If the Philadelphia Phillies aren’t prepared to exceed the luxury tax threshold, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is going to have to get creative once the owner-imposed lockout concludes in an attempt to build a playoff-caliber roster.
Gabe Lacques and Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Major League Baseball has proposed a $214 million luxury tax threshold for the first year of a new collective bargaining agreement.
If such a proposal became reality, Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo estimates that the Phillies would have $32,047,052 left to spend under the threshold. That money could go quickly when you consider that the Phillies still need to add a starting left fielder, starting center fielder, bullpen depth and fill out their bench.
One creative solution that Dombrowski could consider is attempting to shed part or all of Didi Gregorius’ $14.5 million salary for 2022, which will count as $14 million towards the luxury tax threshold.
That could mean trading Gregorius — who posted just a .639 OPS and had -10 defensive runs saved in 2021 — for a warm minor league body, and hoping that the acquiring team will take on at least half of the money owed to him in 2022.
Another possibility would be swapping Gregorius for another contract currently seen as undesirable, and betting that whoever you would be landing has a better chance at a bounce-back season in 2022.
While Jackie Bradley Jr. is now off the board after the Milwaukee Brewers traded him back to the Boston Red Sox, here are seven players that the Phillies could attempt to move Gregorius as part of a deal for:
I can’t take credit for this one, as Phillies Nation’s Destiny Lugardo was the first to propose the idea.
Ahmed — who will turn 32 in March — is a defensive-first shortstop. While he drove in over 70 runs in 2018 and 2019, Ahmed has posted just a .654 OPS since the start of the 2020 season.
However, he has 82 defensive runs saved in his career. While he may not be the defender that he once was, he still had four defensive runs saved in 2021. As a team, the Phillies had a league-worst -54 defensive runs saved this past season. Adding a strong glove to play next to Alec Bohm might not be the worst idea, even if you would likely be sacrificing some offense in doing so.
Ahmed is owed $7.75 million in 2022, and $10 million in 2023. While you would be taking on an extra year of commitment in trading Gregorius back to his one of his former teams, Ahmed would only count as $8.125 million against the luxury tax threshold in each of the next two seasons, so you would create some flexibility in 2022.
Since homering 30 times and driving in 78 runs in 2019, DeJong has hit just .213 with a .673 OPS, so it feels fair to assume we’ve seen the best that he’s going to offer offensively.
At the same time, DeJong is still only 28, and like Ahmed, he would be a massive defensive upgrade for a team that needs to add an impact defender or two. DeJong had six defensive runs saved in 2021, along with five outs above average.
Just like Ahmed, the Phillies would be taking on a longer commitment in acquiring DeJong with the hope of opening up some financial flexibility in 2022. Ahmed is due $6 million in 2022, and $9 million in 2023. His contract also includes a $10 million club option for 2024, and a $15 million option for 2025. The club options come with $2 million and $1 million buyouts, respectively.
It is probably true that if the Cardinals were able to shed DeJong’s deal, they wouldn’t want another bad shortstop contract back in return. Instead, they could pivot to a free-agent market that still includes Trevor Story and Carlos Correa. But if the Cardinals have any interest in a swap involving Gregorius and DeJong, the Phillies would be wise to pursue it.
There would have to be a ton of moving parts here, because even if it’s not ideal to owe a 36-year-old $42 million over the next two seasons, Donaldson has much more value than Gregorius at this point.
But Aaron Gleeman and Dan Hayes of The Athletic did recently note that the Minnesota Twins are in the market for a shortstop, perhaps just a bridge option until either Royce Lewis or Austin Martin are ready to take over at shortstop. The duo added that the Twins were interested in Gregorius last offseason, but ultimately signed Andrelton Simmons, in part because he only required a one-year deal.
After signing Byron Buxton to a seven-year extension, the Twins may not be inclined to trade Donaldson, who did still hit 26 home runs and drive in 72 runs this past season. But if a team like the Phillies would be willing to take on a significant chunk of his remaining deal — which includes an $8 million buyout on his $16 million club option for 2024 — general manager Thad Levine may have no choice but to pounce.
The Phillies would really have to believe that acquiring Donaldson — a move that would likely push Alec Bohm to another position, at least on a part-time basis — would make them reaching the playoffs in 2022 as close to a sure-fire thing as possible to make a deal involving these two players.
Of the seven names listed here, Donaldson is at or near the bottom in terms of likelihood.
