From the beginning of the offseason, when team owner John Middleton proclaimed that they would be spending "stupid money". To the middle of the season when team President Andy McPhail made the inauspicious comments "If we do we do and if we don't we don't" referring to the teams chances of making the playoffs. To the end of the season when its General Manager Matt Klentak said he was "Kap's biggest fan": in reference to his man crush on then team manager Gabe Kapler.
While 2018 was an extreme disappointment, the prospects of change brought a new hope for the franchise. First of all, the team swiftly fired its manager Gabe Kapler who seemed to be in way over his head. The team hired Joe Girardi to lead the charge who most experts picked as the best managerial candidate available. With a world championship pedigree, he would bring a new culture of leadership and winning to the table.
The team then brought in former manager Bryan Price to be the new pitching coach. The Phillies greatest weakness in 2018 was pitching. Although a lot of the pitching woes could be attributed to talent, there was a strong belief that the coaching was inept and that poor coaching influenced its struggles. Price had tons of success turning around piss poor staffs in both Seattle and Cincinati before becoming the Reds manager.
With a new manager and pitching coach in toe, the Phillies quickly directed their focus to the offense as they hired Joe Dillon to be its new hitting coach. Dillon had a lot of success in Washington and was highly sought after during the offseason. While pitching was the team's greatest weakness in 2018, hitting remained the teams achilles heel all year. Bringing in Dillon signified the team's desire to wash away the past while running into the future.
So to review, the team made significant changes to the coaching staff after last season's debacle.
With a top tier manager and elite coaching staff assembled, Phillies brass could turn its attention to free agency which brings us to where we are today and raises the question...will the Phillies go over the tax??
This is the million dollar question. After 2018's objectively excellent offseason, how would 2019's version stack up and would ownership continue to spend stupid money. Well, this hot stove has started off much different than free agency 2018. For starters, last year the leagues marquee free agents did not sign until February. If you take a look back, it was a long cold winter that finally culminated with Manny Machado signing in early February and then Bryce Harper on the ides of March.
This year has been much different as all of the marquee names have come off the board before Christmas. You would be hard pressed to find a more drastic contrast with teams strategy and ultra aggressiveness after last year's reluctance to spend.
However, even with the record contracts that have been handed out this season, including Gerrit Cole's 9 year/$324 Million Dollar blockbuster, no team has matched the Philadelphia Phillies spending over the past two years. After spending approximately a half billion dollars the past two seasons on free agents (Jake Arrieta, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson), the Phillies continued to be aggressive in 2019.
Even with all of last year's moves, the Phillies had a few holes to plug beginning with starting pitching. While many pundits and fans wanted Gerrit Cole (this years mega star) the Phillies quickly moved in and signed Zach Wheeler to a 5 year $118 Million Dollar contract. The team next signed free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one year $18 Million Dollar contract.
While fans can cry and complain that the Phillies have not done enough, no one can say they have not made efforts to improve this team. This team is drastically better than the one that started 2018 season. First of all, the team has a championship caliber manager and coaching staff. The addition of Wheeler definitely improves the starting pitching and gives the team a strong one two punch. And adding Gregorius gives them an excellent fielder that brings above average hitting and a powerful clubhouse presence.
However; With all of the spending that they have done, they are knocking on the doorstep of the luxury tax threshold. This culminates with the fact that the team has yet to give an extension to its star catcher J.T. Realmuto, which could come at any time. So what is the organizations options at this point? While fans and pundits alike (including myself) clamor for more moves, we must take into account that the offseason is not over yet and we will probably see some more significant transactions.
Nonetheless, its easy to be driven by impatience and question this team's ultimate goals in regards to the tax. Many of those in the know have stated that John Middleton has mandated that the team remain under the tax and that further moves are not coming. However, after seeing Middleton's track record over the past two years and his massive coup in bringing this city Bryce Harper, I have a hard time believing that he has posted such constraints.
I think the Phillies will get creative and make some trades in order to improve the team. I believe that they will ultimately cross the tax threshold and continue to remain competitive with an ever improving NL East. I could see the team trading prospects for Kris Bryant who appears on his way out of Chicago. The Cubs appear to be moving in the opposite direction as the Phillies. Trading for Bryant makes sense on many levels; his friendship with Bryce Harper not being the least.
Of course, trading for Bryant would almost certainly put them over the tax. Especially considering that they may have to take on another salary such as Jason Heyward to get a deal done. Nonetheless, a move like this would give the Phillies a three headed core with JT and Bryce. I also could see the Phillies making a trade for another starting pitcher like Robbie Ray. Yes that would increase their payroll even more but would put their rotation on a higher level when comparing to the Mets and Nationals.
At any rate, here we are. Will the Phillies go over the tax? Inquiring minds and negative nannies will tell you absolutely not. Twitter keyboard generals will tell you probably not. And prior history will scream maybe not. However, if the Phillies do want to compete in this division and in the league, they undoubtedly will have to jump the tax to have success moving forward. One more thing to consider is that Jake Arrieta's contract will come off the books next season as will David Robertson. So they may in fact only have to cross this one year.
Time will ultimately tell if this team is willing to continue to spend stupid money. However, at some point the team's farm system and player development has to help with making the team better as well. You cant keep spending and expect that the team will keep winning. Eventually they will need a mixture just like 2008 when they won the whole thing. In the meantime, here is to hoping that Team Stupid Money continues to spend at least one more year. And if that happens I will continue to be John Middleton's biggest fan!