Does it mean what it seems to mean?
That’s the big question the Phillies left us wrestling with on Monday when they opted out of Jean Segura’s contract. Just 48 hours after their season-ending loss in Game 6 of the World Series, Dave Dombrowksi and John Middleton made the only move they needed to make to play for one of the four elite shortstops available on this year’s free game. agent market. The Phillies accomplished two things in releasing their veteran infielder:
They gave themselves the opportunity to move Bryson Stott from shortstop to second base.
They have freed up a large sum of money which they can now spend on Stott’s replacement.
Trea Turner. Xander Bogaerts. Dansby Swanson. Carlos Correa.
The names are enticing. The need is crying out. The fit is so obvious that if the Phillies don’t end up making a big play for one of the superstar shortstops who are now free agents, it will be a serious misallocation of resources.
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But is that really what the Phillies are planning?
Four factors to consider:
Right now, they plan to have around $156.1 million committed to 19 players. Including:
$103 million for eight regulars: guaranteed salaries for Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos and JT Realmuto, referee pay for Rhys Hoskins and pre-referee salaries for Stott, Brandon Marsh and Alec Bohm.
$43.1 million for three starting pitchers: guaranteed salaries for Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola and officiating salary for Ranger Suárez.
$6.8 million for four relievers: referee salaries for Seranthony Domínguez and Jose Alvarado and pre-referee salaries for Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti.
$3.2 million for four bench players: officiating pay for Edmundo Sosa and pre-officiating salaries for Darick Hall, Matt Vierling and Garrett Stubbs.
Factor in other costs like the $1 million Segura buyout and the standard $10 million charge that MLB assesses for player benefits and the Phillies are likely operating with around $170 million in payroll already incurred. .
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In 2022, they spent about $242 million on their final payroll. The competitive equilibrium tax threshold is $230 million. Using those two numbers as potential limits, the Phillies would enter the offseason with the ability to spend $60 million to $72 million before their payroll hits an all-time high.
The current standard is the 10-year, $325 million contract that shortstop Corey Seager signed with the Rangers last season. This followed a similar contract extension signed by Francisco Lindor with the Mets after last season. Turner, Bogaerts and Correa all have strong arguments to eclipse that $32.5 million AAV figure. Swanson should probably be valued lower, where guys like Javier Baez, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story signed in the $25 million a year range last offseason.
They are not cheap. Consider that Noah Syndergaard signed last season for one year and $21 million. Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon have also signed for over $20 million.
There’s a solid argument to be made that the Phillies better save that kind of money for the shortstop market. There’s a huge amount of risk at the top of this year’s starting pitcher market. Jacob deGrom was off when healthy, but will turn 35 next season after making just 26 starts in the past two years. Rodon will hit the free agent market again after hitting a career-high 178 innings after making just 33 starts between 2019 and 2021.
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Obviously, the Phillies need to pitch. But the value may just not be there in the free agent market. With Suárez well advanced and top prospect Andrew Painter potentially on the line to contribute in 2023, it might make more sense for the Phillies to focus their financial resources on shortstop and the bullpen.
They might be better off throwing darts at the lower end of the market. The Mets and Edwin Diaz have reportedly agreed to a five-year, $102 million deal, making him the first $20 million-a-year reconciliation. That’s a lot of zeros for 60-70 innings, especially considering how thin the Phillies were in the bullpen this year. It is not easy to find quality weapons. We saw it this year, when the Phillies spent $10 million on Corey Knebel.
Turner, Bogaerts, Correa, Swanson.
Together, they represent four of Major League Baseball’s top six hitters at shortstop. Each ranks in the top half of the Defensive Warfare majors over the past two seasons.
It’s hard to predict how much the bidding will go up for any of the four players. The fact that the Dodgers, Red Sox and Phillies may all be involved further complicates the picture. The Yankees also have a need.
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It might seem counterintuitive for a team like the Phillies to spend big on a positional player given their shooting needs. But it really might be their best option when you look at prices in the pitch market. Historically, the best enclosures have been built through trading, amateur development, and low-risk, high-reward signings. It’s terribly difficult to find and develop a shortstop like the four that are available.
The Phillies’ decision to part ways with Segura doesn’t guarantee they’ll consider entering the market. But that certainly sounds like a signal, given the money they need to spend and the lack of clear pitch options to spend it on.