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Phillies decline options on pitchers Jason Vargas, Pat Neshek and Jared Hughes amid a flurry of roster moves

By paring the 40-man roster to 35 players, the Phillies opened spots to begin an offseason makeover that is expected to be dramatic, particularly on the pitching staff.

Phillies pitcher Jason Vargas walks to the dugout before the Phillies played the New York Mets on Aug. 31 at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies pitcher Jason Vargas walks to the dugout before the Phillies played the New York Mets on Aug. 31 at Citizens Bank Park.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It was time for some housekeeping at Citizens Bank Park.

Faced with a midnight deadline to decide on team options for three players, the Phillies on Monday announced a flurry of mostly anticipated moves. When they were through, the 40-man roster had been pared to 35 players, including previously suspended center fielder Odubel Herrera, freeing up spots to begin making additions in an offseason that figures to be eventful.

As expected, the Phillies declined their options on left-hander Jason Vargas and relievers Pat Neshek and Jared Hughes, who were bought out for $2 million, $750,000, and $250,000, respectively. Right-hander Jake Arrieta, meanwhile, exercised his $20 million option, a decision that was predictable after he had surgery in August to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

Vargas, acquired from the New York Mets on July 29 for minor-league catcher Austin Bossart, was the Phillies’ most notable addition before the trade deadline and might have factored into their 2020 plans if he had pitched better down the stretch. Instead, the soft-tossing 36-year-old went 1-4 with a 5.37 earned-run average in 11 starts and completed six innings only four times.

For purposes of the competitive-balance tax, and including the buyouts, the Phillies have $118 million committed to nine players (Bryce Harper, Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Jay Bruce, David Robertson, Aaron Nola, Herrera, and Scott Kingery). They also have nine players who are eligible for raises through salary arbitration.

But the Phillies will have enough room to maneuver beneath the $208 million luxury-tax threshold that they can bid on Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and other expensive free agents.

The Phillies also outrighted right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, relievers Mike Morin, Blake Parker and Edubray Ramos, and infielder Phil Gosselin off the big-league roster. Each player had the chance to elect free agency and all accepted.

In a procedural move, the Phillies reinstated Arrieta, McCutchen, Robertson and relievers Victor Arano, Seranthony Dominguez, Robert Stock, and Adam Morgan from the 60-day injured list.

At present, Herrera represents the biggest question on the roster.

After he served an 85-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in Atlantic City in May, the Phillies had to put him back on the roster. They could trade Herrera in the offseason, although he's owed a total of $21 million over the next two years. They could release him, in which case they must continue to pay him, but if they cut him loose, it must be for baseball reasons, such as his .216 average and .632 OPS in his last 539 plate appearances.

The next notable roster deadline is Dec. 2, when teams must decide if they will tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. The Phillies will have choices to make on third baseman Maikel Franco and second baseman Cesar Hernandez, in particular.