Follow the Money: Phillies Payroll Suggests One More Season in the Wings

Massive spending was the hallmark of the Phillies’ offseason a year ago. En-route to acquiring David Robertson, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, J.T Realmuto, and Bryce Harper, the team shelled out a whopping $403M.

Typical of the affluent Phillies, the team continued to spend the big bucks this winter, conferring $132M to land Didi Gregorius and Zack Wheeler- marking the third consecutive year the team has allocated $100M+ in offseason spending.

After repeatedly emptying the vault, however, the Phillies still find themselves on the outside looking in at the NL playoff picture. Last season, following a hot start to the campaign, the Phillies could only muster a meager fourth-place NL East finish. Sadly, the team accomplished- for lack of a better word- this despite acquiring three position players who were all-stars the season prior- an unprecedented feat in MLB.

Even after acquiring Didi Gregorius and a much-needed pitching upgrade in Zack Wheeler, the Phillies seem poised to be the third-best team in the division, at best, and distant World Series favorites yet again.

For a team that hasn’t reached the postseason in eight years, this is a heavy, disappointing reality. But, under closer examination of their financial outlook, this may be apart of the plan.

Currently, the Phillies sit roughly $3M shy of the luxury tax and have likely already bestowed their last big contract this winter. Though a tad infuriating to the faithful fans who desperately yearn for more playoff success, the team’s unwillingness to surpass the tax this winter may actually pay huge dividends moving forward.

Let me explain.

As I mentioned earlier, the team is virtually cash-strapped at the moment since they refuse to go over the tax. With just $3M to go around, they likely don’t have the funds to acquire another impact big-leaguer this winter.

A quick look into their finances over the next couple of years, however, paints a much prettier picture for the Phillies. Between Arrieta, Gregorius (if he isn’t re-signed), and David Robertson, the Phillies have $52M coming off their books for 2021. Additionally, the figure could climb even higher when the team inevitably moves on from Odubel Herrera, who is owed $10.4M in 2021 and is coming off a suspension for a domestic violence incident.

With a projected team payroll of $109M in 2021, the Phillies would have roughly $85M to blow in free agency. This figure doesn’t include a J.T Realmuto extension, though, which is something the team seems keen on getting done in the near future. Still, the team should have enough cap space to be major players in FA.

Unfortunately, next year’s class isn’t all that exciting- especially since expected free-agency crown jewel Mike Trout was extended by the Angels, dashing his shot of hitting the market- but still has a few players that should grab the Phils’ attention. Among them, starting pitchers Marcus Stroman, James Paxton, Robbie Ray would be welcome additions along the staff. Offensively, batters Mookie Betts, George Springer, DJ LeMahieu, and Giancarlo Stanton should all be on the Phillies’ radar as well. J.T Realmuto would also join this group if he and the Phillies can’t reach an extension by then.

Again, it isn’t the most fruitful class of all time, but there are quite a few players that would make a lot of sense for Philly.

Things really get interesting when you look forward to the 2021-22 offseason, though, where a potentially LOADED free-agent class awaits. Here’s a look at the marquee players that could headline a historic class:

Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kolten Wong, Dee Gordon, Nolan Arenado (opt-out), Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Michael Conforto, Starling Marte, Kyle Schwarber, Christian Yelich (club option), Andrew McCutchen (club option), Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke.

Whew. If you were able to rattle off all those names in one breath, hats off to you. I, for one, had to reach for my inhaler by the end.

All jokes aside, though, if everyone from the list were to actually reach free-agency, it’d mark arguably the most talented class of all time. Alas, that is a reality that is extremely unlikely to come to fruition, as at least some of them will be extended by their respective clubs.

Even with that being the case, all signs point towards an eventful free-agency period in 2021- one the Phillies could be major players in. The Phils currently project to have roughly $82M to burn in 2021, a figure that is likely to come down a bit after arbitration, but still more than enough to land a couple impact players.

Of course, assessing potential moves one or two years down the line isn’t exactly what fans eager for a title want to hear right now. When you take the current state of the NL East, however, it may behoove the Phillies to wait it out.

The reigning World Series champion Nationals still have their fearsome Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin-led pitching staff in place for the next few years, as well as the talented young phenom Juan Soto on board. Even after losing Anthony Rendon to the Angels, the Nationals still boast more talent than the Phillies and enter 2020 as division favorites.

Not too far behind them in terms of talent, the Braves- who won the NL East last year- figure to be a force in the division once again. Boasting one of the youngest, most talented rosters in all of baseball, Atlanta also projects to outpace the Phils over the next couple of years.

With that being the case, the Phillies gunning for a wild card slot the next two years before rolling out the brinks truck to improve and even out the odds with their division rivals makes a lot more sense.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Phillies simply sit on their hands for two years and let the Nationals and Braves run away with the division. I want to see the Phils compete as much as the next guy. If we’re being realistic, though, the team doesn’t have the funds or prospects necessary to buy or trade their way into contention prior to 2021- as I analyzed ​earlier this offseason​.

Hopefully, though, the money trail is to be believed and the Phillies are once again pushing for a title before long.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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