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The Phillies are really going for it, and it feels good

Signing Nick Castellanos is incredible, but what signing him represents is even more exciting.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Cincinnati Reds
Nick Castellanos runs the bases after hitting a grand slam against the Phillies on June 28, 2021. In just a few short weeks, he’ll be hitting those grand slams for the Phillies. 
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

I’m so glad I didn’t go to bed early last night.

As I went to brush my teeth, I decided to check Twitter one last time. The first thing I saw was about Nick Castellanos signing with the Phillies, and I wrote it off as a joke. Then I saw a second tweet about the same exact thing, and I presumed a new rumor must have dropped. Then I saw a third tweet, and a fourth, and a fifth.

And then I saw this.

My hands were almost shaking as I went back to Twitter to search for Jim Salisbury. I repeated the mantra to myself over and over: “it’s not true until Salisbury tweets it. It’s not true until Salisbury tweets it.”

Salisbury had tweeted it.

I was elated. And even though I was standing alone in the bathroom with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, I felt such a strong sense of community. As tweets poured in about “drives into deep left field” and “4-0 ballgames,” I could feel the excitement of the Phillies fan base through my phone.

I hadn’t had this feeling since last summer, and it felt good.

But why, exactly, was I so excited? Nick Castellanos wasn’t one of my top targets this offseason. He doesn’t fix a particular area of need, like the bullpen or the defense. In fact, he creates a bit of a logjam in left field and at the DH spot, and he might make the defense even worse (if that’s possible).

So, it’s perfectly fair to wonder why I’m this thrilled about an expensive player who isn’t a perfect fit for the team. But the answer is exactly because he’s an expensive player who isn’t a perfect fit for the team.

By signing Nick Castellanos, the Phillies have expressed a high level of commitment to putting a winning baseball team on the field that we haven’t seen since December 2010.

The Phillies have signed big free agents in recent years — bigger free agents than Nick Castellanos. But when they signed Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, and JT Realmuto, it was because they had room in the payroll and a clear area of need. All three of those signings were exciting and important, but none of them were necessarily surprising.

The Castellanos signing, therefore, is different. The Phillies already had Kyle Schwarber to play left field. They already had Schwarber, Harper, Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Alec Bohm to rotate in the DH spot. They already had a payroll as high as it had ever been. But Nick Castellanos represented an opportunity to make the team better, and so Dave Dombrowski pulled the trigger.

It’s hard to find the words to express how great it feels when your team sees an opportunity to get better and jumps on it. Luckily, I don’t need to find the words, because if you’re reading this, you probably feel exactly the same way.

There’s nothing clever about the Nick Castellanos signing. It’s not about finding value at the margins or about getting the most WAR per dollar. The Phillies saw an All-Star free agent who could make the lineup better, and they paid him like the All-Star he is.

This signing is also so thrilling because it demonstrates a commitment to winning that goes beyond just this season. Once the ink is dry on the Castellanos deal, the Phillies will have officially gone over the luxury tax for the first time in their history. The luxury tax threshold is not a salary cap, but until now, the Phillies have always treated it as such. The message from ownership has long been, “we care about winning, but only as much as this arbitrary dollar figure.” Now, there’s no more arbitrary cap to how much the Phillies are willing to spend to win.

I’m not naïve. I know the Phillies are not going to spend unlimited money, and perhaps they’ll even try to get right back under the luxury tax threshold next season. But at least now we know that they really are willing to go over that threshold when they need to.

Never again will we have to think about exactly how much room the Phillies have until they hit the luxury tax threshold. If the Phillies are looking to make another big addition at the trade deadline, they won’t have to shed any salary to do so. And even if the Phillies do get back underneath the luxury tax threshold next season, never again will we have to hear, “they’ve never gone over it before, so why would they do it now?”

Going over the luxury tax isn’t a pipe dream anymore. It’s a reality.

Now, before I wrap this up, I want to return to Mr. Nicholas Castellanos. I feel a little bit bad going on and on about the luxury tax and what his signing represents instead of talking about the man himself. This signing isn’t just exiting because of the luxury tax implications, and I fear that if I talk about that aspect of it too much I’ll come across as someone who cares more about front offices and payroll than the actual baseball games on the field.

I am excited as all heck to watch Nick Castellanos mash some taters at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies offense is going to be lethal this year, and even a Mets team fronted by Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer has to be scared to face this lineup.

No matter how many runs the Phillies find themselves down by, we’ll never be able to count them out. I haven’t felt this good about the Phillies offense since the heyday of Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Werth.

The Nick Castellanos signing feels really, really good, and I can’t wait for this good feeling to carry into the regular season. Nick Castellanos will mash, the Phillies will score, and we’re done complaining about the stupid luxury tax threshold (at least for now).

After so much time spent worrying about the status of the 2022 season, we’re just a few weeks away from Opening Day, and the Phillies will be fielding their best team in over a decade. I, for one, am thrilled.