CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Club president Andy MacPhail knows people will think what they want to think about the Phillies. They will form their own opinions.
There are many.
“How close are we to winning?” MacPhail said on Friday afternoon at Spectrum Field. “It’s really a function of which team you choose to believe is the real Phillies. Was it the team that played the first 40 percent [of the 2019 season in first place]? Is it the .500 team that played the next 40 percent plus? Or is it the team that collapsed in September?”
The Phillies choose to believe they will be better than expected. PECOTA, for example, predicts the Phils will win just 77 games and finish fourth in the National League East. It would be a major disappointment for a team coming out of a rebuild with one of the highest payrolls in baseball in 2020. It has put pressure on MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and his top lieutenants to win this season. It could bring changes otherwise.
“You always live with that,” MacPhail said. “It’s just part of the job. Be prepared to be criticized in good years and in bad years. Generally, these jobs have short shelf lives. It's just part of the game. It's just part of the equation. You know that when you go in. Pressure is often self-imposed. I'm not really happy with the record progression. I wish we would have progressed more off our 14-win [improvement in 2018] than we did last year. But as an organization, I'm not dissatisfied with what we've put in place over the last four years.”
The Phillies believe they have enough talent to win in 2020, although they know they need a few things to break their way. They could use another starting pitcher. They could use more bullpen help. The Phils, however, choose to stay below the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax.
For now, anyway.
“We are not reluctant to go over,” MacPhail said. “It's not an impenetrable barrier by any stretch. It's my hope, and frankly my expectation, that we're going to exceed [it] this year. But nobody can live over it. The penalties are too severe.”
From the outside, it looks like the Phillies are playing a waiting game. They want to see how well they play the first few months of the season before they decide how far to push past the CBT, if at all. In other words, if the team looks like a .500 team or a losing squad, it is unlikely to blow past the number. But if the team is playing well in late July, it might make a high-price acquisition to push it over the top.
“We’re right there now,” MacPhail said about the CBT. “Now we evaluate what we have and make a determination in-season as if we are going to go over or not. You don’t do this cavalierly, because there’s a huge impact to your organization beyond money as well. When you go there, you want to feel that you have good reason to go there and then it will pay off.”
The Phillies said last season they felt they were more than one player away from winning a World Series, which is why they were relatively inactive at the July 31 Trade Deadline. They have said since then that they would not pay the luxury tax for a shot at a Wild Card berth.
Then again, the Nationals won the World Series last year as one.
Has the Phils’ thinking changed?
“I would trade the CBT for a Wild Card spot,” MacPhail said. “I don't want to get in trouble with [managing partner John Middleton], but I would. But I think the problem is, what's going to happen next year and the year after that? What other free agents are you going to want to sign? And is this a never-ending trail upwards where you can't get out of it and you get in position where you're obligated to reset, which is a pretty draconian, dramatic thing to do to your fan base? So yeah, I think you need to be protective and careful. Like I said, don't go over it cavalierly, but if you have the opportunity to win, that's not going to prevent us from going over. Ownership's made that clear.”