Hector Neris

Phillies avoid arbitration, reach deal with Hector Neris

Phillies avoid arbitration, reach deal with Hector Neris

The Phillies have avoided a salary-arbitration hearing with Hector Neris, settling with the reliever for $4.6 million, according to a league source.

The deal includes a team option for $7 million in 2021, which would have been Neris’ final year of arbitration eligibility before free agency. The team option is a $7 million base salary but could rise with escalators.

The settlement with Neris comes days after the Phillies participated in their first arbitration hearing in 12 years, which went in their favor over J.T. Realmuto. 

Neris has a 3.29 ERA in his six seasons with the Phillies and last season set career bests in saves (28), WHIP (1.02) and opponents’ batting average (.186). 

The 30-year-old made $1.8 million in 2019.

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Phillies headed to arbitration with J.T. Realmuto and Hector Neris

Phillies headed to arbitration with J.T. Realmuto and Hector Neris

The Phillies reached agreement on 2020 contracts with four players on Friday but are likely headed to arbitration hearings with two others, including All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Realmuto and closer Hector Neris both exchanged salary proposals with the ballclub after the respective sides failed to come to agreements by Friday’s deadline.

Realmuto, widely considered the best catcher in baseball, seeks a 2020 salary of $12.4 million. The team filed at $10 million. Realmuto made $5.9 million in 2019.

Neris filed at $5.2 million and the team at $4.25 million. He made $1.8 million last season.

The Phillies were able to reach agreement on one-year contracts with pitchers Adam Morgan ($1.575 million), Zach Eflin ($2.625 million), Vince Velasquez ($3.6 million) and Jose Alvarez ($2.95 million).

Technically, the Phillies can still attempt to negotiate agreements with Realmuto and Neris, but hearings seem likely.

Realmuto and Neris will have their cases heard by an arbitration panel in Arizona during the first two weeks of February. The panel will hear arguments from both sides and select either the player’s or the team’s salary submission.

Realmuto went to arbitration as a member of the Marlins before the 2018 season. He had sought $3.5 million but lost his case and made $2.9 million that season.

Realmuto, who will turn 29 in March, built himself a good case heading into this final arbitration year. He caught 37 runners trying to steal in 2019, the most in the majors, and led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League.

Phillies officials have long stated a desire to sign Realmuto to a long-term contract extension that would prevent him from becoming a free agent at the end of the 2020 season. Realmuto has also expressed a desire to stay in Philadelphia. Talks between the two sides are still likely to happen in the coming weeks, after the two sides complete a one-year deal through the arbitration process.

And as for the belief that arbitration hearings do irreparable harm to the relationship between a player and his team – remember, the Phillies renewed Ryan Howard’s contract after his MVP season in 2006 and went to arbitration with him the next year. He ended up signing two huge contract extensions with the club before his career was over. So, this stuff is just the business of baseball and both sides understand that.

Realmuto’s case differs from Aaron Nola’s a year ago. Nola and the Phils were headed to a salary arbitration hearing last February. Days before the hearing was to take place, the two sides agreed on a four-year, $45-million extension that began in 2019.

If the Phils are successful in negotiating an extension with Realmuto, it would not kick in until 2021. That would give the Phillies some flexibility this season as they approach the competitive-balance tax threshold.

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How many of Phillies' 9 arbitration-eligible players are worth keeping?

How many of Phillies' 9 arbitration-eligible players are worth keeping?

The Phillies, after Monday's flurry of roster moves, have nine players left who are eligible for salary arbitration this winter and while some of the decisions are no-brainers (J.T. Realmuto, Zach Eflin, probably Jose Alvarez), others are iffier and some are pretty clear non-tender candidates.

Realmuto made $5.9 million last season and should see that increase to $10.5-11 million in 2020 if the Phillies don't first lock him up with a long-term extension.

Eflin and Alvarez will see their salaries rise to about $3 million each. That is a fair price for a No. 3/4 starter and a decent lefty specialist.

Adam Morgan, who has one fewer year of big-league service time than Alvarez, is likely looking at a 2020 salary between $1.5 to $2 million. New manager Joe Girardi referenced Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez as key relievers who dealt with injuries in 2019, which made it sound like Morgan will indeed still be in the picture.

Hector Neris' salary will rise to the $5 million range. Worth it, even if he's in more of a setup role next season. 

The maybes

Vince Velasquez at around $4 million? It really depends on what else the Phillies think they can accomplish this winter. It would be illogical to expect Velasquez to turn into a different pitcher in Year 6 than he's been the first five. He has a 4.93 ERA the last three seasons with an untenable home run rate and a fastball that gets hit hard when not well-located.

If he's back with the Phillies in 2020, it will likely be as a reliever. They simply cannot afford to give him 15-20 more starts. Maybe a team with an awesome rotation like the 2019 Nationals or Astros could get away with having a low-efficiency, boom-bust option in the No. 5 spot but not the Phillies.

Andrew Knapp's situation is a bit more complicated. His 2020 salary through arbitration would likely fall a bit under $1 million, but the Phillies need to improve the backup catcher position. They can't run Realmuto in the ground and they need a viable backup who can either provide offense once every few starts or play above-average defense. Knapp knows a lot of these pitchers and is well-liked but there hasn't been enough on-field value and that's what matters, right?

The thing is, Knapp is worth keeping around as depth for $800,000 or so. If the Phillies do end up with a better backup, they could option Knapp. The Phils don't appear too confident Deivy Grullon can be Realmuto's backup in 2020.

Probably not

Cesar Hernandez keeps getting more expensive. He will be due upwards of $10 million through arbitration. He is not an eight-figure player, even if it's for only one year.

The Phillies will likely have to non-tender Hernandez. Is another team trading for him for the right to pay a league-average second baseman $10 million or more? Nope. At half the price, Hernandez would have much more value.

The Phillies were unable for years to trade Hernandez. It's hard to call it a missed opportunity without knowing the best possible offer they received for him. The front office never felt it was being offered fair value for Hernandez.

Maikel Franco, meanwhile, would be due between $5-7 million through arbitration and that's just too much for a flawed player who has lost his job two years in a row. The Phillies need to move on and improve at third base.

If it is decided that Alec Bohm isn't ready out of spring training (a strong possibility), the Phillies could go the stopgap route. Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas will be free agents. Anthony Rendon, too, though he'll be in the very highest price tier.

*Matt Swartz' arbitration projections factored into these estimates.