After a recent string of free-agent signings, the Phillies now boast one of the most electric, fearsome lineups in all of baseball. In roughly 72 hours, the team spent $179 million to sign all-star outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to long-term deals.
Schwarber, 29, agreed to a four-year deal worth $79 million with the Phillies after splitting time between the Nationals and Red Sox a season ago.
Castellanos, who just celebrated his 30th birthday earlier this month, signed a five-year, $100 million contract with the Phillies after an all-star campaign with the Reds.
Last season, the talented duo combined for 66 home runs 171 RBIs. In Philly, the pair of outfielders look to do even more damage and figure to add a lot more pop to the heart of the Phillies’ lineup.
Schwarber and Castellanos aren’t just the types of sluggers to swing for the fences every time they bat and hit 30 dingers and strikeout 175+ times, a la Joey Gallo and Chris Davis), either.
Gallo, who mashed 38 home runs in an all-star campaign with the Rangers and Yankees, was able to muscle his way into nearly 40 home runs but did so on the back of a league-leading 213 strikeouts. Whereas he is more of a hot-or-cold player, Schwarber and Castellanos project to be more consistent and strikeout far less often.
Last season, Gallo, who was tied for the tenth most home runs, struck out at a league-high 35% rate. That same season, Schwarber and Castellanos were able to reach similar home run totals (32 and 34, respectively) albeit with much lower strikeout rates (26% and 20%).
Castellanos also figures to boost the Phillies’ extra-base hit numbers with more than just the long ball. In 2020, the ex-Reds outfielder hit 34 doubles, which was tied for the fifth-most in the MLB.
For the Phillies, the pair of free-agent acquisitions makes them a much more formidable team but comes at a hefty cost. The team’s recent shopping spree puts their payroll for 2022 in the neighborhood of $240 million, over the new competitive balance tax threshold of $230 million, which is officially calculated at the end of the season.
Phillies owner John Middleton has long said the team would go over the luxury tax threshold should the right opportunity arise. It appears that the chance to acquire Castellanos, mixed with the desire to snap a decade-long playoff drought in Philly, has fueled the team to finally surpass the luxury tax.
Castellanos now becomes the fourth player on the Phillies signed to a contract worth more than $100 million. Bryce Harper ($330 million), Zack Wheeler ($118 million), and J.T. Realmuto ($115 million) are the other high-priced veterans.
The pair of signings also gives the Phillies four batters in the lineup that hit 30+ home runs last season. Bryce Harper led the Phillies with 35 bombs a season ago, Castellanos launched 34 with the Reds, and Schwarber notched 32 home runs. Rhys Hoskins only hit 27 home runs in 2021, but I’m including him anyway because he likely would have topped 30 home runs if it weren’t for a bout with injury and he has shown 30+ homer power in the recent past (34 home runs in 2019, 29 in 2020).
To carry a lineup that jam-packed with power is indeed a luxury (pun slightly intended) and one worth going over the tax threshold for the Phillies.
For what it’s worth, the luxury tax legislation is fairly forgiving of first-time offenders and the Phillies could maneuver their way back under the tax in 2023 once a few expiring contracts come off the books.
In the meantime, though, the Phillies have chosen to bite the bullet and go all-in in an attempt to capture the National League crown.
As the Dodgers and Braves continue to load up and acquire talent, the Phillies have abruptly leaped into the arms race for the NL pennant.
The defense and pitching won’t always be pretty, but the Phillies’ offense should be potent enough for them to compete for years to come. And, with all-stars Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos all signed through at least 2025, the Phillies title window is wide open for the foreseeable future.
Again, they aren’t a perfect team by any means, but it is hard to argue that the Phillies aren’t now one of the most dangerous clubs in all of baseball. We’ve seen countless examples of teams slugging their way into a World Series appearance.
In fact, in the last five years, every World Series team but two (2019 Nationals and 2020 Rays) finished in the top ten in home runs in the year they won their respective pennant. Remarkably, five of the last ten teams to participate in the World Series finished inside the top 3 in home runs in the regular season of their pennant-winning season.
This isn’t to suggest that pitching and defense aren’t important, but the data does reveal that a surge in power can dramatically improve the performance of a team.
With sluggers, home run hitters, and bat flippers abound in Philadelphia, the Phils project to be much more competitive this season as they try to muscle their way into the postseason.
Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire