I’ve been thinking about this exercise for days now, and frankly, I’m stumped. Simply put, I’m not convinced the Phillies can realistically contend for a playoff spot with a $180 million payroll.
Fangraphs already estimates the Phillies' luxury tax payroll to be $145,484,782. Spotrac estimates it to be $146,001,282. However, those sites use higher arbitration estimates than MLB Trade Rumours, and they include Vince Velasqeuz (who I would non-tender). Still, when I sub in the right arbitration projections and remove Velasquez’s salary, the figure sits at about $140 million.
That gives the Phillies $40 million to turn last year’s middling squad into a contender. That sounds do-able, right? Well, except for the fact that the Phillies have already gotten substantially worse this offseason. J.T. Realmuto, Didi Gregorius, and Jake Arrieta are gone. So just for the Phillies to be as good as they were last season (in which they went 28-32 with a -5 run differential), they need to replace an All-Star catcher, a top-ten shortstop, and a serviceable number five starter.
Whether the Phillies re-sign those three guys or get more creative, it will cost them about $40 million just to replace that amount of production. Thus, the Phillies could have a $180 million payroll next season and be absolutely no better than they were in 2020. Yikes.
The Mets and Braves have impressive cores and both teams are set to improve this offseason. The Nationals are also a better team than the Phillies on paper, despite what their unlucky 2020 might have you think. The Marlins are the only team in the NL East projected to be worse than the Phillies in 2021 (according to Fangraphs’ Depth Charts), but with their talented, young roster and their new GM, even they could be better than the Phillies next year.
Therefore, as much as I hate to say this, I think that if the Phillies payroll is capped at $180 million next year, the team might as well give up on 2021 and start preparing for 2022.
I know this suggestion is dramatic. I know it’s probably the last thing you want to hear right now. But let me make myself perfectly clear: I don’t want the Phillies to do this. What I want the Phillies to do is spend enough money to turn this team into a legitimate contender. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem too likely. If the Phillies are going to suck next year, they might as well embrace it.
I’m not saying the Phillies should go into a full-on rebuild and trade away their best players. All of those guys will still be valuable in 2022. What the Phillies need to do is avoid giving out multi-year deals and hold on to all their top prospects. There’s no point signing J.T. Realmuto to a contract that pays him $25MM a year into his mid-thirties if the Phillies aren’t going to be serious contenders next season. Similarly, there’s no point in selling the farm for a one-year rental of Francisco Lindor.
Thus, without further ado, I present my offseason plan. I didn’t trade any top prospects or sign any free-agents to multi-year deals. Instead, I overpaid a handful of high-upside players to join the team on one-year contracts. The Phillies probably won’t make the playoffs with this roster, but they’ll still be interesting to watch, and who knows, if everything breaks right this team just might surprise us.
- Tender contracts to Eflin, Hoskins, Knapp, Neris, Dominguez, and Hale
- Non-tender Velasquez and Hembree
- It seems unfair to non-tender an injured player like Dominguez, especially when he’s only owed $900k.
- David Hale isn't listed on MLB Trade Rumours for some reason, but $1MM seems fair.
- Corey Kluber for 1 year, $15MM – This is an overpay, but the Phillies will need to overpay to convince him to come here. It's a one year contract, so the risk for the Phillies is low, but if he if returns to form, this signing will be a boon.
- Kirby Yates and Alex Colome, both for 1 year, $7MM – The Phillies need a couple of reliable bullpen arms, and I'm particularly picky about who. I was looking for high-upside guys who would be willing to sign one-year deals.
- Jay Bruce for 1 year, $1MM – The Phillies need power off the bench. Bruce is inexpensive and can still mash righties. Why not?
- Phil Gosselin for 1 year, $1MM – We need to fill out the bench, and I like Gosselin.
- Adeiny Hechavarria for 1 year, $1MM – I was just looking for a guy who can play shortstop.
- Gary Sanchez (projected arb salary: $5.5MM) –– I wanted to do something a little outside the box. I know Blog Overlord Ethan Witte isn't a big fan, but Sanchez probably won't cost the Phillies very much (I figure a couple of low minors guys could get it done) and he has All-Star upside. He's worth a shot in a lost season.
SP1: Aaron Nola
SP2: Zack Wheeler
SP3: Corey Kluber
SP4: Zach Eflin
SP5: Spencer Howard
RP: Kirby Yates
RP: Alex Colome
RP: Hector Neris
RP: David Hale
RP: Jojo Romero
RP: Victor Arano
RP: Ranger Suarez
RP: Connor Brogden
C: Gary Sanchez
1B: Rhys Hoskins
2B: Scott Kingery
SS: Jean Segura
3B: Alec Bohm
LF: Andrew McCutchen
CF: Adam Haseley
RF: Bryce Harper
Bench: Andrew Knapp
Bench: Roman Quinn
Bench: Jay Bruce
Bench: Phil Gosselin
Bench: Adeiny Hechavarria
I spent $37.5 million in trades and free agency, which means the total payroll is about $177.5 million. I wasn't even trying to win and I still ended up spending almost the whole budget.
Doing this exercise reinforced what I already knew: if the Phillies were willing to spend another $30 million and bump up against the luxury tax, they could be serious contenders next year. Unfortunately, they're probably just going to suck instead.