Phillies Mailbag: Center Field, Making a Trade, Lefty Starters
We are back once again with a 97.3 ESPN Phillies mailbag. Each week we take your questions and talk about them on the Sports Bash with Mike Gill every Tuesday. Send your questions anytime on Twitter to @FrankKlose or send a text to the text board at 609-403-0973.
Who can most likely bring back a quality starting pitcher in a package with prospects?
This is a good question and one that bears watching. After the free agent signing of outfielder Bryce Harper, the Phillies have a surplus of outfielders. Well, maybe. Currently, center fielders Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn are on the shelf. But the other outfielders are primarily corner outfielders and one stands out as a trade possibility: Nick Williams.
Williams would be most appealing to a team acquiring him because he still has some upside and will not be paid a lot of money in the immediate future. Williams is in his second year of his initial contract, meaning arbitration will not kick in until after two more seasons. A team looking for a young outfielder with a decent bat and some upside might be interested, particularly if they are on a budget.
Herrera's struggles last year made him more difficult to trade. While the overall package of Herrera's five-year deal being very team-friendly, we are already a few years into the deal and the salary is escalating. The good news is that the average annual value is low, which could mean a team up against the luxury tax could take him on.
But for Herrera to have trade value, he would have to show he was more the player in 2016 and 2017 and not in 2018.
So that trade piece could be Williams for now. With Adam Haseley in the pipeline and Dylan Cozens showing that maybe he might work as a bench bat down the line, the Phillies have a couple options. If all outfielders end up healthy, they will have to move someone.
Williams could bring the most value.
Any chance Kingery would be put in center field?
When Harrison asked this question it was Friday. We had a nice discussion along with a few other listeners about Scott Kingery taking some time in center field. My initial reaction was this: If the Phillies think they could be long-term without Herrera and/or Quinn, they might look at Kingery in center field.
Saturday, Kingery started in center field.
The Phillies putting Kingery in center field is not to say that Herrera and Quinn are going to be out for certain. But there might be enough doubt in the team's mind that their super sub will get some opportunities during Grapefruit League action. Aaron Altherr remains more of a natural center fielder, but the Phillies might be eager to see Kingery get regular at bats.
I still believe that no matter what, Kingery replaces Cesar Hernandez next year at second base. But like Hernandez, Kingery's first shot at regular play might come in center field if the Phillies have a need. The Phillies would prefer to have Herrera and Quinn healthy, though.
What are the odds the Phillies land a left-handed starter? Are Gio Gonzalez or Dallas Keuchel an option?
One year ago today the Phillies added starting pitcher Jake Arrieta. Could they add one more late into Spring Training play? Time seems to be running out for either free agent Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel to get their pitching on track for Opening Day. But at this point, the Phillies might be OK going with what they have.
One reason is the Competitive Balance Tax, or "luxury tax" threshold. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts of Baseball Prospectus, the Phillies have only about $18 million in average annual value in contracts until they hit the threshold. The way this is calculated is through the average annual value of contracts, not a current payroll.
That means the Phillies could not sign a Keuchel or Gonzalez to a deal that pays them more in year two with a lower rate for 2019. And even Arrieta, who made $30 million last year, $25 million this year, and will earn $20 million next year, comes in at $25 million all three years.
There are baseball reasons to not going over the tax. The Phillies would be penalized this year at a rate of 20% for every dollar over through $40 million, and then after that a rate of 40%. There are compounding penalties for teams who regularly go over. The Phillies would like to keep their options open for bigger names.
MLB.com lays out the penalties:
A club exceeding the Competitive Balance Tax threshold for the first time must pay a 20 percent tax on all overages. A club exceeding the threshold for a second consecutive season will see that figure rise to 30 percent, and three or more straight seasons of exceeding the threshold comes with a 50 percent luxury tax. If a club dips below the luxury tax threshold for a season, the penalty level is reset. So, a club that exceeds the threshold for two straight seasons but then drops below that level would be back at 20 percent the next time it exceeds the threshold.
So the Phillies might be better served doing so later, rather than right now.
But there are other baseball reasons. Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto believes in the talent of the five main candidates for the starting rotation: Aaron Nola, Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez, and Eflin.
Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer has Realmuto singing their praises:
Therefore, the Phillies might be interested in seeing what their new, All-Star catcher can do with the players they have first before adding another.
Jared Eickhoff remains in the mix (another righty) and lefty Cole Irvin was optioned to Triple-A but could be an option in a few months. The Phillies will see what is on the trade market this trade deadline, too. A player acquired 1/3 of the way through the season would have a much smaller effect on the competitive balance tax level.