The National League champions reloaded for another run at the World Series, including a $300MM splurge on Trea Turner.
Major League Signings
- Trea Turner, SS: Eleven years, $300MM
- Taijuan Walker, SP: Four years, $72MM
- Matt Strahm, RP: Two years, $15MM
- Craig Kimbrel, RP: One year, $10MM
- Josh Harrison, IF/OF: One year, $2MM
2023 spending: $64.77M
Total spending: $399MM
Trades & Claims
Notable Minor League Signings
- Aramis Garcia, Vimael Machin, Louis Head, John Hicks, Jon Duplantier, Jesus Cruz, Jake Jewell, Mark Appel, Jeremy Walker, Kyle Hart, Ben Bowden, Dustin Peterson
- Segura, Eflin, Vierling, Maton, Sands, Noah Syndergaard, David Robertson, Kyle Gibson, Brad Hand, Sam Coonrod, Johan Camargo, Chris Devenski, Vinny Nittoli
Months before the end of the regular season and before the Phillies made their Cinderella run through the playoffs, there was already speculation that the club would be targeting a major upgrade at shortstop. Philadelphia at least checked in each of the “big four” free agent shortstops (Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson), and there was at least some early indication that Xander Bogaerts might be atop the team’s list due to his past Red Sox history with Phils president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
As The Athletic’s Matt Gelb outlined in a piece in early December, Turner quickly emerged as the Phillies’ top priority, and the feeling seemed mutual on shortstop’s end. Turner was already friendly with Bryce Harper and hitting coach Kevin Long from their days together with the Nationals, and Philadelphia was an ideal geographical choice since the Turner family was reportedly prioritizing a move to the East Coast. Turner liked the fit enough that he reportedly turned down a $342MM offer from the Padres to join the Phillies.
Of course, it’s not like Turner exactly took a bargain rate. He became one of just six players to hit the $300MM threshold on a free-agent deal, and the Phillies’ second such signing (after Harper) within the last four years. There are plenty of similarities between the Harper and Turner contracts, including the fact that the Phillies spread out their money over the 13-year and 11-year spans of the respective deals in order to minimize the luxury tax hit as best as possible.
The Phillies had never exceeded the Competitive Balance Tax prior to the 2022 season, yet managing partner John Middleton has never been shy about spending during his seven-plus years in control of the franchise. That willingness to spend has now manifested into a deeper plunge into tax territory, as the Phillies’ current tax bill is projected at roughly $259.8MM — well over the second CBT penalty tier of $253MM. This means that the Phillies will pay a heavier tax rate both for this higher payroll, as for exceeding the CBT for two consecutive seasons. Exceeding the CBT line in 2022 also put extra consequences on the Turner signing, as because Turner rejected the Dodgers’ qualifying offer, the Phillies had to give up $1MM in international bonus money and their second- and fifth-highest picks in the 2023 draft.
That said, it’s a price ownership seem happy to pay now that the Phillies are finally back in contention. 2022 marked the Phils’ first postseason appearance since the 2011 season, and with an NL pennant now flying, the organization is eager to take the next step and lock down a World Series. Dombrowski’s front office will get plenty of opportunity to achieve this goal, as ownership extended Dombrowski through the 2027 season, and GM Sam Fuld and assistants GMs Jorge Velandia and Ned Rice all received extensions running through the 2025 season.
It will still be some time before we see the ideal version of this Phillies team, since Harper will be out until roughly the All-Star break as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Even then, the Phils plan to utilize Harper only as a DH during the initial days or weeks of his return, with an eye towards possibly getting him back to his regular right-field duty by later in the season. While it’s an open question as to how any player will bounce back after a Tommy John procedure, it’s probably a good sign that Harper still posted superstar numbers in 2022 despite playing through a torn UCL for most of the season. Even a B or B+ version of Harper is still a boost to any lineup, so the Phillies will be eager to have him back as soon as possible.
Turner broadly fills the superstar gap in Harper’s absence, and he’ll add even more speed to an aggressive Philadelphia squad that finished fifth in MLB in stolen bases last year. The metrics have always been a little split on Turner from a defensive perspective, but between both his bat and his glove, there is no doubt he is a gigantic upgrade for the Phils at the shortstop position. Neither Didi Gregorius or Bryson Stott contributed much at shortstop over the course of the regular season, though Stott seemed to adjust later in his rookie season and at least managed to hold the fort as the regular starter throughout the playoffs.
Philadelphia saw enough in Stott that the former first-rounder is now being tasked with regular second base work, as the Phils let Jean Segura go to free agency (and a deal with the Marlins) after his $17MM club option was declined. While the Phillies would love to see Stott establish himself as a Major League regular, a win-now team can’t afford to give too much rope to a young player, which is why veteran Josh Harrison was signed to a one-year contract. Harrison and in-house utilityman Edmundo Sosa will provide depth at multiple positions, yet second base might be their first stop on the diamond if Stott requires a platoon partner or a timeshare.
Sticking with the Phillies’ bench situation, catchers Aramis Garcia and John Hicks were signed to minor league deals to add some more options behind the plate. These signings might prove valuable considering that Garrett Stubbs and Rafael Marchan are dealing with injury problems, leaving Philadelphia perhaps looking for a new secondary backstop to support All-Star J.T. Realmuto.
