The chief complaint about the Phillies’ roster construction last season was its top-heaviness. It was evident a year ago at this time that the Phillies’ bullpen, in particular, would lack experience, and that they would be forced to carry numerous pitchers without difference-making stuff or much of a track record because there were few alternatives.
No one had quite an idea of just how hideous that 2020 Phillies bullpen would look. For teams on the fringes of contention, it served as a cautionary tale of how not to build a relief corps.
Last winter, the Phillies made a series of minor-league signings of veteran pitchers but none of them made the team. Not Francisco Liriano, not Bud Norris, not Anthony Swarzak, not Drew Storen.
Here are eight of the pitchers who made the 2020 Phillies’ opening day roster:
- Austin Davis
- Deolis Guerra
- Tommy Hunter
- Cole Irvin
- Trevor Kelley
- Reggie McClain
- Nick Pivetta
- Ramon Rosso
Davis is now a Pirate. Guerra is a non-roster invitee of the A’s. Hunter is a non-roster invitee of the Mets. Irvin is with the A’s. Kelley is on a minor-league deal in the Cubs’ system. McClain is a non-roster invitee of the Yankees. Pivetta is competing for the Red Sox final rotation spot. Rosso is a candidate for the Phillies’ bullpen, though his odds are longer with all the depth they’ve stockpiled.
Let’s compare those eight bullpen spots above to eight relievers who could take their place on the Phillies’ 2021 opening day roster:
- Jose Alvarado
- Archie Bradley
- Connor Brogdon
- Sam Coonrod
- Brandon Kintzler (NRI)
- Hector Rondon (NRI)
- Ranger Suarez
- Tony Watson (NRI)
You could also see Vince Velasquez in one of those spots, depending on how the fifth starter’s battle plays out. If Velasquez does not win that job and a spring training trade does not materialize, he could give the Phillies another power arm in the bullpen.
Suffice it to say, this second group of eight has a ton more talent, experience and tools to succeed than that group of eight from 2020. In a normal year, Watson, Kintzler and Rondon probably all get big-league deals. This offseason, they were victims of the game’s financial circumstances. Plenty of players still got paid in free agency this winter, but a lot of guys who’d otherwise have been in that one year, $5 million range had to instead take non-guaranteed deals.
This also applies to the Phillies’ bench. This year, the Phils have Brad Miller and could also open the season with Matt Joyce, who was signed to a minor-league deal. Miller and Joyce are better than the top two bench bats the Phillies entered last season with, Jay Bruce and Kyle Garlick.
These guys weren’t free. If all of Kintzler, Rondon, Watson and Joyce make the team, it would add $9-10 million to the Phils’ already high payroll.
Last year, that grouping of eight relievers plus Garlick cost the Phillies $5,575,500, before salary proration took place for the shortened season.
Isn’t it amazing what spending a few extra million bucks can do for your roster?
The Phillies will enter the 2021 season with a luxury tax payroll of approximately $199 million. That ranks fifth in the majors behind the Dodgers ($255.6M), Red Sox ($205.4M), Yankees ($201.6M) and Padres ($201.2M).
Luxury tax figures are calculated at season's end. The tax threshold is $210 million. A first-time offender is taxed 20% on every dollar over that $210 million.
The penalty increases for repeat offenders but a team can reset by dipping below the tax in a season. The Dodgers did that last year so they’ll pay the 20% tax this year. However, they’re subject to a second penalty because they're over $230 million. For every dollar above $230 million, they pay a 32% overage. The Dodgers are currently the only team with a luxury tax bill and it's $19 million. In 2020, the Yankees, Astros and Cubs were all over but they’ve reset.