Opening day is three weeks away and the Phillies will most likely take this roster into the regular season. Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are still free agents, but either player would take the Phillies close to or past the $206 million luxury tax threshold, which could factor into the team's ability to acquire a player of greater need in-season.
It's not that going over the tax once is some prohibitive factor. The greater concern is the way the penalty escalates.
The Phils are an estimated $18 million below the tax. A team that exceeds the threshold pays a 20% tax the first time, a 30% tax the second time and a 50% tax thereafter.
There's an additional tax of 12% if you're $20 million over.
Stay under the tax for a year and the penalty resets. The Yankees did this in 2018, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive seasons they were over the tax.
The Nationals have been over two years in a row. If they go over this season, their rate increases to 50%. They are currently about $10.5 million below. This could impact their ability to make a big move in July if they're neck-and-neck with the Phillies.
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Signing either Keuchel or Kimbrel now could impact the Phils' ability to make more meaningful additions in July. There's no question that Keuchel or Kimbrel would help the Phillies and every other team. The consideration is the cost. Even though they've lingered, Keuchel should still be able to get $15 million or more annually. Kimbrel might get that number on a two-year deal.
It's where you weigh the upgrade vs. the cost. The Phillies have a reason to feel good about their young starting pitchers. Nick Pivetta's 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.8 walks put him in an elite tier. Zach Eflin's strikeout rate jumped from 12.5% to 22.5%. Vince Velasquez made a dozen really good starts in 2018.
A dozen wasn't enough, and that's the issue for all three pitchers. There's inconsistency and there's upside.
But do the Phillies really need another starting pitcher right now? Before first seeing how April and May play out for Pivetta (26), Velasquez (26) and Eflin (24)? It's not like Keuchel is the only left-handed starting pitching target for 2019. There's Robbie Ray, Danny Duffy, maybe Madison Bumgarner.
Do they really need another reliever? Kimbrel would be one hell of a luxury and give the Phillies a devastating 7-8-9 with David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez preceding him. Throw in Pat Neshek's consistency and ability to get big outs of big hitters and you'll have plenty of early leads protected.
But, again, it's going to cost you a lot of your in-season flexibility. Keuchel generates soft contact and would give the Phillies' rotation a different look. He also allowed the most hits in the majors and had a higher WHIP than Pivetta and Eflin in 2018. Kimbrel has been baseball's best closer since Mariano Rivera. But in 2018, he struggled all season to throw strikes, walking 39 batters in 73 innings, including playoffs.
This Phillies team, as currently constructed, should be able to push for 90 wins and potentially surpass that with good fortune, overperformance or an in-season addition. They have enough talent to pass on Keuchel and Kimbrel unless the price is unrealistically low.
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