If the Phillies pass on re-signing free agent J.T. Realmuto, a decision that would rile many fans and Bryce Harper alike, they will at least receive an additional pick in the 2021 draft.
But if Didi Gregorius walks away? They won’t get anything for that.
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The Phillies secured compensation for the possibility of Realmuto’s departure by making a one-year qualifying offer valued at $18.9 million before the deadline at 5 p.m. Sunday. It was an easy call because Realmuto is certain to reject the offer and take aim at a five- or six-year contract that eclipses Joe Mauer’s catcher-record $23 million annual salary.
Gregorius probably would have turned it down, too, considering he wants a multiyear deal after settling for a one-year, $14 million contract in free agency last winter. But there was at least a chance that the shortstop might have accepted, and with the Phillies likely to scale back the payroll from a franchise-record level this year, the enticement of another draft pick apparently didn’t outweigh even the possibility that Gregorius might jump at $18.9 million.
Consider it another example of the offseason austerity measures that the Phillies and many other teams are considering.
Only a half-dozen free agents — Realmuto, Houston Astros outfielder George Springer, New York Yankees infielder DJ LeMahieu, and pitchers Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians), Marcus Stroman (New York Mets), and Kevin Gausman (San Francisco Giants) — received the qualifying offer, which has been accepted in eight of 90 instances over the years. The six players have 10 days to decide on the offer.
In an ordinary year, the Phillies might have taken the risk of making a qualifying offer to Gregorius. He was, after all, their most consistent hitter this season, batting .284 with 10 home runs, an .827 OPS, and 1.4 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. He proved he’s healthy after Tommy John elbow surgery in the 2018-19 offseason. And with next year’s projected free-agent class teeming with stud shortstops (Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javy Baez), Gregorius' best chance for a big multiyear payday is now.
But the Phillies have internal replacements. They could move Jean Segura back to shortstop or put Scott Kingery at the position and hope that he’s able to fix a swing that produced a woeful .159 average and .511 OPS last season.
“For the time being, most of the decisions this franchise has to make are internal right now,” team president Andy MacPhail said Friday. “About 90% of them, as it relates to what happens with our workforce, as it relates to our current personnel.”
In a June email to club employees, Phillies managing partner John Middleton predicted losses of “substantially more than $100 million” in a pandemic-shortened season that was played in spectator-less ballparks. Although Major League Baseball raked in $10.7 billion in revenues in 2019, Middleton, like many owners, insists that buyouts, layoffs, and contract lapses are necessary to help offset those losses and brace for more uncertainty in 2021.
Calculated for luxury-tax purposes, the Phillies' 2020 payroll is expected to come in at about $207.6 million. It’s unclear how much less they will spend on player salaries next year. But even a 10% reduction would drop the payroll to approximately $187 million.
The Phillies have roughly $101 million committed to seven players (Harper, Zack Wheeler, Andrew McCutchen, Segura, Aaron Nola, Kingery, and demoted outfielder Odubel Herrera). After raises for arbitration-eligible players (Rhys Hoskins, Zach Eflin, Hector Neris, Andrew Knapp, and Vince Velasquez), salaries for other players on the 40-man roster, and approximately $15 million in benefits, the toll could approach $150 million before they sign a single free agent.
“My expectation is that [free agency] will be a process that will drag on the way it did in 2019 and ’18,” MacPhail said. “The likelihood of a significant add in the short-term or even mid-term is not very high.”
Realmuto and Gregorius headline a group of Phillies free agents that also includes pitchers Jake Arrieta, David Robertson, Brandon Workman, Jose Alvarez, Tommy Hunter, Blake Parker, Heath Hembree and Adam Morgan; infielder Phil Gosselin; and outfielder Jay Bruce.