Phillies free agent decisions, options: Who stays, who goes?

Whether or not the Phillies have a new GM (soon, perhaps) or Matt Klentak is given a free pass for the misery that was the 2020 baseball season (and the 2019 baseball season, and the 2018 baseball season, and…) in Philadelphia, there will be no shortage of killer decisions to be made.

A sizable portion of the Phillies all-time bad bullpen is slated to become free agents when the current playoffs end, as are some bigger names like J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius. 

What will the front office do? What should they do?

The Phillies’ payroll in 2020, according to Spotrac was $205.5 million — before COVID and the shortened season let the Phillies off the hook for just over $78 million. This is the fifth highest payroll in MLB — and it didn’t even earn them one of 16 available playoff spots. For the purposes of this article, keeping things relative, we will work off of the unadjusted payroll the team had on the books. 

The team was just $2.5 million below the $208 competitive balance tax. We have no idea what will happen to that number in 2021, but lets assume it stays somewhere in that area. Philly is slated to have as much as $81.5 million come off the books from players who will become unrestricted free agents, or players with whom the team has club options.

How should they spend the roughly $84 million they’ll have while still remaining below the tax? Or will the tax be no object for John Middleton’s underachieving but extremely expensive club?

Here’s a look at the 11 players they’ll need to make a decision on this offseason. Give us your vote for whether you believe the Phils should bring each player back under each snippet below:

C J.T. Realmuto

2020 salary: $10 million

2020 stats: .266/.349/.491, 11 HR, 32 RBI

Despite missing a handful of important games due to injury, Realmuto still was second in all of baseball in at-bats during the shortened 2020 season. His $10 million salary last season — a record breaking arbitration figure — should more than double as he is one of the game’s best catchers and still in the prime of his career.

Realmuto is listed first on our list because he’s a catcher and it’s easier to organize by position, but he also should be the team’s No. 1 priority, no matter the cost. If Realmuto reaches free agency (whenever that officially begins), Philly is as good as toast, as big spending teams all across baseball from the Mets to the Yankees are expected to bank up Brinks trucks. Klentak — or whoever the new GM is — needs to be in touch with Realmuto’s agents on a daily basis. The loss of Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the trade with Miami that landed the catcher in the first place, can only be validated by a retainment of Realmuto.

SS Didi Gregorius

2020 salary: $14 million

2020 stats: .284/.339/.488, 10 HR, 40 RBI

Gregorius signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Phillies (and old manager Joe Girardi) and he proved it. Gregorius started all 60 games this season, and hit the sixth most homers of any shortstop while driving in the fourth most runs. It will be interesting to see what kind of market develops for the 30-year-old. If the Phillies are looking to build a contender, he is a no-brainer addition next season. If they are looking to let their veterans walk and give a rebuild a shot, he won’t be back. It’s worth mentioning that the team, really, has no shortstop prospect waiting in the wings with Bryson Stott still a year away, so a veteran will probably play there in 2021. And Gregorius would be a decent stopgap. 

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OF Jay Bruce

2020 salary: $14 million

2020 stats: .198/.252/.469, 6 HR, 14 RBI

If and only if the veteran outfielder is willing to accept a very team-friendly and cost-effective deal, Bruce should return. He has some definite value as the NL is expected to keep the DH position in 2021. But he also is injury prone, and does not hit well for average. He is easy to like, but at $14 million the Phillies will be glad to get him off their books.

SP Jake Arrieta

2020 Salary: $20 million (club option for 2021 at $20 million)

2020 stats: 4-4, 5.08 ERA in 9 starts

Arrieta never performed as the Phillies hoped and his days in Philly are almost certainly finished. He rarely stayed heathy, is on the wrong side of 30 and would cost the Phillies $20 million next year. They should decline his option pretty quickly this offseason.

RP David Robertson

2020 salary: $11 million (club option for 2021 at $12 million)

2020 stats: Did not pitch

Robertson has also been hit very hard by the injury bug. An injury in his first season in Philly limited him to 6.2 innings in 2019 before Tommy John surgery ended things. He looked poised to make some kind of contribution in 2020, but a setback prevented that from happening. Without knowing how he’ll look two years removed from live action, $12 million could be a steep price for a bullpen that needs new blood.

RP Hector Neris

2020 salary: $4.6 million (club option for 2021 at $7 million)

2020 stats: 2-2, 4.57 ERA in 21.2 IP

Would you pay $7 million for Neris to return if you were the Phillies GM? It’s a tough call. Neris was one of the best relievers on the squad last year — but what is that really saying? That $7 million may be better spent on other free agent pitching options. The guess here is he goes.

RP Brandon Workman

2020 salary: $3.5 million

2020 stats: 1-4, 6.92 ERA in 13.1 IP

Workman is a free agent and it would be hard to justify bringing him back after his performance down the stretch, after being acquired in a mid-summer trade. 

RP Jose Alvarez

2020 salary: $3 million

2020 stats: 0-0, 1.42 ERA in 6.1 IP

Boy, the Phils really could have used Alvarez in one of those 500 blown leads they had. The injured lefty will be a free agent and, if healthy, would be a welcome return in 2021.

RP David Phelps

2020 salary: $1.25 million (club option for 2021 at $4.5 million)

2020 stats: 0-1, 12.91 ERA in 7.2 IP

Phelps had his worst season ever in the majors, and it not only cost the Phillies a playoff slot, it also will likely cost Phelps $4.5 million. His option will likely be declined.

RP Tommy Hunter

2020 salary: $850k

2020 stats: 0-1, 4.01 ERA in 24.2 IP

Hunter was another relatively effective reliever, earning just over the league minimum. He’s 31, and at a reasonable price is a likely arm to be retained by the front office.

RP Blake Parker

2020 salary: $563k

2020 stats: 3-0, 2.81 ERA in 16 IP

As the Phillies look to rebuild their bullpen almost from scratch next season, Parker is one of the few veterans it will be easy to invite back. Parker was reliable and his numbers speak for themselves. He is due for a raise upon signing a new deal in 2021 at age 33.


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