Last winter, the Phillies got everyone’s attention by conferring a total of $403 million upon free agents Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Bryce Harper, and pulling off trades for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto.
Rival team officials expect them to be aggressive again this offseason.
But before the rumors really start to fly, it’s helpful to know how much cash the Phillies will be able to spend. They have approximately $116 million committed to nine players in 2020, and that’s before annual raises for as many as nine players who are eligible for arbitration and a possible nine-figure contract extension for Realmuto.
Given, though, that the luxury-tax threshold will be $208 million, money doesn’t figure to be much of an issue if the Phillies pursue big-ticket free agents such as Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon while also addressing other needs in the starting rotation and bullpen, at third base, and potentially in center field.
Asked last month if ownership would consider exceeding the tax, managing partner John Middleton didn’t rule it out if it makes a difference toward winning a championship.
“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,” Middleton said. “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.”
Here, then, is a breakdown of the Phillies’ payroll commitments for 2020. (Note: All salary figures are calculated for luxury-tax purposes and therefore based on average annual value of contracts rather than actual 2020 compensation.)
RF Bryce Harper: $25.385 million
SP Jake Arrieta: $25 million
LF Andrew McCutchen: $16.667 million
INF Jean Segura: $14 million
OF Jay Bruce: $13 million ($11.625 million paid by Seattle)
RP David Robertson: $11.5 million
SP Aaron Nola: $11.25 million
CF Odubel Herrera: $6.1 million
INF/OF Scott Kingery: $4 million
Buyouts: SP Jason Vargas ($2 million paid by New York Mets), RP Pat Neshek ($750,000), RP Jared Hughes ($250,000).
The big question here is Herrera, who finished serving an 85-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy. Per the league’s joint agreement with the players union, the Phillies can’t release Herrera for anything other than baseball reasons, such as a .216 average and .632 OPS in his last 539 plate appearances.
But releasing him doesn’t rid them of his salary. They could offload some of the money in a trade. Then again, how much value does he have?
(salary estimates from MLBTradeRumors.com, 2019 salary in parentheses)
2B Cesar Hernandez: $11.8 million ($7.75 million)
C J.T. Realmuto: $10.3 million ($5.9 million)
3B Maikel Franco: $6.7 million ($5.2 million)
RP Hector Neris: $4.7 million ($1.8 million)
SP Vince Velasquez: $3.9 million ($2.249 million)
RP Jose Alvarez: $3 million ($1.925 million)
SP Zach Eflin: $3 million ($590,000)
RP Adam Morgan: $1.6 million ($1.1 million)
C Andrew Knapp: $800,000 ($565,000)
Franco is almost certainly a candidate to be traded or non-tendered. Hernandez likely falls into the same category given his expected salary hike and the presence of Kingery and Segura as potential second-base replacements. The savings from ditching Franco and Hernandez could be applied to a Realmuto extension, raises for other players, or deals with free agents.
Regardless, the Phillies can figure an additional $27 million to $37 million for these players, bringing the payroll closer to the $150 million range and still leaving them more than $50 million shy of the luxury-tax threshold.
SP Nick Pivetta
1B Rhys Hoskins
OF Nick Williams
RP Seranthony Dominguez
OF Roman Quinn
OF Adam Haseley
RP Victor Arano
RP Ranger Suarez
RP Robert Stock
RP Austin Davis
RP Enyel De Los Santos
RP Edgar Garcia
SP Cole Irvin
C Deivy Grullon
RP J.D. Hammer
In each case, the player made between $550,000 (major-league minimum, prorated for time spent in the big leagues) and $600,000 in 2019 and can expect a modest annual raise of about 4-10% in 2020. Hoskins, for example, figures to make about $600,000 after earning $575,000 this year.