Phillies

Phillies president Andy MacPhail says team not close enough to blow up farm system at trade deadline

Phillies president Andy MacPhail says team not close enough to blow up farm system at trade deadline

The Phillies won't blow up their farm system at the trade deadline.

Team president Andy MacPhail does not believe the club is close enough to winning a World Series to justify that.

“If you think that you are close to the ultimate prize and you're one piece away then your appetite for giving up something big to acquire that piece is pretty substantial,” MacPhail said. “If you're a team like we are now — we're in the postseason if the season ended today, but what if we're in a one-game playoff?

“It's hard for us to make the judgment now that we're one trade away from the World Series. We don't believe that. I don't believe that. So, as a result, you're going to have to be more judicious with your playing talent.”

MacPhail’s comments certainly won’t excite the fan base, but his read on the club is sound. The Phils, who came back from the All-Star break Friday night in third place in the NL East after a six-week free-fall from first place, have significant holes. Their starting pitching staff features one consistently reliable arm, Aaron Nola. They could use bullpen help and a bat. It will be tough to fix all of that at one trade deadline.

The Phils come back from the All-Star break with three games against red-hot Washington and four against the Dodgers, owners of baseball’s best record.

Washington entered the series in second place in the NL East. The Phillies led the Nats by 10 games in the standings in late May.

A good showing in these first seven games after the break could push management to consider reasonable upgrades.

A bad showing could cause them to completely stand pat.

Though he indicated a reluctance to give up significant minor-league talent to patch a team that might not be ready to win in October, MacPhail said he could be open to acquiring a high-salaried player who might cost less in talent.

Arizona's Zack Greinke could be one such player. The right-hander is still a top talent at age 35, but he is owed about $17 million for the remainder of this season and $35 million each of the next two seasons.

“Our ownership has been pretty clear and they've demonstrated by their actions that salary is not something that is going to be — it has to make some sense, but that's not going to be something that's going to hold us back,” MacPhail said. “I think from my standpoint, I'm going to be more judicious. We win seven in a row on this homestand, I might feel differently, (but) given our current circumstances, I think I'm going to be a little judicious and careful about what talent's walking out the door.”

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Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

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How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

The Phillies, after signing Zack Wheeler for $118 million over five years, are approximately $20 million below MLB's luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season.

John Middleton was asked at a news conference six weeks ago about his willingness to exceed the $208 million tax, which for a first-time offender like the Phillies would result in a 20 percent penalty for every dollar they are over $208M.

This is what the Phils' managing partner said:

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team. That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

The 2020 Phillies are not one piece away from seriously contending for a World Series. Even after the Wheeler splash, they still need at least one more strong regular in the lineup, at least one starting pitcher, a couple semi-reliable relief arms and a more competent bench. The strength of the Nationals and Braves also complicates things.

Suffice it to say, this does not sound like the situation Middleton described above.

That does not mean, however, that the Phillies' front office is treating the tax threshold like a hard cap. If the right opportunity presents itself, they will pounce. If the expected dollar figure for Anthony Rendon somehow doesn't materialize, the Phillies wouldn't pass up a great deal for a great fit just to stay under in 2020.

They're just going to be logical about it. There is reason to leave flexibility for midseason when you have a better idea of how close you are to contending for a division title. Why overpay a middling reliever or starter now when you can potentially acquire a difference-making one in July? 

This is a key season coming up for the Phillies. After 2020, they free up $38 million as the contracts of Jake Arrieta and David Robertson expire. That's money that can be reallocated to a very good starting pitcher and a very good everyday player. Right now, those two contracts are hindrances. Robertson is unlikely to contribute in 2020 and the Phillies desperately need Arrieta to be better than a No. 4.

The Phillies' proximity to that $208 million luxury tax threshold helps explain why they didn't beat the Braves' one-year, $18 million offer to Cole Hamels. As nice as a reunion with Hamels would have been, they could probably replicate his production for half the money or maybe a little more with someone like Wade Miley or Rick Porcello.

The Phillies won't close the door on any free agent, but don't be shocked if their splashiest move came before the Winter Meetings even began.

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