This Strategy Could Save the Phillies Roster Space or Money
In June of 2016, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made a rather bold move. Outfielder Rusney Castillo had been signed to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract just two years before under then-general manager Ben Cherington. In search of roster spot and luxury tax room, Dombrowski made a bold move: he outrighted Castillo off of the 40-man roster, freeing a valuable roster space. Dombrowski might be able to make such a shrewd move right now, aware of the value of roster space.
On Sunday, the Phillies decided that Scott Kingery would begin the 2021 season in the minor leagues. Normally I would preface the player's name with a position. But the once-second baseman-turned utility player-turned shortstop-turned outfielder seems to have no clear position and no clear role in the Phillies organization. The Phillies could use this opportunity to do one of two things: rid themselves of $18 million over three years and $4 million under the competitive balance ("luxury") tax threshold they could use in other places, or they could gain a roster space.
Should the Phillies place Kingery on outright waivers, teams would be able to put a claim on Kingery. Should a team claim Kingery, they would become responsible for all $18 million owed to Kingery the next three seasons: $4 million in 2021, $6 million in 2022, and $8 million in 2023.
Should Kingery clear waivers, the Phillies will have a roster spot available to them to use for another player, such as Brandon Kintzler, who will need to be added to the roster, without sacrificing a prospect that could potentially be claimed by another team. With very few position players on their 40-man roster, the Phillies would probably have to designate for assignment a pitcher, and most teams prefer to hold on to as much pitching as possible.
The question the Phillies would have to answer is this: Do they see Kingery as being a starter in the major leagues? If the conclusion is that Kingery would be a "nice utility player" - then the club would not wish to commit to $6 million next year and $8 million the following year. That is not utility player money; in fact upon the signing of Brad Miller, Matt Gelb of the Athletic noted that the $3.5 million was the most the Phillies have committed to a bench player.
If the Phillies see Kingery as having the talent to be a starter in the major leagues, then they might consider the $18 million over three years worth it. However, the picture is complicated by the fact that the Phillies have $36 million committed to shortstop and $30 million committed to second base the next two seasons the next two seasons. It would be a while before Kingery could find a starting job in the infield. And, the top position prospect on the Phillies is Bryson Stott, who could play either shortstop or second base.
In other words, Kingery could be expendable, if someone else claimed him.
But would another team think highly enough of Kingery to commit $18 million? That is quite a cost to take a flyer on someone who has batted .233 in over 1000 major league at bats.
What does not hold true in 2021 which did under Dombrowski in 2016 is relief under the competitive balance tax threshold. Kingery will consume $4 million of that number each of these three remaining years, whether he is in Philadelphia or in the minor leagues. The Phillies will only save that money if he is claimed by another team.
Would Dombroski put Kingery on outright waivers to see what happens? It just might make sense. Either outcome could help the Phillies.