Oh joy, oh rapture, the Phillies have their man.
Proclaimed as the team’s top offseason priority, they were able to cobble together enough of a bridge to a deal that Aaron Nola decided not to leave home. While the next few days will be all about Nola and his desire to stay with the only organization he’s ever known (rightfully so), we now can scratch off the first thing the Phillies had atop their wishlist and ask the question: what’s next?
Was adding a top of the rotation starter always going to be the priority? Of course. Any other report to the contrary was ludicrous. While interest may have been (and still could be) in acquiring Josh Hader to “stabilize” the back end of the bullpen, in no way would or should that have been labeled as more important that getting a number two starter. Whether it be Nola, Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell, that was the best way the Phillies could have upgraded their roster towards getting the suddenly elusive World Series trophy. That business has been finished, so now the team will set its sights on the next order of business. What should that be? A few options remain.
Are they in or out on Yamamoto?
This looks like a question that will linger for a few weeks still. Yamamoto looks to be posted today by the NPB in order to be bid on by big leagues teams. The combination of his age, skill and background facing solid competition will certainly drive his price higher than some of the other available pitching options this winter, but from the looks of it, the Phillies don’t really have a spot for him. With Nola back on the team, a rotation of Zack Wheeler, Nola, Ranger Suarez, Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sanchez looks solid up and down. Where would that leave the Japanese right-hander?
Well, depending on who you are listening to, the Phillies may or may not still be in the bidding. According to Alex Coffey, Nola’s signing does not signal the end of the pursuit.
A source with knowledge of the Phillies’ thinking says that they are still in the market for Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Nola was their top priority, but now that he has been signed, the Phillies will look to further bolster their pitching depth. That could mean signing Yamamoto, and signing a depth piece as well, like a multi-inning reliever or sixth/seventh starter...If the Phillies don’t sign Yamamoto, it’s unlikely that they will add another starter of his caliber. This source says they plan to be “pretty aggressive” in pursuing him, but if they don’t settle on the right price, they won’t push for a deal.
They were intrigued by Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the 25-year-old righty whose market will open Monday when the Orix Buffaloes post him, but the Phillies have never signed a player directly from Japan. They have never had a Japanese pitcher on their big-league roster. It’s been 15 years since a Japanese player donned a Phillies uniform...Although the Phillies have increased their presence in Japan over the past two years, they faced significant barriers in convincing Yamamoto to take their money. The interest, in free agency, must be mutual. The club will not be top bidders on Yamamoto after finalizing the Nola deal, sources said.
Both of these writers are excellent with superb sources, so it’s tough to decide which route the Phillies are leaning. They’re essentially saying the same thing, even if the tone in each is different. Boiled down, it looks like we can read them like this: while the team still is interested in signing Yamamoto, they’re not going to break the bank for him.
Which is fine! The team has their top two starters intact for 2024. Had Nola signed elsewhere, maybe the full court press for Yamamoto becomes a little more heated from the Phillies’ side of the table. Now, it looks more like a luxury than anything else, a potential embarrassment of riches (at least on paper). Still, until the Japanese pitcher puts pen to paper, it’ll be intriguing how the Phillies play their hand here.
Might they still sign Hader or another top reliever?
We saw some of the smoke rising from the national reporters that Josh Hader was on the radar. We’ve already spoken about how this might be a bit of a waste of resources, considering the qualifying offer Hader rejected attaches the risk of draft pick losses to any signing team. Yet if not Hader, might the Phillies look deeper into the relief market to continue adding possibilities to put at the disposal of Rob Thomson?
The names on this list aren’t exactly screaming “long term commitment”, but several do offer some tire kicking. At the very least, the team has shown a consistency the past few years of offering a veteran reliever $10 million to come recapture some lost magic, Corey Knebel in 2022, Craig Kimbrel in 2023. Were that the avenue the team decided to take once again, there really isn’t anyone that stands out as an obvious candidate. Liam Hendriks may have at one time, but he had Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch next season. Joe Kelly might be someone the team could look at, but $10 million would be awfully expensive.
Of course, the team could make overtures to a former friend in Hector Neris. You never know how he might answer back.
Might they clear some salary?
When the rumors about the team shopping around Nick Castellanos grew loud enough that Dave Dombrowski had to address them, it lent a level of credence that the team had at least sent out a few feelers on the situation. Whether they were doing so to rid themselves of Castellanos’s salary or his lagging late season production, it’s a bit hard to put the toothpaste back in the bottle once it’s been squeezed. It could be a signal that salary shedding could be on the horizon.
Castellanos would offer the most logical choice due to the aforementioned reasons, but who else makes sense for the team to shed? Does it make sense to shed any salary?
Fangraphs has the Phillies at an estimated $252 million after the Nola signing, which means some things. Destiny Lugardo did a very good job over the weekend breaking down the estimated taxes the team might have to pay, as well as explaining the penalties that come with it. Summed up, this is what the Phillies are looking at:
As a likely third-time offender in 2024, the Phillies will pay a 50% surcharge on overages between 0 and $20 million. Overages between $20 million and $40 come with a 62% surcharge. Third-tier overages are taxed at 95%...If the Phillies finish the 2024 season $40 million or more over the $237 million first luxury tax threshold, the team’s highest selection in the 2025 Draft will be moved back 10 spots, unless it is a top six pick. In that case, the team’s second-highest pick gets moved back 10 spots.
Should the Phillies wish to throttle down a bit from that $237 million number or even back away from the next threshold, making a deal might be in order. It would hurt the immediate team, as well as the immediate chances of winning a title, unless there is a clear upgrade to be made over what a higher salaried, yet underperforming player like Castellanos or, say, Taijuan Walker, is doing, so moving someone of those two players’ ilk would be a bit off. It’s probably the Phillies continue to run it back with what they have in tow, but if an opportunity presents itself, there might be a move to be made here.
An extension, perhaps?
Nola is here for a while. As is Harper, Realmuto, Schwarber, Turner, et al. The window is open and the checkbook is open. Why stop now? Why not lock in Zack Wheeler a few years longer and prevent even more hysteria about losing the best pitcher the Phillies have had in years? Wheeler may wish to see what the free agent market looks like this time around when there are fewer questions marks about what he can bring to the table, but the Phillies can prevent that and simply give him “The Godfather offer.” They’re already so far down the road of spending anyway at this point, there simply is no reason (outside of a catastrophic surgery this season) to not lock up Wheeler now before another Cy Young-esque season causes the suitors to be more voluminous next offseason.
This week being Thanksgiving week, there might be a little bit of a break for the front office. The next move they make might take some time, but it’ll be interesting to see what they choose to do.