Analysis

How much room do the Phillies have under the luxury tax threshold?


John Middleton is the Phillies managing partner. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

Spring Training games are here, and the Philadelphia Phillies Opening Day roster is beginning to come together.

The competitive balance tax – more commonly referred to as the luxury tax threshold – has been a hot topic for Phillies fans and media alike during this offseason, and the team gave itself little room to maneuver with following the December signings of Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius.

Here is how the Phillies payroll breaks down with just over a month remaining before Opening Day:

Guaranteed contracts

The Phillies have 18 guaranteed contracts in 2020 that total $164.7 million. They are as follows:

Pitching

Hector Neris – $4.6 million

The Phillies settled prior to an arbitration hearing with Neris, who had a career year in 2019. They also bought out his final arbitration year in 2021, in which he will now be owed $7 million if the Phillies choose to exercise his option. Neris is set to be a free-agent following that season.

Tommy Hunter – $875K

Two years ago, the Phillies gave Hunter a two-year, $18 million contract. After an up-and-down first year, Hunter only appeared in a few games last season due to arm injuries that kept him sidelined for much of the year. The Phillies are bringing Hunter back at a much cheaper cost in hopes he can regain his production that brought them to sign him back in 2018.

Jose Alvarez – $2.95 million

The left-hander was acquired in a 1-for-1 swap that sent Luis Garcia to the Angels last offseason, and he was one of the only reliable relievers on the team in 2019. He is set to be a free agent following the 2020 season.

Vince Velasquez – $3.6 million

Velasquez, who was acquired in the Ken Giles trade in 2015, has been frustrating for most of his Phillies tenure. However, the stuff is there, and the Phillies trust him enough that they tendered him a contract for this season. Velasquez will enter his final year of arbitration in 2021 before becoming a free agent.

Adam Morgan – $1.575 million

Morgan spent parts of the 2019 season on the injured list but was reliable when healthy. The biggest question will be how the new three-batter minimum rule affects Morgan, as he was often used in one-batter situations in 2019. Morgan will enter his third year of arbitration in 2021 before becoming a free agent.

Zach Eflin – $2.625 million

Eflin was the Phillies second most reliable starter in 2019 and was effective other than a mid-summer stretch in which he struggled greatly. He will enter his third year of arbitration in 2021 before becoming a free agent.

David Robertson – $11 million

The Phillies signed Robertson because of his ability to stay on the field and avoid injuries throughout his career. That has worked out horribly, and it is not especially likely that Robertson pitches at all in 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. Robertson has a $12 million club option in 2021 that includes a $2 million buyout.

Aaron Nola – $8.5 million

Nola signed a 4 year, $45 million contract extension last spring. The team’s ace is owed $12.25 million in 2021 and $15.5 million in 2022, with a $16 million team option in 2023.

Zack Wheeler – $23.6 million

The Phillies signed Wheeler to a 5-year/$118 million contract in November. While the price appeared steep at the time of the signing, subsequent deals to Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole showed that the Phillies got Wheeler at a fair market value, especially if he hasn’t peaked.

Infield

J.T. Realmuto – $10 million

The Phillies won the arbitration hearing against Realmuto, saving $2.4 million in the process. The All-Star catcher is set to become a free agent following the 2020 season, but there is a good chance that the Phillies lock him up long-term before it gets to that point.

Andrew Knapp – $710K

Knapp is certainly not a fan favorite, but he has improved defensively during his three years as a Phillie. He is likely to spend 2020 as the team’s backup catcher and has two remaining seasons of arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent.

Jean Segura – $14.85 million

The Phillies acquired Segura in the trade that sent Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford to Seattle in December of 2018. He was a mild disappointment both at the plate and in the field, and the expectation is that the team will move him to either third and/or second base in 2020. Segura is owed $14.85 million both in 2021 and 2022, with a $17 million team option in 2023.

Scott Kingery – $1.5 million

The Phillies made history prior to the 2018 season when they gave Kingery a contract extension prior to his major league debut. After struggling greatly in 2018, Kingery had a couple of really good stretches in 2019 that showed why he received that extension. It is unclear where he will play in 2020, but he is owed $4 million, $6 million and $8 million respectively from 2021 to 2023. He has $13 million, $14 million and $15 million club options from 2024 to 2026.

Didi Gregorius – $14 million

The Phillies signed Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million contract at the conclusion of the MLB Winter Meetings. Gregorius was a top shortstop in baseball before missing time after Tommy John surgery and struggling in 2019. His contract stands as a prove-it deal, and he will become a free agent following the 2020 season.

Outfield

Bryce Harper – $27.54 million

The Phillies gave Harper a 13-year/$330 million contract last offseason, making him the highest paid player currently on the roster. He is owed $27.54 yearly through 2028 and then $23.54 million from 2029-2031.

Andrew McCutchen – $17 million

Like Robertson, the Phillies signed McCutchen partly due to his ability to stay on the field, and like Robertson, McCutchen suffered a serious injury that sidelined him for a majority of the 2019 season. The 33-year-old is expected to return in 2021, but it remains to be seen how good he will be after suffering and recovering from a torn ACL. McCutchen is owed $20 million in 2021 and has a $15 million club option in 2022 with a $3 million buyout.

