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Learning to love life under the luxury tax

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Three cheers for fiscal sanity!

MLB: MAR 02 Spring Training - Bryce Harper Press Conference
The Phanatic loves staying under the luxury tax, and you should too!
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Phillies’ offseason started off in an exciting manner. After last year’s interminable wait for Bryce Harper, the Phillies wasted little time in jumping into the free agent fray by coming to terms with pitcher Zack Wheeler. Not long after that, they signed shortstop Didi Gregorious, and it seemed like this was shaping up to be a fun winter.

They followed up those moves with...Well, we’re still waiting for that next big move. With each passing day, and each free agent who signs with a different team, its becoming clear that the Phillies have completed their big ticket shopping for the 2020 season.

You might look at their roster and feel confused by this inaction. After all, this is a team that finished in fourth place last year, and despite those aforementioned additions, there’s a strong argument that the roster is still only the fourth best in the division. This is even more confusing considering team owner John Middleton has gone on record saying the team might be “stupid” about how much money they spend.

Apparently, stupidity only extends as far as the luxury tax limit. The Phillies have never exceeded the threshold for baseball’s competitive balance tax, and it doesn’t sound like Middleton and the minority owners are all that keen to ever do so. Unless, of course they have a genuine shot at a World Series.

This seems like a bit of a Catch-22 in that they probably aren’t World Series contenders unless they spend more money, but they won’t spend more money because they’re not World Series contenders.

Some Phillies fans are understandably annoyed that the team won’t further improve the team simply because the owners don’t want to make less money. But I’m here to tell you that this is a blessing in disguise.

When teams like the Yankees and Red Sox win the World Series with a luxury tax-exceeding payroll, does it really count as a victory? I mean, where’s the fun in spending a lot of money to win a championship? Isn’t it much more satisfying when a team wins the World Series with a mid-level payroll like the Astros or Royals did?

For instance, I’m glad that the 2008 Phillies won the World Series instead of the 2011 team. The 2008 team barely ranked in the top ten of Major League payrolls, while they had the third highest salaries in 2011. The only consolation had they won it that year would have been that they still managed to squeeze underneath the luxury tax threshold.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals
Cliff Lee’s high salary would have made a title less fun in 2011
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

That’s why Phillies fans should applaud ownership’s dedication to fiscal sanity. Instead of blowing past the luxury tax in order to field the best possible team, the Phillies’ owners are trying to do it the right way: By leaving a bunch of question marks on the roster and hoping that an improved coaching staff can help a long list of players perform much better than they did last season!

Sure, it would be nice if the money the team saved on payroll was reflected in lower ticket prices or concessions, but let’s not be unrealistic. The real reward is knowing that the Phillies aren’t trying to use their deep pockets to provide an unfair advantage over other teams. And if the team does somehow manage to exceed expectations and make the playoffs, the victory will seem that much greater.