The Phillies Rebuild is Over

The Phillies are back, baby. This is a shocking turn-around from Andy MacPhail’s end-of-season press conference wherein he insisted the Phillies were unlikely to invest in players and instead would invest in ballpark improvements and fan experience. Well it appears the team’s research showed that the fan experience is best at Citizen’s Bank Park when the Phillies are good.

So they spent $169.2 million in free agency this year, the second-most behind only the Cubs and their fancy new Yu Darvish, adding veterans Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, and most notably Jake Arrieta. Best of all (from the team perspective anyway), as editor Matt covered in the immediate aftermath of the Arrieta signing, these contracts are set to expire before many of the Phillies’ core pieces even hit arbitration, let alone free agency. This enables the Phillies to dive headfirst into the 2019 free agent class without fear of a bloated payroll.

The only issue (again, from the team’s perspective) is the unusual opt-out included in Arrieta’s deal. After making $30 million and $25 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively, Arrieta can opt out of the final year and $20 million of his deal. However, if Arrieta does opt out, the Phillies can unilaterally decide to keep Arrieta for three years and $60-80 million, depending on incentives. This would bring the total cost of the deal to somewhere between $115 and $135 over five years. These final three years will be Arrieta’s age-34 through -36 seasons.

This represents a potential pitfall for the Phillies in the coming years. If these next two seasons go as well as Phillies fans hope, Arrieta will opt out of the last year of his deal and look for one last free agent contract. The Phillies will be tempted to exercise their three year deal to retain Arrieta’s services. The modal outcome of that decision would be a mistake. The late Roy Halladay (man, that’s hard to write) and Cliff Lee demonstrated that for us just a few years ago. Paying big money for Arrieta’s decline could hamper the Phillies plans as their home-grown players get expensive in arbitration and free agency.

But that’s a problem for the future. The Phillies rotation has long been considered a liability; with this signing, the FanGraphs positional depth chart has the Phillies starters in the middle of the pack. Though I’ll note that FanGraphs projects the Phillies for just 73 wins, Baseball Prospectus now projects the Phillies for an 81-81 record, one year after winning just 66 games. With an improved bullpen and some lucky breaks, this team could compete for a wild card.

Most importantly, though, this deal announces to the league that the Phillies are no longer rebuilding. The Phillies got one of the top free agents in baseball this offseason, a former Cy Young winner and World Series champion. With the Mets rotation still facing injury questions, the Braves still rebuilding, and the Marlins still Marlinsing, the Phillies should have one of the easier schedules in baseball in 2018. Along with this offseason’s spending spree, a winning season would put the Phillies on the map for one of the 2019 superstar free agents.

From there, the sky is the limit.

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  1. Steve

    March 13, 2018 02:23 PM

    Yeah, the opt out could hurt if we are true contenders in 2 years but none of the big MiLB SP are ready. I see no universe in which the extension will make sense. So ultimately, if you told me we signed Jake Arrieta to a 2 yr 55 mm contract I’d be ok with it. Much better than a guaranteed 5 yr 115 mm deal.

    Most importantly, this won’t prevent us from making a big signing (or two) in the future. For example, signing Kuechel makes the possible Arrieta opt out much less damaging. You get 2020 with a very solid 3 man TOR and then still have a great 1-2 punch for 2021. At some point some of these young SP have to develop into more than #5 and AAAA type guys (Nola excluded) if we are truely going to have a lengthy run of competitive baseball.

    At what point do we start to think about floating Nola an extension? I’d like to think he fully puts the injuries worries behind him this year, and assert himself as a top 15 (dare I say top 10) MLB SP. I honestly think the stuff is there.

    • Wawa Mike

      March 13, 2018 03:49 PM

      I agree. I expect the Phillies to reach some kind of deal with Nola in June. The Arrieta signing gives me confidence in Klentak. If the number one priority is a SP next winter, he’ll pull the trigger again.

    • awh

      March 13, 2018 11:46 PM

      Steve, we agree again, because that was my thought exactly as I read about the Arrieta deal: If he opts out and it turns into a 2/55 deal, I can live with that. Besides, there are two seasons of baseball to play before then so while Klentak planning ahead is surely wise, it’s silly to speculate what the market will look like at that time.

      BTW, I don’t know if any of you saw Olney’s column that was linked over at MLBTR.

      The Phillies may be fast approaching the type of Utley/Polanco dilemna they they faced nearly 15 years ago. Olney quoted an unnamed player.

      “An observation from another player about Phillies infield prospect Scott Kingery: “He’s Dustin Pedroia, but with more talent.””

      Hopefully , this FO makes a better decision than the former crew made back then.

      • Steve

        March 14, 2018 07:03 AM

        Well, if that’s true, and I believe it could be, the worst decision would be to trade SK for anything less than a bonafide ace under who’s 30.

        Compared to that blunder, I’d gladly accept Kingery spending a few extra months at LHV.

        Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, they traded Polanco so they could pay Bell to play 3b and slot Utley at 2b. I always kind of wondered what would’ve happened if they had simply moved Polly to 3b instead of the Bell/Feliz years. He enjoyed some great prime years in Det. He won a GG (at 2nd) and I think a betting title? I always thought his low K% and solid OBP would’ve played so nice hitting 2nd between Rollins and Utley, and I think Victorino could’ve hit 6th or 7th just as well as Bell or Feliz.

        I’m not sure how that applies to the current situation, but just somthing that always stuck with me.

      • Wishful Dreamer

        March 15, 2018 01:35 AM

        Pete Rose proved winning a betting tittle in baseball is a sure way to miss the HOF.

      • Steve

        March 15, 2018 02:15 PM

        Lol. Batting title

    • Romus

      March 15, 2018 10:40 AM

      Hopefully in two years many of the prospect pitchers and the current young RHP guns are advanced enough to know their true capabilities.

  2. Wawa Mike

    March 15, 2018 10:08 AM

    No matter who, or what, I don’t trade Kingery. He’s a rare player (like Utley and Rollins) who can take over a game. He just strikes me as the one player that I would want up to bat with the game on the line.

    • Steve

      March 15, 2018 02:20 PM

      I totally agree, I thinks he’s on that trajectory. Until he does it though, he’s still just a prospect (although a great one). Dom Brown was a great prospect too….. You just never know.

      I would trade Kingery for Syndergaard. Outside of him, id have a lot of hesitation. I think SK will be a franchise cornerstone when it’s all said and done, I just hope that franchise is the Phillies.

      • awh

        March 15, 2018 05:50 PM

        If Kingery proves to be what we believe he can be, I have a hard time seeing John Middleton letting him walk out the door without trying to extend him.

        OTOH, if Kingery decides to hire Boras all bets are off.

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