The Phillies are so close to the luxury tax threshold of $208 million that they, seemingly by choice, have had to sit out of the market for free-agent relievers.
Steve Cishek was the latest experienced setup man to find a new home, agreeing Tuesday to a one-year, $6 million deal with the Chicago White Sox, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.
That $6 million is also the approximate distance between the Phillies' projected opening day payroll and the luxury tax threshold.
The Cishek deal came just a day after the Nationals brought Daniel Hudson back on a reported two-year, $11 million contract. Again, that AAV would have pushed the Phils right to the threshold, which they are relucant to exceed unless it's a finishing piece.
Will Harris? Also signed with the Nationals. Dellin Betances signed with the Mets. Will Smith and Chris Martin signed with the Braves.
Between Harris, Hudson, Betances, Smith and Martin, a case could be made that the top five free-agent relievers all signed in the NL East, none with the Phillies. Blake Treinen was another intriguing reliever but he went to the Dodgers.
There is no guarantee that Cishek is effective with the White Sox, or that Hudson will continue to be as effective as he was for a few months with the Nats in 2019, or that the Dodgers will get 2018 Treinen. The Phillies just went through three straight seasons expecting more from veteran relievers than they received. That sort of volatility surely also played a role in the Phils' reluctance to add a veteran reliever they were unsure of this time around.
But even if valid reasons can be given for not adding any of the aforementioned bullpen arms, the fact remains that the Phillies' bullpen is a major question mark. The last thing they'd want is for all their stars to perform but for the bullpen to derail the season.
The trade deadline will be the next active period to add a difference-making reliever. The season is 70 percent finished by July 31, though.