Given the current structure of the Phillies roster, this trade might be the one that makes the most sense for them.
Even at this advanced stage of his career, Cain still plays a good center field, as evidenced by his two defensive runs saved across 592 2/3 innings last season.
A career .286 hitter, Cain hit just .257 in 2021, so the two-time All-Star probably isn’t the hitter that he once was. But short of making a franchise-altering trade for Cedric Mullins or Bryan Reynolds, the Phillies probably aren’t going to land a big bat to play center field for them next season.
Would the Milwaukee Brewers want to make this trade? It’s hard to tell. Cain is coming off a better season than Gregorius, but he’s also going to turn 36 in April and is due $18 million in 2022, the final year of a lucrative free-agent contract. Could a team in need of some thump trade for Gregorius — who did post an .827 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — and use him primarily as a DH (assuming that’s universal as part of the next CBA)? Maybe.
Per Spotrac, the San Diego Padres have less than $1 million to work with under the luxury tax threshold. And while there’s quite a bit of talent on their roster, they have a lot of work to do if they would like to catch up with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.
Myers is a pretty productive offensive player, but he could be a natural salary to shed, especially if the Padres sign another power-hitting outfielder.
While Myers has a slightly lower luxury tax number in 2022 than Gregorius — $13.83 million — he’ll take home more in actual money, as he’s due $20 million in the final guaranteed year of his six-year deal. Myers’ deal also includes a $20 million club option for 2023.
For the Phillies, Myers would represent a fall-back option if they are unable to sign one of Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto or Nick Castellanos. The former American League Rookie of the Year Award winner has posted an .827 OPS since the start of the 2020 season, and would get the bulk of his at-bats as a left fielder, and probably some as a DH as well.
While Fernando Tatis Jr. doesn’t grade out well defensively, he’s not moving from shortstop anytime soon. But Gregorius could get at-bats at second base, first base, DH, and perhaps even left field in San Diego.
Could Dave Dombrowski acquire Price for a third time?
Dombrowski originally landed Price in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in July of 2014, when he was leading the Detroit Tigers front office. While Dombrowski would flip Price to the Toronto Blue Jays the next summer, one of his first major moves when he took over the helm in Boston was signing Price to a seven-year/$217 million contract in advance of the 2016 season.
Price is now gearing up for the final year of that pact, set to make $32 million in his age-36 season. Suffice it to say, the former American League Cy Young Award winner is no longer worth that type of money annually. After opting out of the 2020 season, Price posted a 4.03 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 39 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers this past season, 11 of which were starts.
The interesting wrinkle here is that as part of the trade that sent Price and Mookie Betts from Boston to Los Angeles ahead of the 2020 season, the Red Sox reportedly agreed to pay half of the lefty’s salary in each of the last three years of his contract. So if the Phillies traded for Price, they would only be on the hook for $16 million of his $32 million salary, a much more reasonable price if it allowed you to move Gregorius.
Would the Dodgers have any interest in Gregorius? Even after losing former World Series MVP Corey Seager in free agency, All-Star Trea Turner is set to take over at shortstop. But Gregorius could potentially be insurance for Gavin Lux at second base, and a DH option.
If Dombrowski acquired Price in a trade, he would be doing so by working out a deal with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. When Dombrowski acquired Price in Detroit, Friedman was the general manager for the Rays that agreed to send the southpaw to the Tigers.
As the Padres attempted to build Dodgers-like depth, they signed Kim to a four-year/$28 million deal ahead of the 2020 season. A year later, they probably wish they didn’t sign the deal.
Kim slashed just .202/.270/.352 in his first season playing in MLB. Kim hit .294 with 133 home runs in seven seasons in the KBO, but to this point, he hasn’t shown the same type of offensive upside in America.
With that said, Kim saw time at shortstop, second base and third base in his rookie MLB season, and was excellent defensively at all three. In total, he posted 18 defensive runs saved. There would be worse ideas than acquiring Kim with the expectation that he could improve team defense and be a bridge at shortstop until Bryson Stott is ready to take over. Hey, if new hitting coach Kevin Long could unlock Kim offensively, he’d be a really valuable player.
Kim is owed $21 million over the next three seasons and his deal includes a mutual $7 million option for 2025, so he would be a longer commitment than Gregorius. However, he would give you about $7 million extra under the luxury tax threshold in 2022, and may actually be a better on-field fit for your roster.
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