The luxury tax is not a hard line the team won’t cross, the front office must be convinced it’s worth it

Team owner John Middleton

A lot can be said about this past offseason and what it meant for the Phillies moving forward. Many discussions about the luxury tax were thrown around, and it’s believed to have been a reason why names such as Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon didn’t end up in red pinstripes. Sure, the tax itself is a factor for every franchise large or small, but a team isn’t built on free agency or trades alone. In this case, it’s not so much the money the Phillies were afraid of, it’s the long term approach they have taken a year removed from signing our $330 million dollar man Bryce Harper.

The signing of Zack Wheeler to a 5 year/ $118M contract was something the Phillies desperately needed to do as the rotation was subpar overall throughout the 2019 season. An 11th ranked NL rotation for a second straight season and a bullpen decimated by injuries from start to finish, eliminated any possibility of a playoff berth. Of course many were critical the organization didn’t make a bigger play for the top available arm on the market in Gerrit Cole, but the 9 year/$324M contract Cole received would have put the Phillies in a difficult spot financially at the All Star break to add another possible arm to the rotation. The Wheeler deal gives them more flexibility to add another big arm via trade at the deadline or perhaps make multiple smaller moves if needed due to injury or ineffectiveness in the middle of the rotation.

The lack of an investment in the bullpen was troubling to some this offseason. Though many smaller moves were made by bringing in the likes of Francisco Liriano, Bud Norris and former closer Drew Storen, the big name relievers on the market ended up going elsewhere. Names like Pat Neshek and David Robertson come to mind the last few years as bullpen fortifying investments have been more of a priority in seasons prior to 2019. We as a fan base saw exactly where that has the team. Robertson appeared in just 7 games last year before requiring Tommy John surgery, in what was the first year of a 2 year/$23M deal. Neshek in the first year and a half of his time with the Phillies was effective, but his 2019 was also cut short after just 20 appearances and he required multiple IL trips through his tenure. It’s a risky move in today’s game not to solidify a bullpen that has been inconsistent at best over the last few seasons, but the organization has decided to allow there youthful arms to make names for themselves with low risk/high reward veterans to fill in the gaps. Thus allowing for the possibility of upgrading at the deadline to other areas of need.

Another lack of aggressiveness that was certainly hard to swallow for most fans was not adding another big bat to the lineup. With the need for a 3rd baseman and a free agent like Anthony Rendon and trade candidate Kris Bryant available, it seemed inevitable one of them would end up at the hot corner for the Phillies. Rendon ended up with a 7 year/$245M deal with Angels, and the talks with Bryant never seemed to pick up enough steam for either side to be willing to make the move. The Phillies took a different approach and signed Didi Gregorius to a 1 year/$14M deal to fill out the infield. A questionable move with Gregorius having a down year coming off injury in 2019, but nonetheless an upgrade in the lineup from what Maikel Franco had given the Phillies in recent years offensively. Franco of course was non-tendered and will play third for the Royals this season. We can’t forget, the top prospect in the Phillies system is, you guessed it, third baseman Alex Bohm. Bohm so far has had a solid spring and his 2019 slash line of .305/.378/.518 with 21 home runs and 80 RBI’s has a lot of people, including those in the organization, excited for what he can do with Triple-A pitching to start 2020. His ascension to the majors seems all but inevitable by no later then mid season, and having a young prospect taking the reigns over at his respective position puts the team in another comfortable position to find what is most needed come the July deadline.

This team has clear talent and it’s reasonable to assume they can push themselves into the NL playoff picture by seasons end. As we all know though, mid season moves are almost always required in order to make that push. So why has the front office not taken a full on, go for it type approach leading up to this upcoming season? It’s simple, they are putting it on the new manager Joe Girardi and his players to prove they are worthy enough to invest in further. If this organization is going to risk depleting an already shallow prospect pool, and push them over the luxury tax threshold, it’s going to have to be for a team in contention. Yes the big names free agents are fun to think about, but depth is valuable, and leaving wiggle room for future growth on this team is critical to the long term success. It’s a wise move for a club who wants to win short term, but also has aspirations with there new face of the franchise in Harper to be a perennial contender for the next 12 years of his deal.

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