The Phillies are closing in on the luxury tax and, no matter which words are used to answer questions about the tax, it appears the Phils only want to exceed the threshold if it is for a difference-maker.
A healthy Dellin Betances would be a difference-maker. It's just more complicated than that for a Phillies team that has had horrible luck with veteran relievers in recent years.
Betances is the most intriguing arm left in a weak class of free-agent relievers. From 2014-18, he was elite. Like, top-five-reliever-in-the-game elite. We're talking 70 appearances per year over a five-year span with a 2.22 ERA and 234 more strikeouts than innings pitched. He had a 98 mph fastball and a sick knuckle-curve.
Had Betances stayed healthy in 2019, he would have likely signed a three- or four-year deal with a high AAV this offseason. But he didn't. He missed more than five months with a shoulder injury, debuted on Sept. 15 and partially tore his Achilles' tendon.
How can a team be certain Betances is healthy enough to contribute in a significant way in 2020? How can a team be certain his velocity dip of 3 mph in a small sample size last season was not the warning sign it appears to be?
Betances is a prime candidate for a one-year, prove-it deal. It won't be for as much money as Didi Gregorius ($14 million) or maybe even Blake Treinen, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Dodgers after a disappointing follow-up to a stellar 2018.
Betances is likely looking at a one-year deal in the $8 million range. The signing team will want a team option for Year 2 in case Betances pitches well, but that might be a sticking point on his end.
The worst-case scenario for the Phillies if they sign Betances is another season lost to injury, the same as they experienced with David Robertson and Tommy Hunter, and to an extent Pat Neshek.
The best-case scenario for the Phillies if they sign Betances is a return to his elite form, which would allow the Phillies to lock down the eighth inning in front of Hector Neris or the ninth if Betances could wrestle away that job.
The Phillies right now do not have hard-throwing right-handed relief options beyond Neris they can feel great about heading into 2020. Seranthony Dominguez is a major X-factor because they need his bat-missing abilities and upside late in games. But can his elbow hold up after he chose to forego Tommy John surgery yet still missed the season's final 100 games?
Because of the injury concerns and the Phils' recent track record, this is not a perfect fit. But it's a pretty good fit, it would fill a need, and there are ways to get below the tax with a trade of someone like Vince Velasquez. The Phillies would just need to feel really, really good about Betances' medicals.