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The Phillies need Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins if they want to compete

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If the Phillies won’t go over the luxury tax, their best option is to offer up their top prospects in a trade for Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates or Cedric Mullins of the Orioles.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Phillies need to trade for Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins.

I know this isn’t a new idea. Reynolds and Mullins have been the subject of trade rumors for months now, and I’m not the first person to realize that either of them could be the answer the Phillies are looking for in center field.

But I’m not just saying that a Reynolds or Mullins trade would be nice. I’m not just saying the Phillies should consider it. I’m here to argue that trading for Reynolds or Mullins is a move the Phillies have to make if they want to become serious contenders without surpassing the luxury tax threshold. Here’s why.

The Phillies can’t rely on free agents alone

From a quick look at the Phillies depth chart, it’s clear the team has a lot of holes to fill — and it’s not just because the players’ headshots are missing. At the very least, the Phillies need two more starting outfielders, a couple of relievers, a sixth starting pitcher, and several MLB-caliber bench players and depth pieces to fill out the roster.

RosterResource at Fangraphs estimates that the Phillies’ 2022 luxury tax payroll currently stands at just under $182 million. If we assume (for the sake of this article) that the luxury tax system will remain the same in the new collective bargaining agreement, that leaves the Phillies with about $30 million to spend before they have to pay the luxury tax.

Is $30 million enough to turn the current roster into a team that can seriously compete with the Mets and the Braves? Probably not.

The Phillies, as currently constructed, are about a .500 team. The conventional wisdom tells us that the value of one “win” in free agency is about $8-9 million. This means that with $30 million to spend, the Phillies can hope to improve their team by 3-4 wins. With free agents alone, Dave Dombrowski could turn an 82-win team into an 86-win team. That’s far from an exact calculation, but it’s a helpful estimate to guide our thinking.

The Phillies could make the playoffs with only 86 wins. It’s been done before. But after so many seasons of mediocrity, the front office owes the fans more than just building an 86-win team and hoping for the best.

So the Phillies need to make a trade.

Why Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins?

The Phillies have improvements to make at several positions, but their needs in left field and center field are unique.

Because while the Phillies have big ol’ question marks at shortstop and third base and a serious lack of depth in the rotation and the bullpen, at least they have players on the roster to fill those positions. In the outfield, however, this is the Phillies’ current set-up:

The Phillies outfield depth chart from MLB.com. Matt Vierling and Bryce Harper are the only outfielders on the roster.
via MLB.com

According to the Phillies depth chart on MLB.com, Bryce Harper and Matt Vierling are the only outfielders on the major league squad.

So, no matter what else the Phillies do this offseason, they will be acquiring at least two new outfielders. And no matter what else the Phillies do, they probably only have the resources to add two impact players – one via trade and one via free agency. Therefore, the most effective way the Phillies can use their resources is to add those two impact players in left and center field.

If the Phillies are going to sign one outfielder and trade for another, it makes much more sense for them to trade for a center fielder and sign a left fielder. Simply put, the free agent market is much stronger for left fielders and the trade market is much stronger for center fielders.

So, if the Phillies are going to build a contending team without going over the tax threshold, they’ll need to make a major trade. And if they’re going to make a major trade, the most cost-effective player to trade for would be a center fielder. And if they’re going to trade for a center fielder, the two best options available are — without a doubt — Cedric Mullins and Bryan Reynolds.

Who would the Phillies have to give up?

Baseball: PDP League-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Cedric Mullins and Bryan Reynolds are both All-Stars who play a premium position. Both are under contract through 2026. That means it’s going to cost a king’s ransom to trade for either of them.

The Phillies have three prospects that one might call “blue chip”: Mick Abel, Bryson Stott, and Andrew Painter. A trade for Reynolds or Mullins would almost certainly have to be headlined by two of those three names.

Bryson Stott is close to major league ready, and if the Phillies are going to contend in 2022 without going over the luxury tax threshold, Stott will need to contribute to the big league club. As I’ve repeated ad nauseam, the Phillies don’t have the payroll flexibility aren’t willing to have the payroll flexibility to fill all of their holes with players from outside the organization, so Stott will be essential to the team’s success in 2022. The same goes for Alec Bohm, who would also be a valuable trade chip if the Phillies weren’t relying on him to play third base.

Therefore, if the Phillies trade for Cedric Mullins or Bryan Reynolds, it’s safe to assume they’ll be parting with Mick Abel, Andrew Painter, and a couple other prospects too.

Is it worth it?

If that seems like a lot to give up, it’s because it is. But the Phillies would also be getting a lot in return.

Cedric Mullins or Bryan Reynolds would hopefully provide the Phillies with four years of All-Star level performance. If the Phillies kept Abel and Painter and the two combined to play four All-Star caliber seasons with the Phillies, I’d be thrilled.

Furthermore, four All-Star seasons from 2022 to 2025 are more valuable to the Phillies than any potential All-Star seasons from 2025 and beyond. That’s not to say the Phillies can’t be competitive when Abel and Painter are big-league ready, but competing in the present needs to be the top priority.

The Phillies are built to win now. Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler are in their primes. If the Phillies front office doesn’t put together a contending team ASAP, they’ll have wasted the best seasons of their core players, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars.

So, if parting with Mick Abel and Andrew Painter can get the Phillies Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins, then Dave Dombrowski needs to bite the bullet and do it. The Phillies’ competitive window is now, and adding a center fielder like Reynolds or Mullins is one of the smartest moves they can make.