Phillies

Updating Phillies' payroll — it's higher than you might think

Updating Phillies' payroll — it's higher than you might think

The Phillies opened last season with a payroll just under $96 million. Their average opening day payroll from 2016-18 was $95 million.

That figure has risen significantly with the acquisitions of Jean Segura and Juan Nicasio and the signings of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson. 

Following the Robertson signing Thursday, the Phils' payroll is just over $142 million. This factors in projected 2019 salaries for their nine arbitration-eligible players, their pre-arbitration players and their players on the 40-man roster who will open the season in the minor leagues.

Player benefits, which also count toward the luxury tax, push that number to around $157 million. The luxury tax threshold is $206 million this upcoming season and it's calculated at the end of the season, not the beginning of it. Adding or subtracting money to the books throughout a season impacts that luxury tax figure.

The Phillies have never in their history exceeded the luxury tax threshold. A first-time offender is forced to pay a 20 percent tax on their overages. Exceed it two seasons in a row and the tax is 30 percent. Three or more consecutive seasons and it's 50 percent.

The luxury tax figure uses the annual average value of a player's contract. So, for example, Andrew McCutchen is making $10 million this season on a back-loaded deal, but his AAV is $16,666,666. That higher number is the one that counts toward the tax.

The Phillies can still fit another gigantic salary onto their books without having to worry too much about the luxury tax. If they're able to land Manny Machado or Bryce Harper for $35 million to $40 million per year, their payroll number would jump to the $195 million range.

In other words, there is still room to add a superstar and another useful player like a mid-rotation starting pitcher. Money could also be freed up if the Phillies move on from Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez or both. That duo is projected to make $14 million combined through arbitration this winter.

So again, including everything that counts toward the luxury tax, the Phillies are at around $157 million as of Jan. 4. It's the third-highest figure in the NL East, behind the Nationals ($192M) and Mets ($166M). The Braves are closer to $115 million.

Still a good amount of work for Matt Klentak and the Phillies' front office to do. They've improved the infield, outfield and bullpen this offseason, but those additions won't be as meaningful to many fans if the Phils fail to land Machado or Harper. 

They also need more starting pitching, even if it's just a No. 4 starter type for depth purposes. The Phillies could talk themselves into meaningful improvement from the young guys (Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez) and a bounce-back season from Jake Arrieta, but that's an everything-breaks-right scenario.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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