Phillies have payroll flexibility to add another high-priced player, says Dave Dombrowski

Even before team officials sat down this week for a series of offseason scouting meetings, the Phillies had committed to five players – Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, JT Realmuto, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber – for next season at a total cost of approximately $112 million.

Do they really have the payroll flexibility to sign another high-paying free agent?

“I think we have flexibility,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. “We’re losing a few guys who made a lot of money. In fact, more than one. We have some flexibility.

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In other words, Trea Turner can expect a call from the Phillies.

Same with fellow star free agent shortstops Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson and Carlos Correa.

The Phillies have spent as much money on free agency as almost any team in the past four years, even pushing the payroll above the luxury tax threshold this year for the first time in history. of the franchise. And after dropping two wins before a World Series title, it doesn’t look like they’re going to stop now.

“We’re going to push the needle and try to win,” Dombrowski said. “I mean, we’re close, right? We will try to win. »

The Phillies finished the season with a payroll of about $243 million, which will result in a luxury tax penalty of $2.6 million, according to Associated Press estimates. If they stay above the threshold, which rises to $233 million (from $230 million) next year, they would pay a 30% surcharge, up from 20% this year as a first-time offender.

Dombrowski declined to say whether owner John Middleton had allowed the luxury tax bar to be crossed again, although Middleton has always said he was willing to do so for the chance to win a World Series. After coming so close, he’s unlikely to write off the payroll now.

The Phillies have a vacancy in midfield after turning down second baseman Jean Segura’s $17 million option. Dombrowski and manager Rob Thomson said separately Wednesday that they were comfortable moving Bryson Stott to second base and using Edmundo Sosa in the field at shortstop. But that’s almost certainly more posturing than reality.

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Additionally, the Phillies have over $50 million off the books, including Segura and shortstop Didi Gregorius, who were still paid by the Phillies after being released in August. They have other needs beyond shortstop, with Dombrowski citing at least one mid-rotation starting pitcher and some bullpen plays.

But the Phillies could sign Turner, for example, who will aim to beat the average annual salary of $32.5 million that shortstop Corey Seager received last year from the Texas Rangers, and who still has some money left. money to spend in other areas.

“I don’t know if I’d be surprised if we didn’t end up with [one of] them,” Thomson said of the four-star shortstops. “It all depends on the market and what Dave, [general manager] Sat [Fuld]and John wants to spend.

No matter what happens, it looks like the Phillies are leaning towards moving Stott to second base. He went 372 innings at second base and ranked three outs over average, according to Statcast. At shortstop, Stott went 658⅓ innings and went three outs under par.

“I asked Bryson at the end of the year, I said, ‘Which do you prefer: shortstop or second base? ‘” Thomson said. “He said, ‘Major League’. He said, ‘I don’t care.’ He prepares to do anything.

Dombrowski said the Phillies are “keeping a spot open for a youngster” in the starting rotation. That could mean 19-year-old top prospect Andrew Painter, although Dombrowski has also named left-handers Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sánchez as candidates to win the job. The vaunted right-handers Mick Abel and Griff McGarry will also have looks at spring training.

READ MORE: Will the Phillies’ Andrew Painter be the next teenage phenom in 2023?

Painter, who has pitched 109⅔ innings since the Phillies drafted him out of high school in the first round in 2021, will be the fifth most intriguing starting candidate. He just finished a 1.56 ERA in 22 starts across three minor league tiers. But Falter can have the inside lane on a job after posting a 3.86 ERA in 16 starts, including a 2.54 mark while Wheeler was sidelined with an elbow inflammation.

“I know Falter can do it because he did it for us this year,” Thomson said. “I’m comfortable with Bailey and I’ve seen Sánchez. He’s been a bit inconsistent at times. I’ve seen him pitch very well. I haven’t seen Painter pitch, but I’ve just heard reports rave about him.

“You always have to have young guys in your rotation or in your lineup so that you are young and energetic and turn it around all the time. I think it is important.

Either way, Dombrowski said the Phillies would buy at least one experienced starter. He didn’t rule out a meeting with Zach Eflin, who turned down his half of a $15 mutual option and will try to do better in the free agent market.

“We love Zach,” Dombrowski said. “We like him very much. The door is by no means closed to him. It would just be a matter of what someone does contractually and what we do contractually.

Dombrowski on a possible long-term contract extension for Aaron Nola: “I would just say that we would like to have him here in the organization for a long time.” Nola can be a free agent after next season. … Dombrowski said Wheeler, who faced what the Phillies called “fatigue” during the World Series, is in good health.

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