Sunday, April 20, 2014
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How much money can the Phillies spend on free agents? A long answer.

The MLB free agent signing period begins tomorrow. The Phillies should have around $50 million to spend.

How much money can the Phillies spend on free agents? A long answer.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Christopher Szagola/AP)
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Christopher Szagola/AP)

The Phillies currently have $117.5 million in salary obligations for 2014. That's $117.5 million that can only come off the books by way of a trade. Ryan Howard's $25 million salary would be nearly impossible to move. Same goes for Jimmy Rollins' $11 million, unless the short stop were to OK a trade, something he indicated in July he would not do. Cole Hamels is guaranteed $22.5 million, while Cliff Lee is guaranteed $25 million. Both would generate some interest on the trade market, but with the Rays reportedly shopping David Price, neither Hamels nor Lee would be the biggest draw. Price will be eligible for arbitration this year and next year after earning $10.113 million in 2013. He is cheaper than Hamels or Lee. And over the last four years he has been just as good or better than both.

Neither Jonathan Papelbon nor Mike Adams is likely to be moved: Adams, because he is a question mark to pitch at all in 2014, Papelbon because he has a $13 million salary and velocity that has diminished significantly. Why would anybody part with a good prospect for a closer who makes $13 million when they can sign one for less on the free agent market? Adams is guaranteed $6 million.

Finally, we have Chase Utley and his new deal, which guarantees him $15 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015.

Add all those salaries up -- $25 million plus $15 million plus $11 million plus $22.5 million plus $25 million plus $13 million plus $6 million -- and you get $117.5 million.

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So how much are the Phillies planning on spending this offseason? We'll confuse you with the math in a second, but bottom line is between $50 million and $65 million. The realistic ceiling is around $189 million, which is the luxury tax threshold (which even the Yankees are attempting to stay under, although they may be doing so in vain). That luxury tax threshold is calculated using the average annual value of each contract. For instance, the Phillies will pay Jimmy Rollins $11 million in 2014, but his contract will count as $9.5 million because it is a four-year, $38 million deal. Teams must also budget about $10 million for player benefits to be factored into that $189 million threshold. The Phillies actual opening day payroll has been between $160 million and $170 million the last three years.

Long story short, you can realistically plan on Ruben Amaro Jr. budgeting between $50 million and $65 million to fill out the rest of his roster. To find out what portion of that he can look to spend on free agents, we need to work backwards.

We've already accounted for seven players who will earn a combined $117.5 million ($114 million of which will count towards the luxury tax). In addition to this group, the Phillies have a number of young players who are under their control for 2014. Some of these players are eligible for arbitration, which means their salary is based on their service time and accomplishments. Others are not, which means their salaries will be around $500,000, give or take one or two tens of thousands.

Ben Revere should be in line for a salary of around $1.25 million through arbitration. I would expect Kyle Kendrick to make in the neighborhood of $7 million. The Phillies can decline to offer arbitration to either, thus making them free agents. But Amaro has already said he will offer arbitration to Kendrick, and Revere makes sense to bring back as well. Antonio Bastardo is arbitration-eligible for the second time after earning $1.4 million in 2013. His 50-game PED suspension complicates things a bit, but I'd budget about $2 million for him. John Mayberry Jr. is eligible for arbitration, though I would be surprised if he returns. That drops our maximum available free agent funds (MAFF) to $54.75 million.

Other locks for the Opening Day roster include Domonic Brown (left field) and Cody Asche (third base). They'll make roughly $1 million combined, dropping our MAFF to $53.75 million.

At this point, here is what the roster looks like:

Regulars

1B - Ryan Howard

2B - Chase Utley

SS - Jimmy Rollins

3B - Cody Asche

LF - Domonic Brown

CF - Ben Revere

RF - (Empty)

C - (Empty)

Bench

BN1 - (Empty)

BN2 - (Empty)

BN3 - (Empty)

UTIL - (Empty)

C - (Empty)

Rotation

SP1 - Cliff Lee

SP2 - Cole Hamels

SP3 - (Empty)

SP4 - Kyle Kendrick

SP5 - (Empty)

Bullpen

CL - Jonathan Papelbon

RP - Antonio Bastardo

RP - Jake Diekman

RP - (Empty)

RP - (Empty)

RP - (Empty)

RP - (Empty)

Disabled list

RP - Mike Adams

We can fill in some more blanks using our deductive reasoning abilities. Even if Erik Kratz doesn't return, the Phillies probably are not going to spend much on a backup catcher. So let's just assume that Kratz returns at $500,000. The Phillies always carry a backup shortstop who makes no more than $850,000. Since we're trying to figure out the absolute maximum they are likely to spend, let's budget for Freddy Galvis to be that utility man at $500,000. Likewise, we can probably plan on at least two homegrown relievers joining Diekman in the bullpen (Justin De Fratus and Ethan Martin, for example). All of those players will make about $500,000. That brings our MAFF down to $51.75 million. Let's say Darin Ruf fills one of the three remaining bench spots. At that point, we're down to $51.25 million spend on the following positions:

Right field

Catcher

Starting pitcher (2)

Reliever (2)

Bench hitter (2)

One of the starter or reliever spots should be filled by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez at a pricetag of about $4 million, bringing our MAFF down to $47.75 million. Obviously, the big ticket items are starting pitcher, right fielder and catcher. The bench hitters probably won't earn more than $2 million combined, although one of those spots could be filled by Revere if the Phillies opted to make a splash by signing a center fielder and a right fielder (Say, Curtis Granderson and Nelson Cruz).

A little later, we will evaluate some of the options for spending that $47.75 million.

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David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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