For months, when you heard Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas’s name, you also heard about the Philadelphia Phillies. No, they weren’t always called the leader or the favorite, but they were always mentioned. Frequently, they were the only team identified in the pursuit by name.
And then Tomas signed with the Diamondbacks for some $30 million less than pundits were projecting. Where were the Phillies? If Tomas got well under the $100 million some were expecting, surely the Phillies’ bid must have been very close to landing Tomas, right?
Nope. According to Tomas’s agent, as reported by Matt Gelb, the Phillies never even made an offer. In Gelb’s piece, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is quoted as saying only that the Diamondbacks valued Tomas more highly than the Phillies. That’s totally fair, and might be the end of the story. Every team has to place a valuation on every player they pursue, regardless of how much money they might otherwise have to spend.
But here’s the thing: Tomas’s agent, Jay Alou, told Gelb that he believed that Amaro’s “hands were tied,” and that Amaro couldn’t make a substantial commitment to Tomas until he cleared some salary.
Tomas ultimately signed for $68.5 million. Just how tight are things in Philly right now?
The Phillies were already among the top spenders in the NL for some time before they signed a shiny new TV deal. Indeed, in 2014, the Phillies’ payroll started the year at $180 million, the third highest mark in baseball. The prevailing assumption was that, with the new TV deal locked down, they could consistently tickle the luxury tax cap in relative perpetuity if they wanted (or at least, would be able to do that with impunity, and would only cut payroll incidental to their rebuild – not because they actually needed to cut payroll).
That may yet be the case – Amaro told Gelb that there have been no impediments placed on him by ownership – and the only holdup financially may be waiting for the TV deal to actually kick in in 2016. But, if you’ve read much on the Phillies’ TV deal, you know that it’s structured in a fairly complicated way, minimizing the guaranteed payout in favor of a large equity stake for the Phillies in the new RSN, and a share of the advertising revenue the network generates. I won’t pretend to have the finer points completely digested one way or the other, but the Tomas payroll stuff at least cocks one of my eyebrows.
And the eyeball under that brow then peeks over at Phillies ace Cole Hamels. We know that the Phillies are rebuilding, we know that Hamels is their most valuable chip, and we know that the Phillies’ asking price on Hamels is significant. Reportedly, they want a bundle of top prospects AND they want the receiving team to take on all of Hamels’ near-market salary. If the Phillies are looking to try and cut salary, however, it would stand to reason that they may have to reduce their demands on Hamels in order to maximize how much of his salary they can move. Hamels is a depreciating asset, and, if the Phillies do want to clear some payroll, their best chance to do so is sooner rather than later.
To that end, Bob Nightengale says the Phillies continue to check out Dodgers’ prospects, something that likely dates all the way back to the Trade Deadline:
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 2, 2014
The Cubs appear unlikely to get seriously involved in any further Hamels trade discussions until after Jon Lester signs.
And, as that all plays out, it might be worth monitoring the Phillies’ narrative about how they plan to spend, or to shed salary, in the coming months. We knew they wanted to dump aging players on crummy contracts – who doesn’t? – but do they have to?