Donny Sands was formerly part of this catching mix, but Sands was dealt along with Matt Vierling and Nick Maton in a trade that shook up the Philadelphia bench. The Phils sent the trio to Detroit in exchange for reliever Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens, and while the versatile Clemens will help fill the void left by Vierling and Maton, Soto was the prize of the trade.
Soto is a two-time All-Star who is controlled through the 2025 season. There is plenty of volatility in Soto’s game, as he has an ungainly 13.1% walk rate over his career, and his hard-contact and strikeout numbers also dipped considerably from 2021 to 2022. However, while the Tigers utilized Soto as their closer, the Phillies might use Soto only as one high-leverage option among many. For now, manager Rob Thomson said his team will take a committee approach to the ninth inning, with newcomers Soto, Craig Kimbrel, and Matt Strahm vying for save chances alongside incumbents Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado.
Though the relief corps stayed steady for much of the postseason run, Philadelphia’s bullpen has long been a source of inconsistency, and more reinforcement was needed this winter since David Robertson, Brad Hand, and the injured Corey Knebel were all headed into free agency. (Sam Coonrod was also designated for assignment and then claimed off waivers by the Mets.) Dombrowski’s response was to make a plethora of lower-level waiver claims and minor league signings of relief options, and that depth was augmented by the higher-profile additions of Soto, Kimbrel, and Strahm.
Investing $25MM of free agent dollars into Kimbrel and Strahm won’t break the bank for a free-spending team like Philadelphia. However, both pitchers carry their share of question marks, since Kimbrel lost the closer’s job in Los Angeles last season and the Dodgers didn’t even include the veteran righty on their roster for the NLDS. Strahm has been solid enough throughout his seven MLB seasons that the Phillies were comfortable in betting on his ceiling, yet there was some sense that the Phils overpaid for his services. (As per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Strahm contract ended up creating a bit of a stalemate amongst other free agent southpaw relievers, who felt they should be matching or exceeding Strahm in total salary or average annual value.)
Some free-agent vacancies also needed to be filled in the rotation, as Zach Eflin, Kyle Gibson, and Noah Syndergaard all hit the open market and signed with other clubs. Prior to the Turner signing, there was some speculation that Philadelphia might target an available starter like Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon as a big free-agent splash, though the team ended up aiming to a slightly lower tier by showing interest in Jameson Taillon and Taijuan Walker. With both pitchers reportedly receiving similar offers from the Phils, Walker took the deal, giving Philadelphia a solid No. 3 starter behind aces Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.
Walker bounced back from several injury-plagued seasons to become a valuable member of the Mets’ rotation, posting a 3.98 ERA over 316 1/3 innings with New York in 2021-22. The $72MM contract exceeded projections of what Walker might land on the open market, yet that price reflected the elevated cost of pitching this winter, and again underlined how the Phillies are willing to pay top dollar if they like a player. Since the Phils didn’t want to sign another player who rejected a qualifying offer, the fact that Walker and Taillon didn’t have QOs attached to their services also likely helped their markets.
Walker’s deal has already grown in importance given that the Phillies have run into some injury concerns in Spring Training. Ranger Suarez is dealing with some forearm tightness that isn’t thought to be too serious, but creates fresh doubt over Suarez’s readiness for the Opening Day roster. Depth starters Cristopher Sanchez and Nick Nelson have also been shut down with injuries, and in perhaps the most concerning development, star prospect Andrew Painter has been sidelined with a right UCL sprain. It will be close to four weeks before the highly-touted young righty will start lightly throwing, so between that timeline and Painter’s lack of Triple-A experience, his anticipated MLB debut might now be held off until closer to midseason at best.
Having Nola, Wheeler, and Walker atop a rotation is a pretty nice stopgap against depth questions, and the Phillies have another interesting young arm in Bailey Falter now set for at least a fifth starter role. Michael Plassmeyer probably leads the pack of potential starting candidates if the Phillies do need a replacement for Suarez, as it seems unlikely that the Phils would make a bold promotion of Mick Abel by jumping the top prospect from Double-A to the big leagues.
In bigger-picture rotation news, it seems possible that Nola and the Phillies might yet agree to a contract extension, as the two sides were exchanging figures last month. Nola is scheduled for free agency after the 2023 season, so locking up the righty early would establish Nola, Walker, Suarez, and the younger Falter/Painter/Abel trio as the future of the Phiadelphia pitching staff (and give the team some leverage in deciding what to do when Wheeler’s contract is up after the 2024 campaign). The Phillies have already been busy on the extension front in committing to Dominguez and Alvarado on multi-year deals, though naturally a Nola contract will be significantly more expensive.
For all of Philadelphia’s roster moves this offseason, an argument can be made that the club spent quite a bit just to fill holes and maintain their level of productivity from 2022. As noted, this new version of the Phillies won’t be entirely complete until Harper is healthy and joining his old friend Turner in the lineup, so treading water in the competitive NL East is a justifiable strategy until the Phillies have a better sense of what they’ll be getting from Harper. Plus, while no trade deadline acquisition would be as beneficial as a healthy Bryce Harper, it is safe to assume that Dombrowski is prepared to be again be aggressive at the deadline.
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