PHILADELPHIA -- Did the Phillies make their biggest splash before next week's Winter Meetings in San Diego?
Possibly. The Phillies and Zack Wheeler on Wednesday agreed to a five-year, $118 million contract -- and made it official as the Winter Meetings opened on Monday -- to bolster a rotation that badly needed reinforcements to keep pace with the Nationals, Braves and Mets in the National League East. The Phils are fast approaching the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which means they probably will not be in contention for free-agent powerhouse starters Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon. But Philadelphia still needs to make improvements before Spring Training in February.
Here is a look at the upcoming Winter Meetings:
Club needs: The Phillies’ attention turns to the infield. Keep an eye on free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius. Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi managed him for three seasons in New York and he raved about him Tuesday. Once the Phils find an infielder -- whether or not it’s Gregorius -- they will look to make gains in the bullpen and bench. Could they use another starter? Absolutely. But at this point, if they sign one, it likely will be a lower-end starter on a short-term deal.
Whom might they trade? If a team calls about Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta, the Phillies will listen. Odúbel Herrera served an 80-game suspension last season for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy, so the Phils might want to trade him and move on. Nick Williams showed promise in 2017-18, but he found himself back in Triple-A at times in 2019 and doesn’t seem to have a future in Philly.
Prospects to know: Besides the tax threshold, one reason the Phillies might not be in the market for Josh Donaldson or another second-tier starter is that they believe their top two prospects could join them and produce next season. If third baseman Alec Bohm can play adequate defense -- there are skeptics out there, but the Phils believe he can -- he could be Philadelphia’s first slugging third baseman since Scott Rolen. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard could push the Phillies’ No. 5 starter, whether it’s Velasquez, Pivetta or somebody else.
Payroll summary: Before the Phillies and Wheeler agreed to a deal, they had a little more than $40 million to play with before hitting the tax threshold. Wheeler’s average annual value ($23.6 million) leaves them with more than $16.5 million before they cross that mark. It’s not a lot, which is why it is unlikely the Phillies would land Cole or Strasburg when they have other holes to fill.
When will they sign J.T. Realmuto to an extension? If it happens, it probably will not be until Spring Training. Because the average annual value of a contract is used as the player’s luxury tax number, the Phillies and Realmuto could agree on a one-year contract for 2020, giving them more financial flexibility this offseason, and then agree on a contract extension later.