s replacement.

Trea Turner. Xander Bogaerts. Dansby Swanson. Carlos Correa.

The names are tantalizing. The need is glaring. The fit is so obvious that if the Phillies do not end up making a big play for one of the superstar shortstops who are now free agents, it will constitute a serious misallocation of resources.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ biggest offseason questions: Harper’s elbow, shortstop addition and Painter in 2023?

But is that really what the Phillies are planning?

Four factors to consider:

1. The Phillies could have upwards of $60 million to spend on seven players: a starting shortstop/second baseman, two starting pitchers, four relievers.

Right now, they project to have about $156.1 million committed to 19 players. That includes:

  1. $103 million for eight regulars: Guaranteed salaries for Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos and J.T. Realmuto, an arbitration salary for Rhys Hoskins, and pre-arbitration salaries for Stott, Brandon Marsh and Alec Bohm.

  2. $43.1 million for three starting pitchers: Guaranteed salaries for Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola and an arbitration salary for Ranger Suárez.

  3. $6.8 million for four relievers: Arbitration salaries for Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado and pre-arbitration salaries for Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti.

  4. $3.2 million for four bench players: Arbitration salary for Edmundo Sosa and pre-arbitration salaries for Darick Hall, Matt Vierling, and Garrett Stubbs.

Factor in other costs like Segura’s $1 million buyout and the standard $10 million-ish charge that MLB assesses for player benefits and the Phillies are probably operating with around $170 million in payroll already committed.

» READ MORE: The Phillies’ three best (and worst) decisions of the 2022 World Series season

In 2022, they spent an estimated $242 million on their final payroll. The competitive balance tax threshold is $230 million. Using those two numbers as potential limits, the Phillies would enter the offseason with the ability to spend $60 million to $72 million before their payroll reaches an unprecedented level.

2. The Phillies would have to be comfortable spending at least $33 million per year to build their offseason around the elite shortstop market.

The current standard is the 10-year, $325 million deal that shortstop Corey Seager signed with the Rangers last season. That followed a similar contract extension signed by Francisco Lindor with the Mets after last season. Turner, Bogaerts and Correa all have strong arguments to eclipse that $32.5 million AAV figure. Swanson should probably be valued at a tier below, where guys like Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, and Trevor Story signed in the $25 million-per-year range last offseason.

3. Starting pitcher is a big wild card.

They aren’t cheap. Consider that Noah Syndergaard signed last season for one year and $21 million. Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, and Carlos Rodón also signed for $20-plus million.

There’s a strong argument to make that the Phillies would be better off saving that kind of money for the shortstop market. There’s a huge amount of risk at the top of this year’s starting pitching market. Jacob deGrom has been lights out when he has been healthy, but he will turn 35 next season having made just 26 starts over the last two years. Rodón will hit the free-agent market again coming off a career-high 178 innings after making just 33 starts from 2019-21.

» READ MORE: Eflin elects free agency, as the Phillies pick up Nola’s option and decline Segura’s

Clearly, the Phillies need pitching. But the value simply may not be there on the free-agent market. With Suárez pitching well down the stretch and top prospect Andrew Painter potentially in play to contribute in 2023, it might make more sense for the Phillies to focus their financial resources on shortstop and the bullpen.

4. The Phillies will need to decide if it makes sense to splurge on the one elite reliever available on the market.

They might be better off throwing darts at the lower end of the market. The Mets and Edwin Diaz reportedly agreed to a five-year, $102 million contract, making him the first $20 million-per-year closer. That’s a lot of scratch for 60-70 innings, particularly when you consider how thin the Phillies were in the bullpen this year. It isn’t easy to find quality arms. We saw that this year, when the Phillies spent $10 million on Corey Knebel.

5. Spending big on a shortstop might be the Phillies’ best chance to significantly improve themselves in free agency.

Turner, Bogaerts, Correa, Swanson.

Together, they represent four of Major League Baseball’s top six hitters at the shortstop position. Each ranks in the top half of the majors in defensive WAR over the last two seasons.

It’s tough to predict how high the bidding will climb for any of the four players. The fact that the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Phillies could all be involved further complicates the picture. The Yankees have a need, too.

» READ MORE: The 2022 Phillies are gone, but will not soon be forgotten

It might seem counterintuitive for a team like the Phillies to spend big on a position player given their pitching needs. But it really might be their best option when you look at the prices on the pitching market. Historically, the best bullpens have been built through trades, amateur development, and low-risk, high-reward signings. It’s awfully tough to find and develop a shortstop like the four who are available.

The Phillies’ decision to part ways with Segura does not guarantee that they plan on wading into the market. But it sure looks like a signal, given the money they have to spend and the lack of clear pitching options to spend it on.