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Vaulting past the luxury tax helps the Phillies create their deepest roster in years

Amazing what spending a little money can do

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In March, when the Phillies signed Nick Castellanos, they eclipsed the luxury tax for the first time in team history after many, many cries to do so. It allowed them to freedom to finally use their financial might that they have touted to make upgrades to the lineup and rotation throughout the season that they may not have been able to do in the past thanks to their own self imposed restrictions. Matt Winkelman wrote briefly about this and how the team has been able to make small upgrades as the year has progressed, stating:

Money is not actually a finite resource in baseball. The most finite of resources is roster spots. You get 26 active, and 40 major league contracts. The only way to get players off the 40 is either put them on the 60 day IL if they are hurt or to waive them (or releasing them if they are on a minor league IL as you cannot DFA/waive an injured player). The catch is putting them on the 60 day IL is that they are on the major league IL and so that player accrues major league service time and major league salary, which counts against the luxury tax.

So far this season, the Phillies have expanded their 40 man roster, while keeping players in their system 5 times in this way with Rafael Marchan and Kent Emanuel starting the year on the 60 day IL, and injured prospect pitchers Damon Jones, James McArthur, and Hans Crouse all spending time there. By the end of the season, it will be over $2 million the Phillies will have spent towards the tax to open up more 40 man roster spots.

It was one of the tenets that Matt Klentak preached when he was named as the general manager of the team back in 2015, how the team needed to make improvements around the margins that would all add up to a deeper, more versatile roster that could contend with those deeper rosters of the National League. As we know, this never happened. Though Klentak was somewhat adept at finding fringe players at the trade deadline that could help the team in small spurts (Corey Dickerson, Wilson Ramos), he was unable to fill out the rest of the team, thus making rosters that consistently fell short of their ultimate goal, the playoffs.

This year, at the deadline, the team has used their financial situation to make the three additions that they did - Brandon Marsh, Noah Syndergaard, David Robertson - as well as wave goodbye to two players - Odubel Herrera, Jeurys Familia - that combined were making ~$7 million against the luxury tax. That’s not nothing and wouldn’t have been possible were they concerned with staying under the tax in the first place. Now, they’ve constructed the deepest roster they have had in quite a while.

The teams the Phillies are chasing or fighting off in the wild card, the Padres and Cardinals, also made some moves today, but only one of them was really overwhelming. San Diego acquiring Juan Soto puts them, at least on paper, into the same kind of company as the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves in terms of the ones favored to go to the World Series. The Cardinals, though they added some needed pitching, didn’t get the big ones they were after, only bringing about Jordan Montgomery and Jose Quintana, good moves, but not world beaters. The Phillies, by adding those three, have set themselves up quite well to not only stay with them, but might possibly be the favorite to be the third wild card.

Their biggest weakness was having to run out Bailey Falter every fifth day, or have to depend on a bullpen game as they did Tuesday night. Making Syndergaard either the fourth or fifth starter pushes Falter a bit down the depth chart, but gives them that depth that they’ll need to push through the rest of the season. In adding Robertson, the suddenly potent bullpen they have constructed just got a lot deeper. Once the wild card round does hit, should they make it, they’ll be able to run out a group that is at least seven deep of quality relievers. It’s a long way from the dreck that they were depending on in 2020 and 2021. Brandon Marsh has always had the potential, but this year, his bat has dropped off quite a bit. His defense, though, is a welcome addition to the corners of Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper/Nick Castellanos, making Matt Vierling more of a bench player, something he is probably more suited for in the first place.

As of now, this is how the roster shakes out once everyone gets healthy:

C: Realmuto, Stubbs
IF: Hoskins, Segura, Stott, Bohm, Sosa, Gregorius, Munoz (Hall)
OF: Harper, Marsh, Schwarber, Castellanos, Vierling
SP: Wheeler, Nola, Suarez, Syndergaard, Gibson (Eflin, Falter)
RP: Dominguez, Robertson, Hand, Alvarado, Bellatti, Brogdon, Knebel, Nelson (Appel, Coonrod)

That is easily the deepest roster this team has had in quite some time, one that has plenty of options that could step in in case of injury or ineffectiveness. The starkest contrast is, again, how deep the bullpen is with options up and down the group. Sure there are some pitchers there that might not have the total trust of the fanbase, as well as a few you wouldn’t want to see in a high leverage situation, but hey - it’s better than Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, isn’t it?

Would it have been nice to have Luis Castillo join the team, to have someone like Tyler Mahle around for not just this year, but also next? Sure. What’s also notable is that in the case of Syndergaard, the team was willing to pick up all of the remaining salary he has coming to him in exchange for only having to part with a center fielder that had become expendable in Mickey Moniak and a prospect that wasn’t deemed untouchable in Jadiel Sanchez. However, the team is better today than they were when the deadline got closer. That’s all you can really ask for from the front office.

Final grade: A-