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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Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

The absolute filth. What Jake Arrieta did Monday had his fellow Major Leaguers going crazy on social media.

In his final start of the spring, Arrieta sure looked ready for his season debut on Sunday. He went six strong, allowing two earned with eight strikeouts. However, it was how he racked up the K’s that had his colleagues fawning on social media.

First, this disgusting free and easy 92 out of Arrieta’s right hand that falls away from the right-handed hitter.

Fellow MLBers Marcus Stroman and Lance McCullers could not get enough.

Next, this 88 mph change, which falls off the table, had other pros wondering how they could harness the same sorcery.

Arrieta, a World Series champ and Cy Young winner, was solid but not spectacular in his first season with the Phillies, but he’s still got the same fire and ability that saw him win 22 games and post a 1.77 ERA in 2015. In fact, our Corey Seidman wrote about why Phillies fans can expect more from Arietta this season (see story).

A veteran presence in the clubhouse and a force on the mound, he’ll certainly be one to watch this season as the Phillies make a push for the playoffs.

We know it’s more than just Phillies fans watching, too.

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Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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