Odubel Herrera – $7.35 million

Herrera didn’t play after he was arrested in late May following a domestic incident between him and his girlfriend. He was suspended for the remainder of the season in July, and after clearing waivers, he’s in minor league camp currently. He is owed another $10.35 million in 2021, with club options of $11.5 million in 2022 and $12.5 million in 2023.

Jay Bruce – $1.75 million

The Phillies acquired Bruce in June, and he was great at first prior to struggling to stay healthy down the stretch of the season. He will likely serve as the team’s fourth or fifth outfielder and a valuable power hitter off the bench before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season.


The Rest

The remaining contracts will be filled by players who have not yet become arbitration eligible, such as Rhys Hoskins, and potentially some of the veteran non-roster invitees that are currently with the Phillies in Clearwater. While some of the potential earnings for these players have been reported, it is unknown for most of them how much they will be paid if they are able to make the major league roster.

Pitchers

Francisco Liriano – $1.5 million plus $1.25 million performance bonus potential

Liriano, who was a starter for a majority of his career, was successful coming out of the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. In 69 games, he pitched to the tune of a 3.47 ERA, and he will be competing with Ranger Suarez and Cole Irvin, among others, for the third lefty spot in the bullpen.

Bud Norris – Unknown

Norris, 34, pitched in 64 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018 to the tune of a 3.59 ERA. However, he was unable to pitch at all last season after suffering a forearm strain in Toronto. A lot will have to go right for Norris to make the major league team out of Spring Training.

Blake Parker – Unknown

Parker had a 5.04 ERA in 23 games last season with the Phillies after being signed mid-season. Beyond the surface, though, Parker had solid peripherals, including a 1.000 WHIP and 5.17 K/BB.

Anthony Swarzak – $1.5 million

The 34-year-old had a 4.56 ERA in 59 games between Seattle and Atlanta last season, but is only two seasons removed from a stellar 2.33 ERA in 70 games in 2017.

Drew Storen – $750K

Storen last pitched in the majors in 2017 and remains a long shot to make the Major League roster. Last season, he had a 7.84 ERA in nine games with the Kansas City Royals Double-A affiliate.

Infielders

Christian Bethancourt – Unknown

Bethancourt also has not appeared in a major league game since 2017. He has struggled to hit throughout his career and stands as catching depth during Spring Training, but is very unlikely to become the Phillies backup catcher at the start of the 2020 season.

Phil Gosselin – Unknown

Gosselin was a somewhat pleasant surprise for the Phillies in 2019 in pinch-hit opportunities, but is overall a weaker bat than many of the other options that are available with a career .667 OPS.

Josh Harrison – Unknown

One of several former Pirates on this list, Harrison was an All-Star in 2017 at the tail end of a very good multi-year stretch in Pittsburgh as a super-utility man. He has a .606 OPS over the past two seasons in 133 games between Pittsburgh and Detroit, but has been riddled by injuries and stands as bounce-back candidate with a good shot to make the Phillies as a utility man out of Spring Training.

Neil Walker – Unknown

Walker, 34, can play three infield positions and is coming off a season in which he had a .738 OPS in 115 games with the Miami Marlins. He has hit reasonably well throughout his career and certainly has a better shot to make the team than other members of this list.

Logan Forsythe – Unknown

Forsythe was one of the better hitting second baseman in baseball during his time in Tampa Bay from 2014-2016, but has struggled at the plate since with a .652 OPS across 340 games between the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers. Like Walker and Harrison, Forsythe is able to play multiple infield positions and certainly fits the utility man mold that the Phillies appear to be looking for to fill out the bench.

Ronald Torreyes – Unknown

Torreyes is positionally versatile, but is a weaker hitter than the other utility infield options for the Phillies. He did spend a season in New York with current Phillies manager Joe Girardi, but appears to have only an outside shot to make the roster out of Spring Training.

Outfielders

Mikie Mahtook – Unknown

It will be very hard for Mahtook to make the major league roster considering the outfield depth ahead of him. He has played all three outfield positions during his five seasons in the majors, and will at least stand as depth for the Phillies in Triple-A.

Matt Szczur – Unknown

Like Mahtook, Szczur presents more as minor league outfield depth than a player with a good chance to make the Phillies roster out of Spring Training. He hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2018, when he had a .532 OPS in 57 games for the San Diego Padres.


An important consideration is that the number that counts against the luxury tax only takes into account the annual average value (AAV) of each player’s contract. So, for example, while Jake Arrieta is only making $20 million in 2020, the AAV of his contract is $25 million, so that is what will be counted against the luxury tax salary for the Phillies.

With that in mind, the Phillies currently have roughly $202.3 million in committed salary in 2020, leaving them with $5.7 million before breaking the $208 million luxury tax threshold.

The Phillies are likely done making any free-agent moves between now and the start of the regular season. Considering they do have some money remaining, it can be questioned why they didn’t try harder to re-sign utility man Brad Miller, who got a $2 million guaranteed contract from the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month and hit to the tune of a .941 OPS in 66 games with the Phillies last season.

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